Is it possible to be alone and not be lonely?

We live in a society plagued by loneliness. A new report suggests that 36% of all Americans—including 61% of young adults and 51% of mothers with young children—feel “serious loneliness” (https://mcc.gse.harvard.edu/reports/loneliness-in-america).

 

Yet, we also struggle with the remedy to loneliness: relationships. By nature, some are more adept at navigating the relational matrix, while others feel just as lonely whether they are taking a walk by themselves or at a party.

 

Here’s why this matters: No one likes to feel lonely, but many of us struggle with how to remedy the problem. How do we open up to others? How do we build friendships? How do we “connect”? How do we even have meaningful conversations?

 

Sociologists are now discovering that although technology allows us to converse quickly and easily across time zones and countries, we are losing our ability to have face-to-face conversations. 

 

Gary Turk is a spoken word poet whose poem “Look Up” illustrates what is at stake by becoming entranced by technological ways of communicating at the expense of connecting with others face-to-face. Check it out here.

 

I suggest that putting down our phones and looking people in the eye is a good starting point to overcome the pain of loneliness. But I believe there is a deeper symptom that we need to address as well. To put it simply, we need to accept the biblical truth that we are never alone. God is with us—Emmanuel—and He will never leave us nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). 

 

When we accept the truth of God’s indwelling presence, we gain access to His peace that surpasses all understanding, regardless of whether we’re with others or by ourselves. C. S. Lewis points out that “we live, in fact, in a world starved for solitude, silence, and privacy, and therefore starve for meditation and true friendship” (The Weight of Glory, 160).

 

It may sound counter intuitive, but the biblical remedy for loneliness includes the gift of solitude. When we are comfortable in God’s presence while we experience solitude, we then gain comfort in the presence of others and deepen connection.

 

As Dietrich Bonhoeffer pointed out in Life Together, there are many people who seek fellowship, because they are afraid of being alone. For them, aloneness (the absence of others) equates with loneliness (the emptiness of the soul). Oddly enough, the solution is not necessarily the company of others if such company is used as a diversion to keep oneself from dealing with the root cause of loneliness.

 

“Let him who cannot be alone beware of community . . .  Let him who is not in community beware of being alone,” wrote Bonhoeffer (Life Together, 77). We accept the call of Jesus to abide in Him (John 15:4), and in so doing we recognize that “only in the fellowship do we learn to be rightly alone and only in aloneness do we learn to live rightly in the fellowship” (idem).

 

I pray your aloneness does not lead to loneliness, and that you discover solitude which leads to true friendship.