Are you comfortable with solitude? Answering for myself, I'd have to say "sometimes". Read on as Ruth Haley Barton woos us beyond comfort and into health.



By Ruth Haley Barton

Moses discovered what we all must discover: that solitude is the place of our own conversion. In solitude we stop believing our own press. We discover that we are not as good as we thought but we are also more than we thought. As we slowly come in contact with our own dysfunctions, we unveil our need for security and all the ways we try to use God and others to get it. We are alarmed to discover that when the shepherd is starving, he or she may start devouring the sheep!

In solitude our illusions fall away and we see - sometimes with disturbing clarity - our competitiveness, our jealousies, our rage, our manipulations. We get in touch with our fears: fears of loneliness and abandonment, fears of really loving and allowing others to love us, fears of our sexuality and how powerful it is in combination with our spirituality. When we are in the company of others, it is easy to project our fears and negative feelings onto them; when we are in solitude, we must claim these inner experiences as our own. We discover that we are not who we thought we were in all of our self- aggrandizement, nor are we who other people think we are in all of their idealized projections.

If we stay in solitude long enough, we become safe enough with ourselves and with God to say, Yes, this is who I am. We are able to surrender to who we are - our limitations, our clinging and grasping and possessiveness, our selfishness and our fear. This is not a yes that says, I will remain the same. This is a yes that says to God, "I recognize what I am now, and I am none other than what I am. Whatever it is that most needs to be done in my life, you will have to do."

This is a very hard place for a leader to be. We are so used to being able to fix what needs fixing and push ahead with whatever needs doing that for a while we may find ways to try really, really hard to do something about what we are now seeing.

Some of us will wear ourselves out trying to change ourselves before we realize that it is not about fixing; it is about letting go - letting go of old patterns that no longer serve us. This is frightening, because we are not sure such an approach will really work. And we are not sure what we might lose in the process.

At this point it is helpful to remember that all we have to lose is what we don't really want anyway. All we stand to lose is the false self - the adaptive behaviors that are ultimately in opposition to the life of love and trust and being led by God that our hearts long for. To give ourselves to this process, we must trust that our true self is hidden with Christ in God, to be revealed as God sees that we are ready to live into it.

Ruth Haley Barton is founding president of the Transforming Center, a spiritual formation ministry to pastors and Christian leaders. A trained spiritual director, teacher, and retreat leader, she is the author of Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership, Invitation to Solitude and Silence, and Sacred Rhythms. She has her Doctor of Divinity from Northern Seminary.

Excerpted with permission, Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership Expanded Edition by Ruth Haley Barton. Copyright 2018 Ruth Haley Barton. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL.

© Elisa Morgan 2020

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