No shame in solitude
Although loneliness is a common feeling around campus, the skills gained through intentional solitude can help to mitigate some of the negative effects associated with loneliness. | Courtesy of Ian Heisler
If Christians belong to the unified body of Christ, why do so many of us feel as though we do not belong to anything? It may seem difficult to imagine or even remember feeling lonely because some of us have been fortunate enough to become a part of a core group of friends. But many struggle with the crushing internal feeling of aloneness.
This topic ends up being treated like a taboo on our campus. A feeling of sadness associated with loneliness becomes unacceptable because of the joy we all should share as children of God. With the recent Friendship Awareness week and proverbs about the necessity of friendship shown on just about every T.V. on campus, feeling like you do not have friends can seem shameful.
We sometimes interpret loneliness as a failure on our part to interact with people well. This perceived failure can make us worry that we might not have what it takes to do friendships or relationships well — that something inside of us prevents us from creating friendships. And this kind of thinking can make us question the worth of pursuing community, even in a Christian setting. It becomes difficult to pursue community when something on the inside tells us that we do not have what it takes — that somehow we are incapable of experiencing the community we hear talked about as an ideal on campus.
However, let us not confuse the idea of loneliness with that of solitude. Solitude represents a choice made by an individual to isolate themselves from their surroundings. On the other hand, loneliness has more to do with isolation by people or circumstances. It is the feeling of being alone, which can often lead to depression and a lowered self-esteem.
BENEFITS OF SOLITUDE
Although no one likes to be alone and loneliness can pose a problem, the practice of solitude can produce real, meaningful benefits. The act of solitude may initially bring forth feelings of loneliness, especially for those not used to spending time alone. Continually practicing solitude allows for self evaluation and forces us to deal with personal issues that we often hide when around others.
It can also mean engaging in activities such as reading, journaling or meditating. Purposefully setting apart some time in our day to be alone becomes a helpful way to foster personal development. With this improved ability to tolerate solitude, we become able to enjoy times of solitude. This type of solitude can lead to contentedness, which may, in turn, help to mitigate the negative effects of loneliness.
Solitude is not only beneficial, but necessary for our health in a variety of ways, specifically for our spiritual health. Scripture encourages us to take time to be alone and pray, and they give an example of solitude through Jesus. Several times, Christ took the time to leave behind the crowds, even the disciples, to be in solitude.
He encouraged us through parables to not be like those who pray openly for others to see, but instead to go off alone for conversation with God. Being alone does not necessarily foster loneliness. Taking the time to be in solitude means taking the time to be still and quiet in the middle of a hustling, bustling world, which is healthy for us not only mentally, but physically and spiritually.
Instead of giving God a split second of your busy time to pray, we need to take the cue from Christ and carve out time to be in solitude with God. Do not let social pressure exhaust your mind, body and spirit with the threat of loneliness. Take the time to be alone in prayer and rest.