I’m currently reading the book, Lead Yourself First – Inspiring Leadership Through Solitude, by Raymond M. Kethledge and Michael S. Erwin. Kethledge, a candidate for the newly opened Supreme Court seat, is a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, and Erwin served three tours in the Middle East as a graduate from West Point. I highly recommend the book, which studies leaders from history and explores the role that solitude played at critical junctures in their lives.
The authors’ definition of Solitude is “a subjective state of mind, in which the mind, isolated from input from other minds, works through a problem on its own.” In other words, solitude means separation from external input that serves to distract and confuse a matter. Such solitude is necessary to effectively lead ourselves and others.
As Christians, we must also regularly seek solitude of the mind and spirit. Spiritual solitude is both similar to and different from the solitude described by Kethledge and Erwin. At key points in His ministry, Christ would “slip away to the wilderness,” “off to the mountain,” or “to a secluded place” (Luke 5:16, Luke 6:12, Mark 1:35).
Yet the most significant element of Christ’s solitude was not His isolation from other minds, it was His proximity to the heart of His Father. In every case where Christ finds solitude, He enters into prayer to God which brings him the “meat” of knowing the will of His Father, and, so clearly illustrated in the Garden of Gethsemane, the courage to go through with the greatest test of obedience.
If we need guidance to know God’s will and courage to do it, then we too should find time to seek isolation from others and nearness to the heart of God.
This practice of spiritual solitude takes discipline, but it is worth the effort. In Lead Yourself First Kethledge and Erwin claim that “solitude, through its fusion of mind and soul, produces within the leader the stronger alloy of conviction, which in turn braces [him] with the moral courage not to conform, and to bear the consequences that result.” The reward for spiritual solitude is even greater, for we gain not only the moral courage not to conform to the world, but the renewed vision to allow ourselves to be conformed into imageo deo, the very image of God.
Time is our most precious resource. How we spend it suggests what we value most. It is never a waste of time to seek the heart of God in prayerful solitude. It’s one of those rare investments that always pays off.