Saturday, July 14, 2012

The Gift of Aloneness

I've spent most of my life alone.  I never had many friends and the friendships that I had never seemed to last.  Loneliness was a constant struggle that never seemed to go away for very long.  Even as a believer actively involved in a local church, loneliness always seemed to be right there beside me.  Then, as God began to set me free and I no longer participated in all of the religious activities, my feelings of loneliness increased.

A few months ago, in a conversation with Darin Hufford about loneliness, he said that loneliness is a gift.  Well, that was certainly a new concept for me and, since I wasn't sure about it, I decided to just let it sit and wait to see what God would do with it.  In a recent podcast, Darin also said, "I've spent most of my life all alone inside of myself."  Then, as he elaborated on that statement, my heart was saying, "Yes!  Yes!  Yes!  I understand!

I've spent many hours all alone with myself, thinking and processing or, as Mary did, "pondering those things in my heart."  Through that processing, I discovered that loneliness is indeed a gift but only because it leads to aloneness.  However, that journey is difficult because the only road to aloneness leads through loneliness.  There's no way to by-pass it.

For most of us, loneliness is a dark place filled with many tears.  It's a place of sorrow that's filled with much frustration and self-pity.  It was a difficult place for me but I've found that in order to connect more deeply with my heart and with the real ME, I've had to travel through the dark place of loneliness.  I think many believers confuse emotions with the heart but they are different.  I think of the heart as a deep place where the real ME resides and it's only in aloneness that I've been able to connect with the real ME. 

While in that place of loneliness, I would struggle to find ways to talk to somebody, ANYBODY!!!!  In my loneliness, I felt like I was dying so I tried church and all of the church activities.  I tried small groups.  I tried prayer meetings and Bible studies but nothing eased the loneliness that I was feeling.  When I would spend time with people, even when we were speaking about "spiritual things," I left feeling empty and dissatisfied.  It was like a drug that satisfied for the moment but, when the affects of "fellowship" wore off, the loneliness returned.   

I finally decided that loneliness would always be with me so I gave up trying to fight it and instead decided to accept that it was just a way of life for me.  Making that decision was a major turning point because after that, things began to change.  I discovered that too much activity and interaction had been a distraction that hindered me from connecting with my heart in a real way.  As I learned to accept my alone times, I discovered that I actually enjoyed them and that that it's okay to be alone and enjoy those times.  So, now I've given myself the freedom to do the things I enjoy doing, even if I have to do them alone.

I work in a public high school and the kids are always asking me what kind of music I listen to.  I tell them that I don't like music so I don't listen to any.  Since they don't believe me, they then ask me, "What do you listen to in the car?" and I tell them that I don't listen to anything.  Shocked, they then ask, "What do you do?"  My answer is, "I think."  By their silent response, I can tell that they can't comprehend of such a thing. 

Thinking for me has become a way of life and I enjoy connecting with the real ME in that secret place of my heart.  I'm learning more and more about myself and who I really am but that has only taken place because I've learned to accept and live in aloneness.  Now, I no longer despise my time of loneliness.  I accepted it as a gift when I discovered that it was the only path to the secret place of aloneness which for me has become a place of contentment for it is there that I meet with God and the real ME.

Hosea said it well when he described that place of privacy and intimacy with God.

"Therefore I am now going to allure her;
I will lead her into the wilderness and speak tenderly to her.
There I will give her back her vineyards, and will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope. 
There she will respond as in the days of her youth, as in the day she came out of Egypt."   


NaomiStar said...

Thank you Aida, for sharing your thoughts and opening your heart. I will pass along this post to a few people I know are feeling alone, including myself :)

Aida said...

I hope what I wrote will be an encouragement to them as well as to you and James. Your friendship has blessed and encouraged me.

Tu amistad es maravilloso. (Your friendship is wonderful.)

Thanks for passing this along.

Con amor.

Ali Lewis said...

I really enjoyed reading this!

Aida said...

Thanks, Ali. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

Anonymous said...

