Spiritual Practice

Learning Patience in Solitude

Tom Arthur

I hate waiting. I hate waiting so much that waiting for the microwave drives me crazy. I hate waiting for pictures to download on my phone. I hate waiting for a stop light to turn green. I especially hate waiting for people. I hate waiting for my family to get ready to leave. I hate waiting for people to stop talking so that I can say what I want to say. If all these people weren’t around, life would be so much more enjoyable. I’m not a patient person, especially when it comes to other people.

Recently, I got the idea to take a four-day, three-night spiritual retreat all by myself at a local campground. I decided to take my retreat at the slowest time of the camping season: the day after Christmas. I contacted the camp about my idea, and they told me they had a perfect cabin. It was heated and had a fireplace, a kitchen, and an indoor bathroom; and no one would be in the campground. Sweet! I thought. I won’t have to wait for anybody!


lake6802-2Have you ever been silent and by yourself for four whole days? The only people I saw were in a car that drove by the cabin and a couple who were walking on the ice across the lake. Otherwise, I was completely alone.

The morning of the second day, I wrote in my journal: “I have been given the gift of time. Time feels extravagantly abundant. I have not been here 24 hours, but it feels like forever. I move at whatever pace seems good—no rush to do anything. It is wonderful.

I read when I want to. I stop when I want to. I nap. I cook. I eat. I tend the fire. I sleep. And I have about two and a half days left. Will I become restless? I do not have many expectations of what will happen. Mostly, I’m just slowing way down and waiting on God.” Did you notice how many times I said “I”?

I didn’t anticipate how much I would begin to miss people. Later in the retreat, I wrote in my journal: “I am starting to get lonely. I’ve been silent and alone now for almost 30 hours, and I have another 40 to go.” Can you hear me beginning to get impatient with those 40 hours? When will this retreat be done so that I can be with people again?

In those four days, I gained a deeper patience with other people. I realized how important they are to me and how little I wait for them. I realized that people are less an inconvenience and more a community that provides companionship and an opportunity to learn to love in the midst of the waiting. In my heart, God was slowly growing love and patience for those around me. When I got back home, I appreciated everyone more than I had when I left.



Consider taking a one-night, two-day retreat of solitude. Ask your parents or pastor to help you plan it. If an overnight retreat isn’t possible, take an all-day retreat. Pay attention to the places in your life where impatience resides. As time slows down on your retreat, ask God to speak to you about patience.


Photos courtesy of Lake Louise Christian Community

Tom Arthur is the pastor of Sycamore Creek Church in Lansing, Michigan ( He and his wife Sarah have a toddler and a newborn, who are giving him many opportunities to learn patience.

—from devozine (May/June 2014). Copyright © 2014 by The Upper Room®. All rights reserved.

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