Alone or Lonely?

woman alone at window

Some people just like to be alone, and I’m one of them. Give me a book, a movie, or a comfortable seat under a shade tree, and I’m happy. I don’t need the constant stimulation of other people. Some people function best when they’re around others. They feel more energized when not alone.

In some religious subcultures, extraversion is rewarded. The more outgoing and talkative you are, the more likely people will think you have spiritual gifts and are on friendly terms with God. Yet, other religious subcultures place a higher value on contemplation, silence, and solitude.

So is solitude a spiritual gift or a personality trait? Is it spiritual to be alone or not? And should we be guided by our natural leanings and leave it at that?

In the Christian tradition, solitude is not a personality trait but a spiritual practice. When we are alone, other things gradually fall away until all that is in this space is the person and God. Responsibilities and relationships recede; the world grows quiet and the thoughts slow down. Only when we enter this sort of space and time can we begin to understand who we are and who God is. When all other conversations and activities cease, the one conversation that murmurs to the surface is our soul communing with the Divine.

Solitude is not an easy practice, even for an introvert like me. When alone, I’m still busy and, frankly, focused primarily on myself. When practicing solitude, I’m making myself completely available to God’s presence, which means that I let go of other things.

Solitude is not necessarily a pleasant experience, at least not at first. We don’t like to give up our busyness and personal agendas. Sometimes we don’t feel ready to be completely alone with God. We sense that there are issues we must deal with. Or we hold a distorted image of the Divine and thus don’t look forward to extended time alone with God—who we fear will make us feel guilty or give us lots of additional work to do. Our skewed expectations of God can make solitude a frightening proposal.

Some people fear that being alone with God will be a lonely experience. But loneliness is an issue quite apart from solitude. When we’re lonely we don’t feel connected to anyone. Many people are lonely in the midst of family and friends. Solitude can start out feeling lonely, but as we become more aware of God with us, that lonely space fills up with love, peace, joy, and the other gifts of God’s presence.

Exercise:

For the rest of this week, spend 15 minutes alone with God each day. Choose whatever place and time work best for you. Keep a journal of this experience.

About Vinita Hampton Wright 97 Articles
Vinita Hampton Wright has served as senior editor at Loyola Press for 16 years and recently became managing editor of the trade books department. She has written various fiction and non-fiction books, including the novel Dwelling Places with HarperOne, Days of Deepening Friendship and The Art of Spiritual Writing for Loyola Press, and most recently, The St. Teresa of Avila Prayer Book for Paraclete Press. Vinita is a student and practitioner of Ignatian spirituality, and from 2009 to 2015 she blogged at Days of Deepening Friendship. For the past few years, she has co-led small groups through the 19th Annotation of the Spiritual Exercises. She lives in Chicago with her husband, three cats, and a dog. In her “spare” time these days, she is working on her next novel.

12 Comments on Alone or Lonely?

  1. Vinita, as a subscriber to dotMagis I find all your articles a source of immence encouragement and inspiration, and most especially “Alone or Lonely”. I shall treasure it. Thank you.
    Judy from London, UK

  2. Great article, it is true that even for introverts, solitude is not easy. An additional tip to the 15-min quiet time with Him, if it helps, set an alarm so you know when your 15 mins is up and you are free to do your other things (without feeling guilty!) so you will do this consistently everyday! 😀

  3. Dear Vinita, the first comment captures what I have wanted to write for some time now. You have really wonderful gifts and it is such a pleasure to read your wise and profound insights. Thank you so very much for the love and comfort you share, and may God bless you always. Looking forward to your next reflection.

  4. Solitude with God requires discipline but it is so incredibly rewarding. Everything seems to change! God is so good!! Thanks for this reflection.

  5. Dear Vinita, Thank you so much for using your God-given talent to further His kingdom here on earth. Your message today gave my heart the ‘jolt’ it so desperately needed to make every moment spent in gratitude to be alive!

    • Thank you for your open heart toward God, Mary Ann. A heart can be jolted only when the person is willing. Peace to you.

  6. Dear Vinita, thank you for your reflections on solitude, which helps reinforce my own experience of solitude when I spend time before the Blessed Sacrament every Wednesdays with other parishioners. In my silent conversations with Jesus, I look up His Status on the altar and I always see Him gazing at me with His loving look and smile. I take home with me Jesus’s loving look and smile which always gives me a sense of love, comfort, and peace.

    • I believe that Pope Francis has referred to God’s gaze upon us. It can be a wonderful prayer practice simply to sit quietly under God’s loving gaze. Thanks for your post!

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