[image by DDFic’s]

“I had three chairs in my house; one for solitude, two for friendship, three for society.” Henry David Thoreau

My father shared that quote with me in mid-July when he was visiting and we had found ourselves on the topics of social media, writing, ministry, solitude, etc. Since then that image of the three chairs has been seared in my mind.

We are quite good at friendship and society, yet I think most of us are quite terrible at solitude and silence. What often leads people into my therapy office is their inability to sit with what bubbles up inside when they are still, so they fill their life with noise. I think if we are not careful, we can allow social media to fill our lives with so much noise that we lose the ability to be thoughtful, reflective people. We forfeit the opportunity to grow. It was Blaise Pascal who said, “I have discovered that all human evil comes from this, man’s being unable to sit still in a room.”

They have not come easy, but I am slowly making some choices in my life in regards to my social media use that I hope will help me not lose the ability for silence and reflection. And I’m not alone in this. It seems that everyone is trimming back to some degree, whether it be deleting their Facebook, cutting back Twitter followers, or by changing their blogging platform. Kem Meyer had a post, Information Obesity, with great insight into why I think people are choosing to cut back. In doing these things people are hoping to find less noise, and hopefully more time for reflection and silence.

I think this will be a continual process as we all continue to filter out how to be effective online without losing ourselves in the process. If we don’t work at this process I think we may find ourselves sometime in the near future with some regrets about how much of ourselves we gave away to others, and how little we have for ourselves, especially our interior lives. I have decided that I’m only going to blog a maximum of one time a week at this blog, and my therapy blog. The rest of the time you can find me somewhere else online, whether it be Twitter, Friendfeed, posterous, Facebook, or something else. I’m sure I will be cutting back and simplifying these things as well.

What We Are After
In his phenomenal book, The Way of the Heart: Connecting with God Through Prayer, Wisdom, and Silence, Henri Nouwen makes the case that solitude, silence and prayer are necessary for our lives. He says:

“It is not difficult to see that in this fearful and painful period of our history we who minister in parishes, schools, universities, hospitals, and prisons are having a difficult time fulfilling our task of making the light of Christ shine into the darkness. Many of us have adapted ourselves too well to the general mood of lethargy. Others among us have become tired, exhausted, disappointed, bitter, resentful, or simply bored. Still others have remained active and involved–but have ended up living more in their own name than in the Name of Jesus Christ. This is not so strange. The pressures in the ministry are enormous, the demands are increasing, and the satisfaction diminishing. How can we expect to remain full of creative vitality, of zeal for the Word of God, of desire to serve, and of motivation to inspire our often numbed congregations? Where are we supposed to find nurture and strength? How can we alleviate our own spiritual hunger and thirst?” (pp. 2-3).


“Solitude is the furnace of transformation. Without solitude we remain victims of our society and continue to be entangled in the illusions of the false self.

Jesus himself entered into this furnace. There he was tempted with the three compulsions of the world: to be relevant (“turn stones into loaves”), to be spectacular (“throw yourself down”), and to be powerful (“I will give you all these kingdoms”). There he affirmed God as the only source of his identity (“You must worship the Lord your God and serve him alone”). Solitude is the place of great struggle and the great encounter–the struggle against the compulsions of the false self, and the encounter with the loving God who offers himself as the substance of the new self.” (pp. 15-16)


Silence is the way to make solitude a reality…

Over the last few decades we have been inundated by a torrent of words. Wherever we go we are surrounded by words: words softly whispered, loudly proclaimed, or angrily screamed; words spoken, recited, or sung; words on records, in books, on walls, or in the sky; words in many sounds, many colors, or many forms; words to be heard, read, seen, or glanced at; words which flicker off and on, move slowly, dance, jump, or wiggle. Words, words, words! They form the floor, the walls, and the ceiling of our existence.

It has not always been this way. There was a time not too long ago without radios and televisions, stop signs, yield signs, merge signs, bumper stickers, and the ever-present announcements indicating price increases or special sales. There was a time without the advertisements which now cover whole cities with words.

Recently I was driving through Los Angeles, and suddenly I had the strange sensation of driving through a huge dictionary. Wherever I looked there were words trying to take my eyes from the road. They said, ‘Use me, take me, buy me, drink me, smell me, touch me, kiss me, sleep with me.’ In such a world who can maintain respect for words?

All this is to suggest that words, my own included, have lost their creative power. Their limitless multiplication has made us lose confidence in words and caused us to think, more often than not, ‘They are just words.'” (pp. 37-38)


“Solitude and silence can never be separated from the call to unceasing prayer. If solitude were primarily an escape from a busy job, and silence primarily an escape from a noise milieu, they could easily become very self-centered forms of asceticism. But solitude and silence are for prayer. The Desert Fathers did not think of solitude as being alone, but as being alone with God. They did not think of silence as not speaking, but as listening to God. Solitude and silence are the context within which prayer is practiced.

The literal translation of the words ‘pray always’ is ‘come to rest.’ The Greek word for rest is hesychia, and hesychasm is the term which refers to the spirituality of the desert. A hesychast is a man or a woman who seeks solitude and silence as a the ways to unceasing prayer. The prayer of the hesychasts is a prayer of rest. This rest, however, has little to do with the absence of conflict or pain. It is a rest in God in the midst of a very intense daily struggle.” (pp. 63-64)