Houston Graduate School of Theology

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Ebbs and Flows

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By Dr. Ria E. Baker, Associate Professor of Counselor Education at Houston Graduate School of Theology Solitude is a spiritual discipline that was clearly seen in the life of Jesus. He began his ministry with forty days of solitude in the desert (Mk 1:12). Adele Ahlberg Calhoun (2005) notes, “Solitude is a formative place because it gives God’s Spirit time and space to do deep work.” During his ministry, Jesus often returned to lonely places for solitude where he sought union with God.

Richard Foster (1998) adds, “Solitude is more than a state of mind and heart than it is a place.” On solitude, Foster continues that, by possessing inward solitude, one does not fear being alone or in crowds with the knowledge that one is not alone. A portable sanctuary of the heart is carried on one’s journey.

Silence and solitude go hand in hand. Inner solitude and inner silence are inseparable. With the discipline of silence and solitude, one learns when to speak and when to refrain from speaking. As Prov 25:11 (NIV) reads, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.” Finally, solitude and silence open the door to enable one to listen to God speak in “his wondrous, terrible, gentle, loving, all-embracing silence” (Foster).

Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s writing on solitude in Treasures of the Sea (1955) describes her thoughts and insights during a time of solitude on a quiet island. Lindbergh writes about the ebbs and flows of life, of love, and of relationships.

“We leap at the flow of the tide and resist in terror its ebb. We are afraid it will never return. We insist on permanency, on duration, on continuity; when the only continuity possible, in life as in love, is in growth, in fluidity, in freedom, in the sense that the dancers are free…but partners in the same pattern.”

Lindbergh describes the treasures that are found at the bottom of the sea, particularly noticeable during ebbs, such as a sand dollar or shells opening and shutting. These illustrations are likened to the ebbs, or solitude, in one’s life, relationship-wise, with people and most importantly with God when things are not at their height in terms of activity and excitement or during times of suffering and hardship.

It is during such times that beautiful treasures eventually wash up on the shore—treasures such as a deepening of dependence on God, personal peace, contentment, security in God’s grace and mercy, and moments of feeling God’s presence and power. Ebbs and flows are apart of one’s existence, and, during the ebbs, times of solitude often bring peace and cultivate patience and acceptance that are needed for future, arduous times in life.