It may be important to let you know, that I have spent the majority of my life alone. It’s hard to tell at this point whether or not this was by choice but I am open to that assessment. I would never imply that I have always been single or friendless or without family but I have often times been alone. Understand, the presence of people rarely resolves the feeling of loneliness. Often times the emotion lingered even in crowded rooms because of all the baggage that I needed to carry on my own, even during times when I was in relationships. While spending the bulk of my time with someone else, I’ve often found myself left to my own devices when it comes to matters that affect me at my core in regards to life, love, trauma, or change. Those around me couldn’t help me and at some point I became used to spending life with people who surrounded me but did not, would not, or simply could not always share my experiences, joys or pains. The phenomenon of being embraced physically but isolated mentally or emotionally is a story all on its own. But I’ve learned.
I’ve learned that isolation can be a tragic trap used against us or by us to eliminate the refining efforts of relationship or accountability. By keeping to ourselves we free ourselves of the impending realizations of our own weaknesses. We pass ourselves off to be whole and with nothing to compare it to, it (temporarily) goes unnoticed. We withdraw when we aren’t ready to change. We cut off relationships that demand that we grow. We label moral challenges from the ones who love us as “hate” and congratulate ourselves for being “strong” enough to not be molded. We celebrate our lack of refinement, distaste for authority and general indifference to sources of possible truth. We proudly walk lonely instead. Isolation.
I’ve learned that isolation can also be a divine tool working on us or for us when used by God to silence the noise and create intimate places with Him. When we first choose to believe, we are most plagued by the conflicting voices in our heads, our hearts, and our lives and although we might perceive spiritual hearing as gift given to some it is actually a skill. Skills are taught, learned, developed, and maintained. We look for grand, speech-worthy ways to follow God; however, following him boils down only to hearing him and obeying, and being alone with God is where hearing is developed. If we desire to hear his voice amongst thousands we have to first learn its sound in the silence where distractions are limited in our crowd of one. God is aware of the tricks of this world well enough to know that a pristine ability to hear his voice and discern his will is vital to our survival as his chosen people. Quiet times that are ordained yet unwanted are necessary training grounds for those who chose to trust him. It is a space in time where He becomes our own. Our relationship hinges on it and destiny is designed in a way that is almost cryptic, impossible, and intangible without the layer of clarity and coaching that this relationship brings. Isolation.
It is the place where the Lord lines out vision and marks out the paths that our loved ones cannot route.
It is where we discover the divine and unique purpose built into our lives.
It is where secrets are uncovered and the damages are discreetly assessed.
It is a place that covers us as we endure the debilitating blows of our own truths.
It is where wounds meet the Word and redemption begins.
It is where smooth stones become weapons and hearts become whole.
It is necessary.
It is painful just the same.
God being with us doesn’t make silence less silent or nights less cold but He surely has a way with filling a room with purpose. Not even pain can negate that. Counseling us from point A to point B, sometimes the Lord designs our next steps to be taken alone and that can be heavy. When you add the emotions of shame, insecurity, sadness, or anxiety it can be a defining moment in our walk with him that I often refused to experience. Though rebellious, I chose to move under the belief that the God that is for me would not hurt me to get to me and that these painful places could not be sent by him. I was broken. I was wrong.
I was sitting in a N.A. (Narcotics Anonymous) meeting a few years ago, to support a dear friend’s journey, and I learned something so important. An older woman spoke that evening; I believe she had been 15-20 years clean. My apologies, the details escape me, but I remember her talking about her road to sobriety and she told me that she had to “learn the difference from being alone and being lonely”. Well, she was speaking to everyone in the room but it resonated with me in a personal way. Completely sober in the physical, yet intoxicated on my pain, it was something I had never learned to do. In fact, that deficiency alone would make all the difference when it was time to be free of my own demons. I thank God for that day. I was humbled. I arrived believing I was needed for support but I left desperate to be in more rooms with more broken people who were willing to give undefiled truths to smiling faces with empty hearts like mine.
In order to be okay with being silently refined, I had to separate what my broken heart understood of loneliness from God’s urgent desire to have me alone. I had to wrestle with the idea that people not being in the room meant that they also weren’t in my life. That’s not true. I had to deny my flesh the pleasure of believing that people who refused to help me were not for me. That’s not true either. I had to embrace the truth that people have limits where God does not. I had to be honest and admit that the good and perfect things I desired the most weren’t in their inventory to give. I had to accept that the people around me being incapable of providing me with the attention, love, encouragement or the affection I needed was not a strike against their character as much as it was against my misguided expectations. The imbalanced expectations of people in place of God are what led to feelings of disappointment and ultimately….loneliness. I needed to acknowledge that if I corrected my perception half of my problem was resolved.
Being lonely was a choice. Not because I tended to choose pain but because I constantly chose to put my hope in things and people who were not all knowing, all-powerful or endlessly filled with love. I chose one disappointing scenario after another that led me to lonely places. When I got there I chose to let the emotion itself rule the day. On one too many occasions my depression came close to having the final say. At that point my choices became my chains. After making so many wrong turns in this maze I was lost beyond belief and needed rescuing. Looking back now, I can see where the people who loved me desperately tried to send for me but I was clearly out of reach. I thank God.
I thank him for teaching me that the feeling of loneliness, though still sometimes apparent is temporary and fleeting in comparison to the victories accomplished in the time spent alone. I wonder now if the moments that I spent feeling the loneliest was Him creating opportunities to rescue me and I was just too emotional to notice. I wonder how many times I missed him there. How many secret places did he attempt to construct that I would immediately tear down in the name of happiness? How many times did he invite me into the meetings of his winning circle only for me to walk away from such an empty room? How many nights did I let my emotions reject an invitation to deliverance through a relationship with Christ? I had no clue that those silent rooms were full of grace and empty nights full of mercy. I was begging for a new life ignoring that resurrection only happens in cold dark tombs. I wanted him to place his hands on me without making me forsake the company of his enemies. I had no idea that loneliness didn’t have to be attached to being alone.
It may be important to let you know, that I have spent the majority of my life alone. It’s now a choice. I thank him for making the quiet time a refuge for me now. I thank him for teaching me to attach being alone to refinement rather than rejection. For helping me to consider that maybe being alone from birth meant being chosen from that point too. The world rejects what God anoints and that realization keeps me. It empowers me to run to my source and separate myself long before pain is the only means by which this can be done.