In the laundry room cabinet of my childhood home, we had a red Webster’s dictionary and a set of brown encyclopedias with gold foil lettering on each spine. When I wanted to know something, I opened the cabinet, plopped down on the floor, and pulled out a book to help me find the answer.
When I pose a question in adulthood, I tend to investigate in a similar way: I find a book.
The faster way would be to access a blog or an article on the internet, but I’ve always preferred to investigate the bigger questions with a book. Something about the slower pace of this is attractive to me, as if the space between question and answer allocated room in my mind to process the information.
The book I found this past month, Lead Yourself First: Inspiring Leadership Through Solitude by Raymond M. Kethledge and Michael S. Erwin, facilitated a better understanding of how to be a leader and how to lead myself. I’ve reached a point in my work and in my life that leaves me wondering what helps leaders grasp the opportunity and challenge of the small and large decisions they make. The key, I realize now, is often solitude.
Solitude. Concentration. Breath. Space.
Through Kethledge and Erwin’s words, I began to recognize how often my wandering mind was juggling rather than focusing. You can’t multitask and read thoughtfully, and you catch yourself more when you read in solitude. You remember your brain must focus on how the words, strung together, make up the sentences and the paragraphs and the message. You remember the best books motivate your mind to pull your eyes from the pages to think, to make connections, to establish a context within your world based on the content provided.
From the pages in my lap, I read about how leaders of today and yesterday face decisions that make an impact on families, countries, and continents, and many of them rely heavily on processing information in solitude.
Solitude for some provides a place to write out a plan. For others, it is a place to recover after encountering a tumultuous situation. Some grieve in solitude. Some celebrate. The end result is the same: people interact with others better because they take time for themselves.
I considered the times in my life when I felt most present in the moment or calm and confident about a decision. These moments happen when I respect solitude as an essential piece of my schedule, whether intentional or not. I’ve found solitude while running or swimming, as well as while rocking a baby or sitting on a fallen tree on a hiking trail. In these instances, I have the best conversations with God.
Coincidence? Not a chance.
Passages in Mark include multiple references to Jesus finding moments of solitude or encouraging others to make time for it. It seems finding a secluded place to pray was a practice, and it makes sense: if you can’t hear your thoughts, how can you decipher your purpose?
Passages about Jesus leaving the group to be alone leave me wondering about what isn’t recorded. I’d like to know what solitude meant for a leader who had more weight on his shoulders than any leader before or since. How did the Savior process the magnitude of his choices while still leading people during his time on earth? Even Jesus had to make an active choice for solitude. He didn’t wait to see if he had time left at the end of the day. It was an important practice.
“And in the morning, long before daylight, He got up and went out to a deserted place, and there He prayed” (Mark 1:35 AMPC).
The leaders depicted in Kethledge and Erwin’s book used solitude to restore composure or replenish a well of creativity. I can see both of those concepts at work for me. I know that a relatively small window of solitude can have such an impact on my output that it outweighs any time I “took away” from the day.
In seasons of our lives when busyness is the norm, the best thing we can cultivate is a sacred appreciation for solitude. If you see me curled up with a book somewhere, and I stop to think between pages or scrawl a note, it means solitude is filling my tank. I hope it reminds you to fill yours.
If you don’t see Lacey Rose Dixon taking photos or writing, she’s thinking about it. So far, she’s called Minnesota, South Dakota, and Michigan home, and her passport gets itchy for stamps. Lacey loves scuba diving with her hubby and crawling after her little man. Follow her @laceyrosedixon on Twitter.
Photograph © Kiwihug, used with permission