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Sheltering at home: Redeeming solitude through an ancient but empowering discipline

Dr. Jim Denison is the CEO of Denison Forum.
His Daily Article and podcast globally reach over 160,000 subscribers. Dr. Denison guides readers to discern today’s news—biblically. He is the author of multiple books and has taught on the philosophy of religion and apologetics at several seminaries. Prior to launching Denison Forum in 2009, he pastored churches in Texas and Georgia. He holds a Ph.D and a Master of Divinity from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Jim and his wife, Janet, live in Dallas, Texas. They have two sons and four grandchildren.

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In the US, the share of adults who live alone has nearly doubled over the last fifty years. This rise of “living alone” started in early-industrialized countries over a century ago, then accelerated around 1950.

This fact is especially relevant in a coronavirus-compelled day of social distancing and “sheltering at home.”

New Yorker writer Robin Wright adds her perspective: “Psychologists note the difference between living alone and loneliness. I live alone and have no family, and usually don’t think much about it. But, as the new pathogen forces us to socially distance, I have begun to feel lonely. I miss the ability to see, converse with, hug, or spend time with friends. Life seems shallower, more like survival than living.”

The internet is filled with advice on making the most of these days. I heard Dr. Phil on television suggesting that couples use this time to deepen their marriages and play games with their children. Schools and educational resources are offering unprecedented options for children. We can visit more sites around the world through virtual technology than ever.

One way of redeeming social distancing I have not seen in the media, however, is countercultural in the extreme: let’s embrace the solitude, at least for periods of time and seasons during this season. And let’s use it as a time to grow closer to our Father than ever before.

What comes first with God

The strategy I have in mind comes from God himself.

The Book of Exodus includes a series of instructions from the Lord to his people as they are journeying toward their Promised Land. In chapter 31, he concludes a long set of instructions regarding ethical guidelines, the consecration of the high priest, and the construction of the tabernacle.

Then he concludes with the phrase, “Above all” (v. 13a). What would come “above all” that he has revealed to them? What would he list as their highest priority? Would he remind them of the prohibition against idolatry? Would he warn them again regarding murder or adultery?

Here’s the answer: “Above all you shall keep my Sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations” (Exodus 31:13a).

Why is keeping a Sabbath so vital to our souls?

Why to keep a Sabbath

The Lord continues: “that you may know that I, the LORD, sanctify you” (v. 13b). We cannot sanctify ourselves. Only a holy God can make an unholy people to be holy.

However, we can position ourselves to receive what God’s grace intends to give. Thus we must keep a Sabbath and walk with Jesus in the Spirit so that he can sanctify us and then work through us to extend his kingdom in the world.

Frederick Buechner offers two reasons why connecting with the spiritual is so vital for our souls.

One is that the spiritual world is real: “We are in constant touch with a world that is as real to us while we are in it, and has as much to do with who we are, and whose ultimate origin and destiny are as unknown and fascinating, as the world of waking reality.”

The other is that, whether we know it or not, “our lives are a great deal richer, deeper, more intricately interrelated, more mysterious, and less limited by time and space than we commonly suppose.”

How to keep a Sabbath

How can we keep a Sabbath today?

The principle of Sabbath extends beyond a day of the week without work. It calls us to time spent alone with our Lord, a commitment to be with him and no other.

Let’s focus on one vital dimension of such a communion with our Creator: listening to God. How can we do this?

In a recent First15 devotional, Craig Denison describes four ways God speaks to us: through creation, others, Scripture, and his Spirit. He notes: “To have conversation with God might sound strange to some, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. Rather, to have conversation with God available to us and to not take advantage of it is strange.”

He adds: “God longs to speak to you. The Creator of all longs to have dialogue with you. The King of kings and Lord of lords is inviting you to meet with him that you might have true relationship.”

So, “Seek God with all your heart. Look to Scripture and the lives of biblical believers as your source of truth and normalcy. Because of God’s heart to speak to you, you can live your life in constant conversation with a God who is both near to you and loves you.”

When will you next keep a Sabbath with your Lord?

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