I enjoy being on sabbatical alone. I don’t enjoy trying to work alone. The occasions when I hate living alone are when I have a day of demanding meetings or decisions- and nobody with whom to share them. Those are the times when anxious thoughts tend to work around my mind and a sense of being overwhelmed can flood in. Over the years I have been grateful for the chance to talk to a wide variety of friends, which has certainly reduced the sense of isolation- something that is vital for those of us who sre single. How does that work in a lockdown?
I happened to be speaking on the subject of singleness exactly a month before lockdown was introduced. With hindsight I might have included some material on singleness in a pandemic but I wasn’t a sufficiently good prophet to foresee what would take place. However, the experience of being on my own in a flat for a couple of months has sharpened my thinking. It has helped me to understand the challenges of both family life and living alone at the moment- and I am sure it has got implications for the future.
It was re-reading a phrase from Mark Meynell’s book on depression When Darkness Seems my Closest Friend that got my brain going. He writes this- “Solitude is necessary for healthy living because it energises and replenishes; isolation cripples us because we were not wired by our Creator for loneliness.” I found that such a helpful summary- solitude is good and isolation is bad. It made sense of much of my experience of life. I often make the joke that I am an introvert in that I find my own company endlessly fascinating. But the reality is that is half-true and it is has sometimes perplexed me: why do I love being on my own at certain times and hate it at others? The answer is the difference between solitude and isolation.
Jesus himself commends solitude- especially when that is focused on spending time with our heavenly Father. “When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (Matthew 6:6). That comes from the part of the Sermon on the Mount that emphasises the need for solitary religion- our fasting, praying and giving is to be simply a matter between us and God.