“A lonely person has no inner time nor inner rest to wait and listen…But in solitude we can pay attention to our inner self.”
I recently read a Henry Nouwen book called Reaching Out, and it came at the perfect time! Ever since I had to quit my job at the bakery decorating cakes in order to go to chapel and therefore return to college, I have been at home – a lot – by myself. You can ask just about anyone who knows me (my mother in particular would have a lot to say!) and they would tell you that I am not good at being alone. As a child I constantly had to have somene to play with, which means that basically I was annoying -and really bossy, but that’s beside the point. In high school and early college I tried to keep myself very busy so that I wasn’t ever by myself. Because alone means lonely and lonely is a crappy feeling. However, I not-so-quickly learned that I am not a typical American student that can juggle ten or twenty or tw0-hundred activities at once. I crashed. A few times. Now I am much more careful with my time and with committing to activities, and I spend much more time at home. Alone. Feeling lonely. (Sidenote: I’m not sure which I prefer – busy to the point of crazy or lonely to the point of crazy – different means, same end!)
I don’t think I am alone in my desire to stay busy in order to avoid my loneliness. This is actually an epidemic in our culture. We will do anything to avoid silence, solitude, and the feeling of being alone. We look to activities and people and relationships and things and food and money and television for fulfillment of our lonely feelings and end up distracted but still alone. It ends up that even being married with two great families and wonderful friends, I continue to feel lonely.
Here’s the thing – I think so many marriages and friendships and relationships fail because one or both parties are looking to the other and emotionally screaming – Help me! Take away my loneliness! Fill me up! Fix my hurt! And when the other person does not meet these desires, anger and resentment and disappointment ensue and the relationship fails. So often I pressure Caleb to entertain me, to take away my desperate feelings, and to fill me up emotionally. Whenever this happens we end up arguing and angry and frusterated because these are all things he can’t do for me, nor me for him. That’s not our purpose.
Nouwen’s book – back to where I started – talks about reaching out to self, others, and God. Though it often sounds romanticized or even “new agey”, solitude is an incredibly Biblical principle and a necessary (though really hard to grasp) spiritual discipline. The basis of the whole book is that in order to reach out to self, others, and God, we must first make the transition from feeling loneliness (dejected by the awareness of being alone) to understanding spiritual solitude “of the heart” (being “able to perceive and understand this world from a quiet inner center”). It follows that we must first feel our loneliness and get through (not around or under or across from) the desolation in order to truly understand that we are not alone. It is here that God so often makes Himself known and it becomes possible to reach a place where connection with the Spirit of God becomes natural (“pray without ceasing”) and where our time alone becomes quiet, peaceful, and fulfilling instead of dull, painstaking, and intolerable.
“Solitude does not pull us away from our fellow human beings but instead makes real fellowship possible.” I am learning that once I release the veneer of control gained from using people to fulfill my needs, I can instead see them as little pieces of God, each person with a different gift to share. Someday, when I am fully able to understand this, it will leave those around me feeling free to be fully themselves without fear of measuring up, pleasing, or fixing my emotional hurts. As my wise husband said at the age of 17, “I can’t fix it for you Kari, but I can hold your hand through it.” That is the purpose of relationship – it is a vehicle of love, an extra gift out of the abundance of the fulfilling grace of God, an icing on top of the already whole, perfect, and delicious cake. Fellowship is engrained in the character of God. We don’t need it to take away our loneliness, but it enriches our understanding of who God is and how he loves.