It seems a gross understatement to say that 2020 has brought on more than just a horrible virus. Our inability to visit loved ones can bring on a wave of loneliness, sadness, despair, or depression. If you have a family, the loneliness is a bit less oppressive than if you are single, but it is still there. Your children cannot go play with their friends as freely and your couple friends aren’t able to come over for dinner. If you are single, your options are even fewer. Regardless of your state in life, however, loneliness has not discriminated in this grueling year.
With the promised vaccine on its way, there is room for hope. However, I think it is important to reflect on the movement within our souls this past year. With all of our normal routines and plans taken away, we’ve been stripped to just ourselves or our immediate families. We’ve even been stripped of the sacraments, the Mass, and the community that comes along with parish life. Day after day, many of us have faced the walls of our home and not much beyond that. During this time, we have no doubt experienced bouts of loneliness. I know I have. But has there been an invitation to solitude in there as well?
What is the difference between solitude and loneliness? Loneliness is a very human experience of feeling isolated and desiring community. It is not as easily fixed as it used to be, given all of the current restrictions. However, solitude is an invitation from Our Lord to be drawn into a particular relationship with Him--to be focused only on Him without distractions. If courageous enough to accept this invitation (I find myself coming up with excuses to pretend that I don’t hear this invitation), we may find an even deeper restlessness. As St. Augustine famously said in Book 1 of the Confessions: “Thou hast formed us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in Thee.” This restlessness may seem exhausting, especially this year, but in reality it is a great gift. We are made for rest in Christ, and so this restlessness drives us to find Him. Restlessness, however, cannot be truly recognized if we do not accept this invitation to solitude. We may feel it knocking on our door and choose to ignore it with various activities or try to cure it some other way. But its remedy is only found in relationship with Christ, who waits for us in solitude--in the quietest place of our hearts.
Some ways that have been helpful for me in growing more comfortable with entering into solitude are finding 15-20 minutes before I go to bed to reflect with God about my day--an examination of conscience of sorts. I think about the parts of my day where God was calling me into deeper relationship-whether that be in a conversation with a friend, 15 free minutes I had where I could have said a rosary but watched YouTube instead, etc. I will imagine that He and I are having a conversation at my kitchen table (it may sound odd, but try it!) and reflect with Him about what happened that day. Most importantly, though, is spending those few minutes before bed in complete silence. This may look different depending on your state in life, but I have found that the silence is what allows me to enter into that solitude with Christ. Once this becomes a regular habit, the loneliness we experience seems more tolerable, because we know that we can enter into solitude with Christ whenever we want to. He becomes our refuge, and we can talk with Him whenever we like.
As I look back on 2020 and look forward to 2021, I hope to more readily recognize when Christ is calling me into this particular relationship and to respond willingly. If we find ourselves lonely and aching for community, I hope we remember that the key to healing our loneliness and restlessness is found in solitude, and the invitation to rest in this solitude with Christ is a standing one.
Question for Reflection: What are some ways we can grow in our comfortability with solitude or that we can respond to God’s invitation to deepen our relationship with him during this time?
For more resources on self-care during this time, please click here.