The Cure for Loneliness
A few months ago, I was in the car listening to Gary Rathbun’s AM radio call-in show, “An Economy of One.” The program is a mix of investment advice, economic theory and commentary, and occasional philosophical insights on life itself. I love its insightfulness.
This particular evening, I tuned in at the end of a rant. When the radio came on the program, he said, “The cure for loneliness is not company. It is solitude.” Then he said it again. “The cure for loneliness is not company. It is solitude.”
His commentary got me thinking—again—about solitude.
Shades of Loneliness
Certain kinds of loneliness are more fundamental than others. For example, when God observed, “It is not good that the man should be alone,” in Genesis, he addressed Adam’s profound need for companionship. Men’s lives are completed by a good woman in marriage.
Similarly, we benefit from purposeful relationships with other men.
The loneliness that Gary Rathbun was talking about is far more superficial. His subject involved addiction to company.
Have you ever noticed, for example, that some people just have to be around noise all the time? One of my great frustrations when I worked at the university involved the frequent sight of two students walking down the sidewalk side by side while they texted.
Constant company only feeds the addiction. Solitude, on the other hand, forces us to slow down, to think deliberately, and to become content in quietness. It is one of the chief ways we learn to listen. Solitude is about learning to be deliberate.
Look at any great leader in the Bible, and you will see a period of solitude occur before that person’s ministry begins. Solitude offers God the chance to speak deliberately into our lives.
Here are some examples:
- Moses earned his education from the most advanced schools in the world of his day, but he learned to walk with God by spending forty years with his father-in-law’s sheep on the west side of the Arabian desert. It was in that desert that the LORD called him to deliver his people. (Exodus 3:1-4:17).
- When the LORD called Ezekiel to be a watchman for Israel, he made him sit down. Ezekiel had to watch and listen before he was allowed to speak (Ezekiel 2:12-17).
- When Nehemiah learned about the extent of the destruction in Jerusalem from Nebuchadnezzar’s siege in 586 BC, he prayed and fasted (Neh. 1:1-4). This requires solitude. Later, when he went to Jerusalem to rebuild the wall, he took time to observe the task alone before he invited the elders to join him (Nehemiah 2:9-18).
- Jesus began his ministry in solitude, during the forty days’ temptation in the wilderness (Luke 4:1-15).
- Paul began his ministry with an extended period of deliberate solitude (Galatians 1:15-18).
Solitude teaches us to be quiet, and in quietness we learn to listen and wait for the Lord to speak.
David on Solitude
David wrote this short Psalm on solitude:
O LORD, my heart is not lifted up;
my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
too great and too marvelous for me.
But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child is my soul within me.
O Israel, hope in the LORD
from this time forth and forevermore.
The psalm begins three points of preparation to prepare David to hear what God will say to him. All three are stated negatively.
- First, his heart is not lifted up. Whenever we prepare to meet the lord on his terms, we approach him humbly. Voluntary surrender to the Lord is one of the most courageous acts a man can perform.
- Second, his eyes are not raised too high. He understands his position before his Creator. God is God, and we are his creatures.
- Third, he does not occupy himself with things that lie outside of his ability to understand them. Human beings are fascinated with the mysterious. This is not wrong in itself, as long as we remain aware of the boundary between understanding and mystery. Here, David leaves mystery with God.
In the positive sense, David has calmed his soul “like a weaned child with its mother.” Have you ever watched a young child sitting on her mother’s lap? It is the picture of contentment.
Finally, David calls his people to hope in the LORD with the same sense of contentment that he has come to know.
Meditations like this do not arise out of noise and crowds. They grow out of deliberation. David learned an incredibly important lesson from his time spent in quiet. Psalm 131 is one of the fifteen songs of ascents that appear in Psalms 120-134.
These are the psalms that the Israelites would recite on their temple pilgrimages. While Psalm 131 contains the most pointed image of solitude, all the songs of ascent focus on a meditative walk with the Lord.
From now as long as you live, hope in the Lord.