Does the following seem like a paradox to you?
“If we are unable to be alone, we will be more lonely. And if we don’t’ teach our children to be alone, they will only know how to be lonely.”*
That idea was certainly a paradox to me—until a few years ago.
Although I’m an introvert, I was really lonely after my husband passed away. Our son had already left the nest and settled into his own adult life, and now, with both of them gone, I was completely on my own. I was 46. I couldn’t imagine going on for decades like this.
So you can imagine my dismay when someone I respected made what seemed like a really insensitive suggestion: “I think the spiritual disciplines of silence and solitude would help you.” He was completely earnest.
Outwardly, I maintained calm—but inwardly, I was shrieking! Had he heard me? My husband had died. My nest was empty. I worked from home–alone. I had no housemates. My closest family lived 2,000 miles away.
Solitude? You could hardly find anyone who had more of it than I did!
He gave an explanation—I don’t remember it now—but it wasn’t much help. To me, silence and solitude was the last thing I needed. But, perhaps in deference to this older man’s wisdom, I actually tried to take his advice to heart. I made an intentional choice to avoid filling my days with noise and activity, including media—though it was very tempting.
I didn’t become a hermit—I still did things with friends, participated in church activities, and occasionally invited people in. But I did probably 80 percent of my life in silent solitude.
Somewhere during that deafeningly quiet season, the Holy Spirit directed me to John 14:23:
“Jesus replied, ‘Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.’”
I’d read the verse countless times before, but this time was an arrow straight to my heart. God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—wanted to make their home with me! They wanted to fill the quiet and solitude with themselves! They wanted to share their life with me and have me share my life with them.
As I meditated on their invitation, I realized that if I’d filled my life up with activity, I might not have heard the invitation. I might have been too busy or distracted to notice God reaching out to me. But the silence and solitude had prepared my heart to be wide-open and hungry, ready for them to move in and occupy my home, my life, with me.
It’s not that the Trinity wasn’t with me before. It’s just that when my life was full of people, sound, and activity, I wasn’t as tuned in. I wasn’t as aware of my need. I didn’t reach out as much or notice God reaching out to me.
But as I started living into this awareness, I found myself engaging with God. Thanking Him, out loud, for little things. Asking Him for help with things my husband used to do for me. Talking over problems and decisions and taking enough time to hear His response. Letting Him know when I was lonely or discouraged and asking Him to meet me there. Sometimes I even went out to a restaurant alone with God. Or on a weekend away in the mountains.
It didn’t happen overnight, but eventually, I realized that there had been a shift. I wasn’t lonely as much. The weekends didn’t seem so long and empty. I was more aware of God’s presence. I wasn’t lonely, although I was alone.
*Sherry Turkle in Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in the Digital Age. Turkle writes from a secular perspective, but her thoughts about what we lose when we are constantly connected to technology should be thought-provoking for any Christian sees the need for making intentional space for God.