Solitude

woman at beach
There are benefits to short periods of solitude. But what about those longer stretches — the ones you normally don't choose for yourself?

I have a lot of experience with different forms of solitude. That’s just the way my life has worked out.

I’ve done some housesitting where I was alone for a week or so. I like to go on walks by myself. I’ve also gone through periods in my life when I had few or no friends; this type of solitude is perhaps the most difficult to deal with. The kind where you are still around people daily (classes, work, shopping) and technically not alone, but you have no one to share or connect with.

There are benefits to short periods of solitude. Studies have shown that taking some time each day or week to be alone leads to less stress, boosted creativity and productivity, and time for introspection and problem solving. For Christians, solitude also provides time for Bible reading and prayer. It’s quite clear that short, regular periods of alone time are beneficial.

But what about those longer stretches — the ones you normally don’t choose for yourself? Let’s say you take a new job that requires you to move to a new area. You (hopefully) begin attending a new church. The weeks go by and you struggle to connect with anyone. You have some acquaintances, but no one you would open up to or trust. Maybe your co-workers are mean, or maybe they’re very nice but you just don’t click. The people at church are clique-ish (admit it; it happens). Or maybe your home and job haven’t changed, but your friends have just drifted away. Whatever the reason, time drags on and you find yourself in that painful sort of situation where you are both surrounded by people and alone. What then? You certainly don’t see articles recommending that you cut yourself off from your friends and family.

Those seasons are hard, no doubt about it. It’s easy to sink into depression during those times. That’s what happened to me the first time I went through a situation like this. With God’s help, I got through it and learned a few things. And each time I go through another one of these periods of solitude, I learn more. Here are a few things that solitude (chosen or not) has taught me:

How to have fun by myself.

You don’t always need friends to have fun. I have actually grown to like going to the movies alone. I don’t have to argue over which movie to see, at which time, or where to sit. No trying to coordinate where and when to meet up. And I get all the popcorn, soda and candy to myself. It’s not like you talk during movies, anyway (or you shouldn’t). Go to a museum or the mall. Go for a walk (use common sense on a safe location). Make a nice dinner for one and watch TV or Netflix. Spend some time in nature. Studies show that time outdoors is a great calmer and mood-booster; you actually breathe in little microbes that act like anti-depressants. Neato.

How to be content by myself.

In assessing my solitude, I realized that I depended on validation from other people. Not necessarily compliments or stuff like that, but I judged myself on how often people talked to me or wanted to hang out with me. This is clearly not healthy for a variety of reasons, but I think just about everyone does this to some extent. There will be many reasons people can’t or don’t want to hang out with you. It’s not always because they don’t like you. They have their own lives and problems to deal with, and even if they don’t like you, you shouldn’t base your self-worth on what people think, anyway.

How to depend on God for comfort and fulfillment.

This is something that gets preached a lot, but when you don’t have people you can confide in and bond with for whatever reason, time with God through study of His Word and honest prayer becomes even more valuable. Drawing close to God provides a safety and comfort that kept me afloat through many lonely times.

Appreciation for family and true friends.

Going stretches of time where I see very little of my family and genuine friends highlights how valuable they are. The connection, safety and stability that tight bonds with my family and good friends provide are incredibly important to me, and I have grown to realize this more over the years. Often the ability to spend time with someone you trust and love gets taken for granted; time away from them rekindles the appreciation.

Have you gone through periods of solitude? Are you going through one now? How did you deal with it, and what did you learn from it?

Copyright 2017 Elise Bryant. All rights reserved.

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