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The Surprising Cure for Lonely Leaders

How solitude fills us

But these accomplishments, though important, did not make me love him more. What I loved was him, not his tasks or talents. Sure, I loved seeing him develop his gifts and grow. But what I loved more was just him, and him soaking up my love. I found joy in his ability to simply sit still and enjoy my loving presence.

Yet how often I come to my heavenly Father, hands full of things I've made, or wanting to show him all I can do. And he says, "Sweetheart, I'm so proud of you. Now put that down and just be with me." That's what solitude is: just resting with God, soaking up his love. It is nothing more than obeying God's directive in Psalm 46:10, "Be still, and know that I am God!"

Once we are filled by God in solitude, then we must seek out community as well. Both disciplines are essential for every Christian, but especially for leaders, because we can too easily believe that our relationships with God and with others are all about what we give, rather than both giving and receiving.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his wonderful book Life Together, warns that someone who cannot be alone should "beware community," while those who are loners should be cautious about spending too much time in solitude. The disciplines of solitude and community bring balance to, and empower, our ministry. Each is essential, but I believe solitude must come first.

Jesus said the most important commandments are to love God and love others. Likewise, we need to receive love from God, and from others. But too often, we accomplish tasks for God and look to others for love to support us. Or we give to others without allowing God to fill us first, and we find ourselves poured out, souls parched.

Henri Nouwen wisely observed that effective ministry begins in solitude, then moves into community. And that community is created out of the strength that each individual finds in solitude. In an article titled "Moving from Solitude to Community to Ministry," he wrote: "If we do not know we are the beloved sons and daughters of God, we're going to expect someone in the community to make us feel that way. They cannot…But community is not loneliness grabbing onto loneliness: ‘I'm so lonely, and you're so lonely.' It's solitude grabbing onto solitude: ‘I am the beloved; you are the beloved; together we can build a home.' "

April10, 2012 at 1:53 PM

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