CBS Sunday Morning: Steve Fuller is the Winter Caretaker of Yellowstone National Park – one of just a handful of hearty souls who remain in the wilderness long after the summer tourists have gone. He’s stuck out the solitary existence of the position for 42 years, ever since the winter of 1973. Lee Cowan reports.
When I saw this evocative report, I immediately remembered Richard Foster’s excellent chapter, “The Discipline of Solitude,” in his book, Celebration of Discipline. He opens the chapter saying:
Jesus calls us from loneliness to solitude. The fear of being left alone petrifies people. A new child in the neighborhood sobs to her mother, “No one every plays with me.” A college freshman yearns for his high school days when he was the center of attention: “Now, I’m a nobody.” A business executive sits dejected in her office, powerful, yet alone. An old woman lies in a nursing home waiting to go “Home.”
Our fear of being alone drives us to noise and crowds. We keep up a constant stream of words even if they are inane. We buy radios that strap to our wrists or fit over our ears so that, if no one else is around, at least we are not condemned to silence. T. S. Eliot analyzes our culture well when he writes, “Where shall the world be found, where will the word resound? Not here, there is not enough silence.”
But loneliness or clatter are not our only alternatives. We can cultivate an inner solitude and silence that sets us free from loneliness and fear. Loneliness is inner emptiness. Solitude is inner fulfillment.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Life Together titled one of his chapters “The Day Together” and the following chapter “The Day Alone.” Both are essential for spiritual success. He writes, “Let him who cannot be alone beware of community. . . . Let him who is not in community beware of being alone. . . . Each by itself has profound pitfalls and perils. One who wants fellowship without solitude plunges into the void of words and feelings, and one who seeks solitude without fellowship perishes in the abyss of vanity, self-infatuation, and despair”
Therefore, we must seek out the recreating stillness of solitude if we want to be with others meaningfully. We must seek the fellowship and accountability of others if we want to be alone safely. We must cultivate both if we are to live in obedience.