I’m a with kind of girl. I like eating lunch with a friend, watching a movie with my husband, hiking with a buddy, traveling with my family, working with a team.
With. Avec. Con. In any language with is a rather plain word with a beautiful ring to it. With implies shared insights, teamwork, lightened loads, multiplied laughter, skin on skin, out loud conversations and safety in numbers. When I’m with someone else, perhaps most importantly, I’m not alone. I think that round, empty “o” right in the middle of words like alone and lonely and lonesome and solitary makes alone even look like an empty, hollow place to be.
But more often than not, I am alone. Generally, I work alone, eat my meals alone, travel alone, exercise alone. I do a lot of alone. Especially since my nest is empty and my pastor-husband works most evenings.
While social media makes it appear to me that all of you are constantly doing life with, I have a sneaky suspicion that you are actually often going solo, too. Unless you’re a mom with young children stuck to you like grape jelly, you’re probably doing much of life on your own. Like me, you probably enjoy and look forward to the moments filled with, but “adulting” requires you spend most of your time without.
And here’s the kicker. Even if you have a profession or a household or a social calendar that keeps you in the company of other people, you still know what it feels like to be all by yourself. Am I right?
Often life requires that we walk long stretches of our trail alone. Others may be on the trail, but we alone must carry the burden, make the decision, navigate the path, do the work, put in the time. Actually, those are perhaps the hardest kinds of solitude. The ones where you’re in a crowded room but still very, very alone…in your thoughts and struggles and decisions. Or you’re on your own in your goals and dreams and hopes. Or you’re without companionship in your griefs and hurts and burdens. Yeah, people are there…and they care. But when the door finally closes and the dish washer begins to hum and the lights are turned out and the covers are pulled up close, you realize you alone must carry on. No one can walk every step or share every moment or lighten every load or think it all through with you. Some things you’ll have to do alone.
Lessons from the Trail
Not long ago I went on a morning hike all by myself. It was my last day in Georgia before heading home to Arizona. A couple of days before, my husband and I had hiked a beautiful, woodsy trail near Kennesaw Mountain and, although he had already flown home, I decided I’d like to hike it again…by myself. The night before I planned to go on my solitary walk in the woods, I laid out my clothes, shoes and iPod in anticipation of my adventure. But when morning came, an interesting thing happened. I freaked.
I began accumulating excuses for not setting out on my hike. It looked like rain. My iPod’s battery was dead. Was this really safe? Yeah, these were just a few of my excuses, but the bottom line was that on second thought I didn’t want to hike alone. Still, good reason eventually won out and I put one foot in front of the other until I’d established a rhythm on the dirt path.
Shortly after I began walking, I eased into my solitude. Then I got used to it. And finally, I plum enjoyed it. Birds were singing, green leaves were waving, the hills offered gentle challenges and the quiet gave my soul opportunity to breathe easy. I passed other hikers here and there. We nodded and said, “good morning,” but, honestly, I was glad to be alone. And surprisingly, I noticed, most of them were alone, too. Suddenly alone didn’t seem like a curse, but a well protected secret blessing reserved for the brave and wise.
I enjoyed my hike, but I learned a significant lesson that morning, too. The thought of alone is usually much worse than the rhythm of it. Honestly, it’s in the quiet, singular footsteps that my soul is best able to calibrate with God’s. When I can hear no other voice but mine and His, I can better distinguish between the lies and doubts and fears generated within and the truth He whispers from above.
It didn’t take long during that unaccompanied hike to begin enjoying the presence of the One who accompanies me everywhere I go. While He’s always here, when I’m with others I don’t always acknowledge His presence. But when I’m alone, I’m drawn to Him, first in desperation for someone, then in deep desire for the One.
Are you feeling the ache of alone today?
Would you rather be with, but you’ve found yourself on a portion of your life trail where the path is too narrow for walking side by side? You know, I’ve found that even when my husband and I intimately share a burden for our children, a vision for our church or a concern about our future, we still walk away from our conversations feeling the full weight of having to navigate the situation as individuals. No person can completely satisfy our desire for with. And if they do, we’ve undoubtedly set up an idol and established an unhealthy codependency that will eventually leave us emptier than ever before.
Let me leave you with a few treasures I discovered on my solitary hike that day:
- I am never really alone. My God has promised to always be with me and never to leave me. (Joshua 1:5)
- There are sweet treasures reserved for those who eagerly embrace alone times with God rather than filling their every moment with other people. (Psalm 16:11)
- Jesus’ priority is for us to first and consistently spend time with Him alone, and then for us to mingle with and impact our world. (Mark 3:14-15)
- God is more prone to speak to me specifically and personally when I am alone, as He did with most everyone He spoke to in the Bible. (John 4:7-28, Genesis 16:7-14)
- It is in the silence of solitude that I am most likely to hear and discern God’s gentle whisper. (Ecclesiastes 3:1,7, 1 Kings 19:11-13)
Today I wish you bountiful withs! I hope you enjoy sweet desserts shared with equally sweet friends, intimate conversations with a significant other, long walks with a buddy and good, hard work with your team. But I also wish you the insight, peace and gentle joy that only come from spending time alone. May you walk the solitary portions of your trail with courage and the sweet companionship of the God who draws near when you draw near to Him.