I felt overwhelmed by a storm that had been brewing for months. But I also just had a lot on my plate. Pressed hard between the hectic pace of trying to keep up and the weightiness of my burden, I did what I often do. I dug in deep and burrowed in.
When life gets hard and relationships feel more like an effort than an ease, I tend to pull back. I’m not exactly sure why. Maybe I don’t have the energy to lean in and engage and give and listen and explain and ask…all those things that are required when you’re sitting across the table or in a circle. Or maybe I fret that I don’t have anything to offer, that “it’s” all gone, all used up on the weighty things I’m carrying.
Or maybe, just maybe, the enemy of my soul knows that if he can get me to withdraw in my time of struggle that I’m more likely to digress into depression or despair.
There’s nothing wrong with some “alone time.”
In fact, I and many of you thrive on quiet solitude. Solitude is oxygen for my soul, necessary rest for my ears, healing for my heart and growth for my mind. I do need some time when I withdraw from the hustle and bustle pace of the world around. I need to sit in His presence, to listen to my own heart and to think on the things I’ve heard and seen. I need to process and rest and breathe deep and abide.
But too much time alone and I overdose on my own thoughts. My mind begins to mull over the petty instead of the profitable. I lose perspective as my focus is drawn tighter and tighter into my own little circle of concern. I miss out on the input and encouragement and experiences of other people. The very air that once fed my soul grows stagnant and begins to suffocate it.
There’s a fine line between solitude and isolation.
I’ve discovered that too much alone time actually reverses the positive effects of sweet solitude. When I withdraw from the community of friends God has lovingly placed me in, the only conversations I hear are the ones in my own head.
No, I don’t actually hear voices. But the thoughts I entertain in my isolation are often full of doubt, shame, discouragement and woe. These nasty thoughts just feed my insecurities and eventually starve my soul. Because I sometimes cross that line I’m trying to learn how to enjoy my necessary solitude without getting dangerously close to the edge that blurs into withdrawal.
I’m learning to let Jesus choose for me.
When I choose to follow Jesus daily and allow Him to set the pace, He graciously weaves me in and out of opportunities for both rich community and sweet confinement. That requires complete obedience on my part, however. When I argue Him out of opportunities for service or engagements with friends or dates with my husband or phone calls with family members or communion with my church…He lets me have my way…and I miss out on His best for me.
But when I say yes to Him each step of the way, He authoritatively protects my appointments with solitude (Luke 10:38-42). And He graciously provides me with just the dose of interaction I need. Yeah, sometimes He pushes me to give and listen and speak and engage more than I think I’m up for. But He knows best, and I can trust that He’s growing me and shaping me into His image through both the sweet solitude and the noisy, busy, messy, humorous, complicated and challenging interactions with others.
Pardon my gentle nudge.
Friend, if you have isolated yourself too much…to the point that the isolation is feeding your insecurities rather than nourishing your soul…may I lovingly suggest that you move out a little today? Ask the Lord to direct your path and choose to say yes to His every gentle whisper.
Go ahead and go to that book club or bunco party you were thinking about skipping. I’ve found that those commitments He led me to make weeks or months ago are usually meant to be kept. Whatever you do, don’t skip your church’s worship service, your small group meeting or your Bible study group.
Maybe you don’t have any calendared events that nurture community. Make some. Check out your church’s website. Sign up for a course at the community center, take a class at the local college or find a local support group that fits your needs (MOPS, Grief Share, DivorceCare, etc.). And then? Keep your new commitment. Go. Be on time. Engage. Hang around afterwards. Set up a coffee date with someone interesting.
Or maybe…today…you just need to call a friend and schedule lunch. Or, hey, shoot her a text and ask a question that starts a simple conversation. That’s a step in the right direction. You can take another one tomorrow.
Lord, some of us naturally like to spend time alone. You wired us that way and use that disposition to draw us into sweet communion with You and to give our souls rest. But help us to identify that fine line between sweet solitude and isolating withdrawal. Help us lean into You so you can direct our paths through both opportunities for community and times to abide with You alone. Don’t let us resist Your gracious leadership, even when You challenge us with busier schedules and more conversations than we naturally would have chosen. We desperately desire to be emotionally healthy so that we can serve and love You well.
If a hurtful situation has caused you to withdraw from community, you might enjoy spending some time with Joseph in Genesis 37-50. My Bible study Joseph – Keeping a Soft Heart in a Hard Place will enable you to walk side-by-side with this amazing man through his times of rejection, grief and false accusations. And like Joseph, you’re sure to come out of your hard place with a softer heart and richer relationships with God and other people. Click on the book below for more information.