This past year, we have all been thrown into isolation. Introverts, extroverts and ambiverts alike have dealt with spending large chunks of time alone. Being alone and feeling lonely are two distinct things. Being alone in solitude is the circumstance, whereas loneliness describes the unpleasant emotion one may feel while being alone, or even in a large group of people. I would not say that loneliness is a beneficial emotion, but it could encourage solitude, which may be described as a good place to be.
As a society, we tend to avoid solitude because of the constant social pressures that surround us. Countless activities, distractions and engagements hang over our heads, begging for our attention. The fear of facing internal conflicts could also cause evasion of solitude. Sometimes it can be scary to explore the negative emotions we feel. But loneliness is a normal human emotion and Jesus understands what it’s like to feel this way. It is when we feel lonely that we can pursue the spiritual practice of solitude.
However, making time to be alone and sit in isolation is not an easy feat for everyone. Putting a plan into place is key, so you don’t end up sitting and staring at the wall in front of you when faced with the quietness of solitude. Disconnecting from the online world, finding a location where you feel at peace and spending time focusing on perfecting a skill or participating in a hobby are all great places to start. Feeling OK about taking time to yourself is crucial; it is important to remember that you are not being selfish if you respond to someone, “No, right now I need to take time for myself.”
Experiencing isolation can be quite freeing. You may notice a boost in creativity as you are “forced” to problem-solve by yourself or use the time to focus on enjoyable interests. The time will also allow for you to take care of yourself, which will leave you feeling better equipped in relationships and could help you become a better partner, friend, sibling, parent, etc. Spending time in a calm state can also reduce your stress hormones and lessen the trigger of anxious thoughts or tendencies, and renew your energy.
One of the obvious benefits of spending time alone with God is that solitude can empower us to find strength within that we aren’t aware we have. Jesus Himself prioritized solitude and silence, which is illustrated throughout the Gospels. It is in solitude where He made important decisions, dealt with grief and other intense emotions, and cared for His own soul. Mark 1:35 says, “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.” God calls us to make time alone for Him. Jesus could have prayed anywhere where people could have seen and heard and asked questions. But He prioritized solitude because He knew the importance. It is in this space where we can meet and know God as Jesus knew Him.
Praying in solitude is also a place where you can heal from intense grief. Upon hearing that John the Baptist was beheaded, Jesus “withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place” (Matthew 14:13). Put yourself in His shoes. Many of us, upon hearing this kind of news about a close friend or relative, would just need some space to be alone and process what had just happened. Praying in solitude allows us to express a wider range of emotions with and even towards God. If we are alone, we can feel more free to express anger and doubt towards God and cry out to Him for answers in situations that make no sense.
It is also in isolation where Jesus was tested, tempted, and stretched to build strength and character. “At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him” (Mark 1:12-13). It is not meant to be easy, but that is where God will reach out, and take care of you. If you have other people to rely on to meet your needs, it robs the Father of a chance to show you His love for you.
So, although we might be getting weary of being alone in the circumstances we find ourselves in at this time in history, it is when we are alone that we understand in more depth that God is with us and we have the space to reflect on who we are and who we want to be.