I was raised quietly. My mother was a country girl and loved to hear nature around her, so we never had music playing in the background and had strictly designated times to watch TV. She often avoided conversation too, much to my chagrin when I was trying to get her to answer my endless prattle. So you'd think I would have fallen easily into patterns of silence and solitude when I became a Christian. But I didn't for one reason: the message that came to me loudest when I became a Christian was that I should serve.
And I wanted to serve. As a non-Christian, I'd lived a self-centered life. So serving was a path of discipleship as I died to self and learned to live for others. But as the years progressed, my service became the enemy of my soul, rather than its friend.
My problem was that I thought I had to serve sacrificially all the time. I developed a sort of survivor's guilt that others suffered more than I did so I had to make up for it by laying down my life whenever I was asked. I would only say no if I really and truly had a conflict, and then I felt guilty about it.
My wake-up call came at a particularly busy time of my life when I rarely had a quiet moment and pushed myself to the point of exhaustion. One day, when I was supposed to help a friend decorate for her daughter's wedding, I became dizzy and stayed that way for three months. Sometimes it was so debilitating that I couldn't read, watch TV, or hold a conversation. At times, I had to lie on my back, without turning on either side, or my world would spin out of control. The only option left to me was to lie quietly and listen for God's voice, which turned out to be the best option of all. My experience was summed up in Psalm 62:1-2, "I wait quietly before God, for my victory comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress where I will never be shaken." After that experience, I never wanted to live without that kind of stillness again.
When I finally returned to normalcy, I changed my habits. I became a lot more selective what I said yes to; but most of all, I made sure I had times of solitude and silence. Yes, I'm afraid I'll get dizzy again; but even more, I hunger to be in God's presence, even if he is silent.
The Importance of Solitude
We may certainly hear God's voice when we are with others. Perhaps something hits you in a sermon or a friend says just the right thing at the right time, and you know it's meant for you. But we almost all need filters. Sometimes something in a sermon or a friend's word will steer you the wrong way—not because what they said wasn't true, but because it wasn't the message you needed to hear.
For example, when I was unable to say no to whatever someone asked of me, I didn't need to hear a sermon on serving, even if everyone else in the congregation did. Or if a friend enthusiastically talked about volunteering at the homeless shelter, I needed to let that go past me—even though it was the best thing in the world for her. For you it may be that you have a problem with feeling false guilt, so you don't need to hear a sermon on how sinful you are, even though the person sitting next to you is in rebellion and needs exactly that message. Or maybe you battle being over-disciplined, so you don't need to hear how an undisciplined friend is learning to regiment her life.
That's why we need alone time with God. We need to take time to hear what messages he has for us. If you are alone in God's presence, you are making yourself available to hear anything he wants to say to you. You are coming to him open for a change of direction, conviction of sin, a gentle nudging, or an all-out life revision.