Monday, January 5, 2015

The Glory of Solitude

Image by Jamie Harris

An older lady sat alone on a park bench in The Villages, a Florida adult community. A man about her age walked over and seated himself on the other end of the bench. After a few moments, the woman broke the silence. “Are you a stranger here?” she asked.

He replied, “I lived here years ago.”

“So, where were you all these years?” she wondered aloud.

“In prison.”

“Oh, my! Why were you in prison?”

He fixed her with a steady gaze and quietly said, “I killed my wife.”

“Oh, I see!” the startled woman exclaimed. She let the silence hang between them. After a moment she ventured, “So…you're single...?”

We've all been lonely (but hopefully not that lonely). You may remember the Beatles song “Eleanor Rigby”:


All the lonely people
Where do they all come from?
All the lonely people
Where do they all belong?

Loneliness is usually temporary, but sometimes chronic. It occurs when we are separated from an important relationship. Or sometimes when we never experienced the intimacy we crave to begin with. But loneliness is not at all the same as aloneness.

Can you be alone without being lonely? Theologian Paul Tillich put it this way: "Language... has created the word 'loneliness' to express the pain of being alone. And it has created the word 'solitude' to express the glory of being alone."

Can you be alone without being lonely? Can you spend time by yourself without craving noise or company of other people? Have you discovered the glory of quiet time spent alone, time spent listening to your soul? Solitude brings with it gifts that come from nowhere else.

Writer Ardath Rodale counseled, “Give yourself time to listen to who you are.” That is advice too important to ignore: give yourself time to listen to who you are. Have you noticed that, in English, the word "listen" contains the same letters as the word "silent"? In order to listen deeply, we must be silent. Alone. And in our quiet aloneness, we will hear what can be heard no other way.

That is the glory of solitude. Are you ready to give yourself that gift?

- Steve Goodier


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