All human beings are alone. No other person will completely feel like we do, think like we do, act like we do. Each of us is unique, and our aloneness is the other side of our uniqueness. The question is whether we let our aloneness become loneliness or whether we allow it to lead us into solitude. Loneliness is painful; solitude is peaceful.Henri Nouwen: Out of Solitude
It seems as though life as we know it is about to grind to an abrupt halt. For many this will present the fear of isolation, loneliness and perhaps feelings of helplessness and frustration. The temptation will be to watch News 24, binge on the latest box set (Downton would be my temptation) or even do that list of jobs that has been forgotten amongst the business of life. Those of us suddenly with children at home will probably envy them! For all of us, this is an unsettling time, even for Her Majesty!
Now whilst of course it is good to keep motivated, maintain or find a new routine, take up a new hobby, read all of those books that you have been given over the years, there is a deeper purpose perhaps. For perhaps we have unwittingly entered a season of deep transformation, a transition from what we have been unconsciously used to, towards a new being that we are consciously not used to at all. It seems pretty likely that that when we return to normal, that normal may be very different.
We often think of loneliness as manifesting itself through the absence of the caring presence of another, or the hopelessness that events far beyond our control can sometimes bring. Loneliness can also come from feeling misunderstood, feeling different, un acknowledged. However change can also make us lonely, as we fear being left behind or perhaps worse being dragged into a future in which we just don’t think we will have a place. It is fair to say perhaps that all of us are gong to find ourselves in unfamiliar territory for a while. Will the cardinal points of our life look the same in a few months time?
There are so many examples of people in the Bible who I am sure felt lonely. Moses, the young prince who finding himself neither accepted by Egypt or Israel entered the desert with little sense of belonging. Joseph, misunderstood for all those years, rejected and cast out by his brothers. I’m sure Peter felt lonely, even whilst surrounded by his best friends after having betrayed Jesus three times. So how do we follow Henri Nouwen’s path of allowing loneliness or disorientation lead us to a place of embracing the creative and transformative space that solitude can become?
So I want to encourage you. If you begin to feel lonely, isolated and fearful about what the future may hold, seek solitude. We choose solitude. Solitude is an activity just like any other. Where as before we may have chosen to spend time with a friend or member of our family, now we can chose to simply sit with God and allow him to make his presence felt in our lives.
Solitude is transformative.
When we choose to enter solitude, we meet two people. The first is us, and that’s scary! Why? Because the truth of it is that most of us, when we enter solitude, meet the things that we often bury deeply. Try sitting in complete quiet for half an hour or more a day, focus on God and you’ll see what I mean! We are often initially confronted by the very things that we are trying to escape from. And that’s ok, it’s normal. Sit with them, and then offer them to God. God lives in us, it just takes a little while sometimes to get past the us.
And then if we hang on in there and move past the discomfort that siting with ourselves and all that our consciousness brings, slowly, like Peter, we begin to recognise the man on the beach, sitting by the charcoal fire grilling fish; unhurried. Waiting. The man who has been sat opposite us all along.
If we allow ourselves to intentionally seek solitude, overcoming the distractions and desire to busy ourselves that such situations bring, we will find peace. Peace is not the absence of stress, fear and loneliness. Peace is the presence of God in the midst of them.
And like Peter found, whatever our circumstance, whatever we have lost, done or fear we have left behind, we will eventually find that still small voice that simply asks the timeless question, ‘do you love me?’
‘Yes Lord’, I know we all answer.
And it is from that answer, and that answer alone, that God will lead us all out of the creative cocoon that solitude can become together, and into the new dawn that, as sure as the sun, will come.