Passing through

I have lived in nine homes in the last ten years. I have lived with host families, coworkers, strangers, three roommates at a time, foster children, best friends, and my mother. And a few times, including the present, I have lived alone. Practically speaking there are many pros and cons to all of these living situations and relationships. On the issue of loneliness, however, there is a very clear line in the sand. When you share a living space, even with people you don’t like very much, there is a depth of loneliness that cannot be experienced the way it can when you come home each night to still silence. This silence can greet you at the door like a welcome robe of peace and quiet, or it can assault you like a bitter enemy. When you also tend toward the melancholy it can just feel mean.

I was once taught that the difference between loneliness and solitude lies in your intention – if you are alone on purpose then you are practicing solitude. I haven’t always found this to be the case. Sometimes I’m alone on purpose because I can’t think of a person I like enough to talk to in that moment. Sometimes it’s because I can’t think of a person who would like me enough to talk to me. Sometimes it’s just because the heaviness of living unfulfilled overwhelms me, threatening to erupt into despair if I don’t drown it out with a healthy dose of mindless sci-fi. I think I need more than intention to redefine my alone-time.

A very wise young woman was talking once about these things, and she described the process as passing through the valley of the shadow of loneliness in order to discover the pasture of solitude on the other side. Now this is an image I can relate to. So often I face my dark loneliness and it does in fact feel like I am staring down a kind of death – death to longings deep inside for community, companionship, understanding…longings for love. I can, and sometimes do, sit down in the midst of that fog and just…sit. I stay there, agreeing with all the voices in my mind explaining why I am alone, deserve to be, and always will be. I spend some time loathing myself and wondering why anyone, including the God of the Universe, would waste precious energy trying to love an Unlovable. Those are sad, destructive times.

But there are other times. Times when I feel a push on the small of my back, driving me forward and through the cloud. I might trip over roots and stones reaching out of the valley floor, might even get caught in a winding vine. But the force at my back persists, and at some point the cloud begins to lose its density. Black fades to grey and I feel thigh and calf strain as the ground rises in a path leading out, away from this damp, dark place. Eventually all gives way to green pasture, complete with stream and cool wind to compliment the warm heat of light.

In this place, I catch a glimpse of the face of One who loves me. The breeze carries words of tender significance, whispering into me that I am worth His care. The softness of the dewy carpet under my feet lifts my soul to the heights of those who are full on Him. I find myself glad to be withdrawn from the frenzy and noise, falseness and striving of the world “out there.” I am suddenly enough, when surrounded by His presence in the water and the shade and the fruit of the trees. I grow taller, stronger, more beautiful as I take Him in. Without distraction, without facade, without pressure to be or do or seem, I call this place Solitude.



  1. Vicky said,

    April 15, 2011 at 2:06 pm

    this made me think of the ents from middle earth. it is a beautiful description, so thanks!

    • MandyK said,

      April 15, 2011 at 2:28 pm

      Here’s what’s funny…I had the ents in mind in the previous post 🙂 You know me so well…

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