For an athlete, the hardest part of the year is the off-season. To most spectators this doesn’t make sense. A casual observer would assume that the hardest part of an athlete’s year is season competition, but any athlete will tell you that competition is the payoff. On the field performance is a direct reward and affirmation of the hard work done in the off-season. Tireless hours in the gym, on the field, and in meeting rooms prepare them for their time in the spotlight. This “lonely work,” as some have called it, serves as the foundation for every successful competitive endeavor.
Unrewarding as it is in the moment, these dark hours of lonely work prepare an athlete for critical moments when more is demanded of them. Those long hours of preparation in obscurity create the deep deposits which an athlete will draw from when the spotlight is on them. Show me someone who has success on the field and I’ll show you someone who has invested in the lonely work.
The spiritual life is no different. Our investment in the lonely work creates a foundation from which we can stand on when the demands of life increase. As stress rises and crisis invades, our lonely work is what gives us the strength to endure.
God meets us in the lonely work. As much as we see God moving when we are in the spotlight, the real strength is forged in obscurity. Our time invested in quiet moments with God, solitary moments in prayer, heartfelt moments of private worship, silent recognitions of God’s creative design, investigative moments of reading through the text – this is the lonely work of the spiritual life.
As you sit daily to read, pray, and reflect, recognize that you are not necessarily doing these things for the joy of the moment, but in preparation for a moment yet to come. Our daily time in the lonely work prepare us for crisis. This time gives us words to say in tragedy and the presence of mind to trust God when chaos looms. The real payoff will come when circumstances demand more than you think you are capable of enduring. When you endure the trails and tests of life, you are able to see the results of the lonely work.
So be encouraged, press on, sit quietly, and invest in the lonely work. You may not see the fruit today, but you are developing strength and perspective for tomorrow.