Loneliness or solitude? You decide.
by Amy Foster
In our modern culture it seems that loneliness reaches its peak at the holidays. Those without a family pine away for what they don’t have while everyone else pines away for a better or perfected version of their own family. Many feel isolated and lonely. Everything we see paints a picture of holiday cheer surrounded by family and friends, suggesting that the absence of these things could never make us merry or bright. And yet for many people, time alone during the holidays is inevitable. Single moms often experience this when the children leave to celebrate with the other parent, and this leaving can trigger a torrent of unwanted grief and loneliness.
This was my experience every Christmas morning as my three sons left to spend the day with their dad. My family tradition was one that celebrated richly on Christmas Eve, so I thought I wouldn’t mind the boys leaving every Christmas morning, but I was wrong. With the entire day looming before me, I too felt overwhelmed with loneliness, convinced that the rest of the world was enjoying the rich fellowship of family and friends. I tried several things to fill the time: first, joining in the family celebrations of well-meaning friends and next, filling my day with projects. I experienced the truth of one author’s statement, “Our fear of being alone drives us to noise and crowds.” Unfortunately, all these activities just felt void and wrong, noisy and crowded.
In apparent defeat I decided to just experience the loneliness. But here’s what I found: loneliness could be replaced with solitude, and solitude could be a beautiful thing!
Solitude is actually one of the spiritual disciplines that Jesus practiced. He spent time alone in the desert before He was tempted by Satan; He regularly spent nights praying by Himself; and after a big task, like feeding 5,000 people, He retreated to a place of solitude to be replenished by His Father. Jesus used solitude to draw new energy and strength from God.
Solitude is just one of the spiritual disciplines – activities just like Jesus’ that get our spirit in a place of readiness so we too can encounter God. In our busy lives – full of encounters with others – all our thoughts, energies and actions are usually reactions to a fallen world. But in solitude, we purposefully refrain from these interactions in order to focus our minds on the Lord. In solitude we get quiet – we silence our energies, emotions, angers, worries, concerns and activities in order to be present with God.
Solitude can take many forms but most often it is accompanied by silence. For me it included a long, leisurely walk on Christmas afternoon, an extended time of prayer where I didn’t just talk to God but I also sat still and listened, and the deliberate process of reviewing God’s provision and presence in my life over the last year. In loneliness we tend to focus on what is missing and unavailable, but in solitude we focus on the presence of God which is ever-present and the only thing that truly fills us up.
Solitude moved me to gratitude, thanksgiving and peace. Solitude reminded me of the truth that, even when I feel lonely, I am never alone because God has promised to never leave me. Solitude helped me see God’s desires for my family’s future. Solitude led me to the arms of God and there I found not loneliness but perfect rest. Peace, gratitude, hope and rest … these were the things I needed. But these things will never come from a flurry of activity, no matter how festive or fun. These things will only come in the presence of God.
Our God is a personal and intimate God who longs for us to give Him our full attention. He is also a jealous God who doesn’t want to compete for our attention. He is the God who says, “Be still and know that I am God.” In solitude we do exactly as God has asked and we find Him waiting for us. Isn’t this really what Christmas is all about? Jesus was called Immanuel, which means God with us. The busyness, the noise, the fun activities and the endless worries all crowd our minds and our souls and we forget that the God of the universe sent His Son into the world so that all who believe in Him will never be alone.
Loneliness or solitude? One is negative and empty, but the other can be positive, even noble. You can choose to exchange one for the other. My prayer for you this Christmas is for a time of solitude with God. If you find yourself alone, recognize the voice of God calling and asking you to come away with Him for a while. I pray that in His quiet presence you too will find perfect rest and peace.