First, let me share a couple quotes from Henri Nouwen to frame the post. They are from his book, The Way of the Heart.
Solitude is not a private therapeutic place. Rather, it is the place of conversion, the place where the old self dies and the new self is born.
Our primary task in solitude is not to pay undue attention to the many faces which assail us, but to keep the eyes of our mind and heart on him who is our divine savior.
When we are filled with God’s merciful presence our whole being witnesses to the light that has come into the darkness.
Spiritual disciplines are something we typically do by ourselves. After all, it was Jesus who told us to go pray in a closet so nobody would see us. And we talk about personal devotions and quiet times which are always by ourselves. And if we are trying to practice solitude and silence, it becomes a bit more complicated with the presence of other human beings. But even though we may practice spiritual disciplines by our lonesome, they are intended not only for our own benefit, but for the benefit of all whom we may encounter in our lives. It’s in these divine appointments where we are transformed from the old to the new. It is the furnace (I’m stealing this language from Nouwen) where our fleshly desires are burned away, and the image of God within us is purified, polished, waxed, and ready to once again mirror the divine. As soon as we leave our divine appointments, we are sure to encounter somebody, whether that is your friend, your mailman, or your boss. What image are they seeing? What are we reflecting? Spiritual disciplines extend into the far reaches of our lives, even the places we’d rather God not go with us to. Simon Chan furthers this idea by saying that although spirituality may be personal it is never “individualistic or private, since the Christian life is always defined by a person’s concrete existence within a community”. For some, that community may be the church. For others, their family, or their small group, or the guys they hang out with down at the bar. Thus, although we engage in spiritual disciplines for our own growth, it never truly is about me. Or you. But rather, us. They are just as much about those whom we have contact with as they are about ourselves. Because spiritual disciplines practiced for the sake of ourselves mean nothing. The apostle Paul talks about building up the body of Christ. That we are to use the gifts that God has bestowed upon us – teaching, prophesying, etc. Spiritual disciplines are about building the body of Christ culminating in an image of God embodied within the church that God’s grace will truly be irresistible to the world.