The Difference Between Loneliness and Solitude

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I think we can all agree that no one wants to live a life feeling desperately alone. And we certainly know most people don’t want to die alone. We are designed to be in companionship with each other. It’s how we work best.

The problem with companionship are it’s inherent challenges and in a world already filled with challenge, stress and responsibility many have decided that relationships are too much trouble and have made a break from their communities to live in a more isolated state.

In a New York Times article called Embracing a Life of Solitude, author Sarah Maslin Nir describes the lives of 3 such men who isolated themselves in order to seek peace and quiet.

Nick Fahey, aged 67 says simply, “I like the feeling of freedom when you’re by yourself. You don’t have to answer to anybody.” This is certainly one of solitudes attractions. In relationship we are challenged to change, to give and to let go of selfishness. An easy way out of these challenges is the choice to isolate.

Another example is Roger Lextrait, aged 63 who lives on an island on his own in the Northern Pacific Ocean. For him, after many years of owning restaurants and an overwhelmingly busy lifestyle, the change offered much needed rest and recovery.

Finally, David Glasheen, aged 66 isolated himself in search of a ‘less stressful’ life, moving to an island off the coast of Australia to find it. At the time he took his wife and new baby who needless to say, didn’t last long without amenities and hot running water and soon after moved back to the mainland.

Despite the idyllic nature of a life away from crowds, people and stress, two of the three men made the same statement which is that sometimes they become desperately lonely. One described his experience as being ‘attacked by loneliness’.

No one claims that being alone sometimes isn’t incredibly helpful. Jesus practiced the discipline of solitude on many occasions. But to set up camp in isolation can be very detrimental because of the effects of loneliness.

Psychologists have found that loneliness has many negative effects on both physical and mental health including increased chances of cardiovascular disease, strokes, mental health problems and increased stress levels.

The Word tells us in Proverbs 18:1 ‘It is not good for man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him’ and in Genesis 2:18 it also states that ‘a man who isolates himself seeks his own desire.

So the two dangers of complete isolation according to the word are:

1.    Lack of help

2.    Selfishness

We are designed to help others and to be helped. The two of these working together give us a healthy, balanced life. 

Coming away for a season or a period of time is healthy. We regain strength, clarity and perspective. But living alone is different. Solitude is the practice of coming away for certain periods of time to rest and re-gather oneself. Isolation is making a life away from others.

Jesus didn’t have to live away from the crowd to achieve solitude. He enjoyed solitude in seasons. And He never apologized for it. Coming away from the crowd was vital for his ministry.

Sanguines could probably do with some more time alone whilst Melancholics could probably do with some more social time. Our personalities often dictate the state we feel most comfortable in. But in whichever category you fall, don’t fall into a pattern of isolation. It makes for a very small and unfulfilling existence. Neither fall into a pattern of clinging to the crowds. You need time away to recover.

Remember that God made you and He knows how you work best. He created you to both be helped and to help others. So enjoy solitude but don’t get trapped in isolation.

Genesis states, ‘it is not good for man to be alone.’ It might be easier, but it’s not good.

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About Emily Francis

Emily is wife to Glen and step mum to two incredible children. She is the much loved Dean of Students at C3 College.