It is not good that man should be alone
But now even more the report about him went abroad, and great crowds gathered to hear him and to be healed of their infirmities. 16 But he would withdraw to desolate places and pray.
I have heard several times in the past couple of days people reminding one another (reminding me) of the difference between isolation and solitude. This isn’t a new concept for some of you or to the counseling world, but it’s new to a lot of us, maybe especially us extroverts that don’t do this “alone” thing very well. In light of this, I want to mutually confess the pitfalls of isolation and then wade into the warm spring of Gospel-Solitude.
1 Peter 5:8
Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.
When a predator is looking to overtake a victim, he begins by trying to separate him from his group which offers him safety. We see it clearly in the animal kingdom, and see it with great horror among abusive people. But it is also true in the spiritual world.
When we are isolated, we become vulnerable to lies from outside and inside. We don’t have an accountability-filter to help us discern what is real and what is false, what is truth and what is a lie. Here are a few of these tactics:
- When I am by myself, I think I’m actually and truly alone. But I’m not. The Lord has told us perpetually throughout history that we are never alone; that he will never leave nor forsake us; that he dwells within us and we dwell within him.
- When I am by myself, I begin to believe that I have been abandoned. I feel like I’m not loved, wanted, needed or valuable. This tends to happen because we rate our value and identity on what we accomplish and what others say to and about us.
- When we are by ourselves we are more susceptible to overt sins. (Think broad here: lust, gluttony, sloth, over-spending etc). We may think that nobody will know and therefore it doesn’t really matter. But sin isn’t a matter of consequences as much as it’s a matter of love, and fidelity to our Lord because of his faithfulness to us. Be alert when you sense yourself falling into a place of isolation.
“Be still, and know that I am God.
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!”
When Jesus was getting stormed on all sides, he took a personal prayer retreat (Luke 5:15). He knew that all of his strength and hope sprung out of his communion with the Father and the Spirit. He didn’t go off by himself because he was weak but because he actually knew what was real, what was essential. And what was coming.
Right now we are all faced with what is mostly likely the least amount of human contact and connection you’ve ever had. With very few exceptions, we literally can’t be physically near each other. Whether or not you are an introvert or extrovert, we all crave intimacy; we crave affection; we crave loving touch. Science has proven and confirmed what Scripture has always taught: “It is not good for us to be alone.” We were designed in God’s image to be in relationship and we are weakened outside of them.
So what do we do in this time when we are so limited?
This alone-time is an opportunity to truly and deeply strengthen three other relationships. I invite you now to join me in intentionally using this time to re-calibrate what’s most important in life.
- With your loved ones. If you are able to be near to your loved ones, what would it look like to take this time to intentionally grow closer? Asking questions. Listening. Sitting down and learning new things.
- With the Lord. What a time we have to have actual, deep, undisturbed, quiet time where we can read, talk, listen and invest.
- With yourself. None of us truly know ourselves. We are all (to a degree) terrified of what we’ll find if we really look. But it is utterly imperative. So much so that John Calvin, as he began his historical work (The Institutes), his first sentence was this: “Nearly all wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves”
When the time comes for us to come together again, if we could have grown a little more in our primary relationship with the Lord, we will be able to more freely engage with one another. We can enjoy each other without strings, without forcing the other person to make us feel complete, because we’ll already realize that we ARE complete in Christ. This solitude time, though wrought with great struggles, can actually be used by God to grow us in ways we couldn’t have grown because we weren’t willing to engage “self-solitude”.
This challenge toward healthy solitude might feel overwhelming. It leaves me hoping that I have the strength to do it. Then I remember that the power has already been given to me. That I can find joy and health when I’m alone because, in fact, it is literally impossible for me to be alone. I remember the last days of Jesus. He began the week by being with his best friends in the upper room enjoying community, conversation and the Passover meal (that was missing the lamb, because he WAS the lamb). But a short time later Jesus and only a few of his closest brothers went to the Garden of Gethsemane as he was preparing for the Cross. As they entered Jesus (in Luke 22) “withdrew from them” so that he could be in solitude with His Father, face to face. Though a horribly painful time, what intimacy he and the Father had at that time. Deep sorrow, emotion, pain and conversation.
And then…the cross. Jesus was truly isolated in ways we can never remotely understand. He was utterly alone and separated, forsaken, by the Father. In so doing he paid the price of our isolation. And in rising again he has given us new life. And in being glorified into perfect intimacy with the Father, he sent his Spirit to us to dwell in us, and us in Him.
It’s in this truth, this hope, that I can mediate when I am by myself, letting the Gospel remind me of how, when I am listening to the lie that I’m an orphan, I am a beloved, cherished son of God.