Summary: 1) The Call to Solitude (Mark 6:30-31), and 2) The Challenge of Solitude (Mark 6:32-33), 3) The Compassion of Solitude (Mark 6:34)
Those who are successful learn how to be alone. Whether it is an artist with a canvas, an author staring at a page, a teacher making out a lesson plan or a businessperson reviewing accounts, they know that certain things must be done alone. From that time alone a painting can be put on public display, a book may be published that many will read, a teacher can stand in front of a class, or an accounting can be given to the stockholders and the board of directors.
For introverted people the choice for solitude is fairly easy. Their temperament inclines them to get away from people. For extroverts being alone is almost unthinkable, because they draw energy from being with people. The only way solitude will make sense for an extrovert or type A personality, is remembering that Solitude is being alone for personal growth and accomplishment. Solitude is being alone on purpose. It is being alone for personal renewal and refreshment. Loneliness happens to you. In contrast, solitude is something you choose (The previous two paragraphs were adapted from Eyre, S. D. (1995). Drawing close to God: the essentials of a dynamic quiet time: a lifeguide resource. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.).
In Mark chapter 6, crowds constantly followed Jesus and His disciples. Jesus knew how tiring ministry can be. He knew what it felt like to heal people, to have the press of the crowds upon him, to preach from town to town until his voice was hoarse, to get so caught up in God’s business that daily needs were forgotten. His compassion reached out to the disciples, and he encouraged them to come away from the crowds to get some rest (Cooper, R. L. (2000). Mark (Vol. 2, pp. 104–105). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.)
One of the problems with our world is that it is difficult to be alone. The cost of being hyper-connected, by carrying a cell phone, with constant social updates, instant messaging and email, we can continually be at others beck and call. Compound that with group work, social functions, customer expectations, yet alone family time, we may never really have time to sort our thoughts out or discern God’s direction.
What Jesus shows us from Mark chapter 6, is that the more busy times get, the more we need solitude. It does not mean abandoning problems or extended times away, but even a short devoted time, perhaps with others, for a spiritual purpose of focusing and discerning, enables us to sort our thoughts out and discern God’s direction. In this we see: 1) The Call to Solitude (Mark 6:30-31), and 2) The Challenge of Solitude (Mark 6:32-33), 3) The Compassion of Solitude (Mark 6:34)
1) The Call to Solitude (Mark 6:30-31)
Mark 6:30-31 The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. And he said to them, "Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while." For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. (ESV)
Let’s start with a working definition of solitude and pull the details out from this event in Mark 6. Solitude is intentional individual or group isolation for a spiritual purpose. It can enable spiritual growth and direction through reflection, prayer and study of God’s word in order to renew a relational closeness to God.
In Mark, the Apostles were sent out. This lasted weeks, probably maybe just a few months. The Apostles returned and gathered with Jesus. He had commissioned them to be his emissaries (Ch. 6:7–13), and it is appropriate to this circumstance that they should report to him how they had fulfilled their commission. The designation of the Twelve as “the apostles,” which occurs only here in Mark’s Gospel, has specific reference to the mission they have just undertaken. In this context the term is descriptive of the disciples’ function rather than an official title, and could be rendered “missionaries.” It was in consequence of their mission of preaching and exorcism in Galilee that the Twelve were designated “apostles,” i.e. those who had been sent forth and empowered by Jesus (Lane, W. L. (1974). The Gospel of Mark (p. 224). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co)
The word apostle (Gr. apostolos) means “one who has been sent on an errand.” It basically means the same as missionary, which comes from the Latin (Earle, R. (1970). Mark: the gospel of action (pp. 58–59). Chicago: Moody Press.).
• For missionaries today we see this practice of return as furlough. It means withdrawal from the field of ministry for debriefing, consideration of the effectiveness of ministry and a refocus. It can be difficult to achieve these functions in the midst of all the activity so the withdrawal is a form of solitude.