This brings back memories of some of our discussions about the differences between introverts and extroverts. We have had many deep discussions and I'm sure I would have described my position as a loner who was seldom lonely. Your comment that “loneliness was struggle that never seemed to go away for very long” came as a real surprise. The idea that loneliness was a gift wouldn't have made sense to me, but listening to Darin's podcast was very interesting.

I can so relate when you say that you don't like music and don't listen to it. When asked, “What do I do?” your answer was, “I think” - as a result of which you are discovering the real you. Darin refers to coming out the other side after years of almost suicidal and intense depression. It wasn't like that for me. I have always been a loner – a workaholic who was always busy – who could spend even ten hours in the garden concentrating on what I was doing. Occasional Barbara might ask what I had been thinking about, and the answer could well have been, “Nothing in particular apart from what I was doing”.

I had a very big garden (about a quarter of an acre) and was treasurer of the Anglican Church and secretary of a new Community Association. There was one occasion when I suggested to Barbara that we were like ships that passed in the night. Life was intense – it was all in the head – an almost total lack of emotion – and I was never lonely – there was always something going on!

It was in the late 1960's that I became disillusioned with the lack of 'radical' Christianity in the Anglican Church. I became a member of a Sabbath keeping church in 1978 and it was in 1995 that I was forced for the second time to reconsider just about everything I had ever been taught.

Unlike you Aida there really wasn't anything 'personal' in this thinking until about 2002 when I really discovered on the internet what was then being referred to as “the out of church Christians”. For me it was still very much 'head knowledge'. But then I found' So you don't want to go to church anymore' when the two authors had only written the first three chapters.

We are all on unique journeys but what amazes me so often now is the way in which so many paths are criss-crossing each other and the way in which we can learn so much from each other and recognise that our own experiences only give us part of the overall picture.

Darin said that most free believers go through years of isolation – for a purpose. My journey in the wilderness lasted some 40 years. There were times when I was looking for fellowship with like-minded believers but that never happened and I kept being reminded of the importance of being still and listening.

One thing from the podcast that really struck me was the emphasis that many place on the need for the coals to keep burning in the fire together. It's only after a wilderness experience that we recognise the place of many denominational 'fires' and that there is another 'fire' that is so much more significant!

Aida said...

Those were great discussions, Pete, and I still look at myself and see the introverted parts of me as well as the extroverted parts and I continue to grow in my understanding of who I am and how I’ve been uniquely created.

“. . . a loner who was seldom lonely” is a good description of you. Unfortunately, some loners struggle with accepting that part of themselves because society convinces them that they’re flawed. I don’t see that struggle in you. I see someone who is satisfied with how you’ve been uniquely created.

I’ve come to understand that I love to be alone with others around me. I don’t necessarily want to talk to anyone. I just want to be around them. My favorite thing to do is to go to Barnes & Noble with my Nook, sit in the café drinking a cup of hot tea, reading a good book.

I’ve also discovered that I do my best writing when I’m away from home writing quietly while there are others around me so Barnes & Noble, McDonald’s or Wendy’s are great places for me to focus on the real ME inside where my creativity lives.

I don’t always think personal thoughts but usually I do. I spend the bulk of my inside time, thinking and reflecting. That’s actually how these posts of mine have been birth. I just process ideas and thoughts until they come alive in me.

“We are all on unique journeys but what amazes me so often now is the way in which so many paths are criss-crossing each other and the way in which we can learn so much from each other and recognise that our own experiences only give us part of the overall picture.”

That is very well said, Pete. I honestly believe that we all have just a small portion of truth but, as we all share our portion, the picture becomes clearer and our understanding grows. I’ve learned so much just by sharing thoughts with you as well as others whose lives cross mine.

I finally stopped looking for like minded fellowship and now God has been bringing it across my path but I had to be open to how he would bring it. The first step for me was to come to the place where I was willing to recognize that online friendships are just as real as face to face ones because true friendships are of the heart, not because we happen to occupy the same space at any given moment. I’ve also been fortunate to be given some face to face friends but I had to give up my expectations of how those friendships would look.

All in all, it's been an exciting journey of discovery and it's still ongoing.