For some, COVID has been a season of intense busyness; constantly surrounded by people. Your home, what used to be a quiet sanctuary during brief moments of the day, now feels like the 5 at rush hour – everyone is home, all the time, working, playing and doing school. You are not alone, but you may feel lonely.
For others, COVID has been an intense season of loneliness; physically, relationally and emotionally. You eat alone, watch TV alone and go for short walks alone. It just hurts.
The former is maddening, and while you may not want to complain, it’s real and it’s disconcerting. The latter is agonizing. If you are alone due to isolation, our hearts break for you. You are seen and you are loved; even though it may not feel like it.
In Genesis 28, Jacob has been sent to live with his uncle Laban. His twin brother Esau hates him, his father Isaac is not happy with him and his mother Rebekah can’t protect him. In his weariness, Jacob finds a place to rest. While asleep, Jacob has a dream which ends with hearing the voice of God. Verse 15 says, “Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” How could this pursuit from God, this promise of hope, be true, amidst so much despair? Jacob had fallen asleep with the pain of loneliness. He now wakes up with a new hope; a hope that can only come through an encounter with God. He is no longer alone, but instead, he is experiencing the sweet aroma of solitude with God.
Henri Nouwen says, “To live a spiritual life we must first find the courage to enter into the desert of our loneliness and to change it by gentle and persistent efforts into a garden of solitude.This requires not only courage but also a strong faith. As hard as it is to believe that the dry desolate desert can yield endless varieties of flowers, it is equally hard to imagine that our loneliness is hiding unknown beauty.The movement from loneliness to solitude is a movement from the restless senses to the restful spirit, from the outward-reaching cravings to the inward-reaching search, from the fearful clinging to the fearless play.”
Jacob’s circumstances had not changed, but his perspective did. He had been pursued by God, experienced his presence and was now able to both rest in God’s love and celebrate his provision; all in solitude.
I realize that asking you to embrace solitude in month 11 of a pandemic may feel like rubbing salt in a wound. Just one more time, invite God into your loneliness. Ask him to search your soul, to comfort your yearning heart, to allow you to experience his presence and give you hope. In solitude, God just might reveal beauty in the desert.
Director of Counseling & Soul Care