The Difference Between Solitude and Isolation

I went on a trip recently, and I felt really homesick – more than usual.  I think that my homesickness went deeper than simply missing my family and the comforts of my own house.  I missed being able to be alone.  I consider myself an extroverted person, but at this time I strongly desired solitude.  I find this somewhat funny.  At an earlier season, I intensely longed for the accompaniment and companionship of people; but I now find myself more than ever wanting to be alone.  Perhaps it’s because I’m jaded; I hope that’s not the case.  Or maybe it’s because I’ve grown to realize that solitude is okay.

We needn't be afraid of solitude, but we should avoid isolation.
We needn’t be afraid of solitude, but we should avoid isolation.

I like to define solitude as a strategic retreat to get alone with God and our thoughts.  Many of the heroes of the faith spent much time alone, and they reaped great spiritual benefits during these times.  David wrote the Psalms while he tended sheep and hid out in the wilderness.  Elijah and many of the prophets spent time alone in the wilderness where they received words from the Lord.  John was exiled – an attempt by the enemy to manufacture isolation – and he received an open vision of great terror and beauty.  Then we can look at Jesus.  The launching point and ending point of his ministry was spent praying alone in the desert and alone in the garden.

However, we as humans were – and still are – designed to go through life together, sharpening each other like iron and building each other up.  If we are a body, we need the other parts to survive.  We can’t stay in solitude for too long.  This is unhealthy and where solitude turns into isolation, which I like to define as removing yourself from others for self-serving reasons.

Most people understand that isolation is not okay, but many people confuse it with solitude.  Therefore, we’ve become scared of being alone at all.  We think that we always need to be close to other people in proximity to others of our kind.  This isn’t true.  As is the case with everything in life, we need to balance our times of fellowship and our times of solitude; and we can only achieve that proper balance with the help of Holy Spirit.  In times of fellowship and times of solitude, we need to be in constant communion with God.

I’ve gone through times where I’ve felt isolated from even the presence of God; but in hindsight, God was obviously by my side the whole time.  I’ve also gone through times where I’ve been solitary, and God has revealed deep parts of himself to me.  So, my challenge to you is to spend some time alone this week.  You don’t need to be afraid of solitude because we are never really alone.

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