From The Garden Bench - Solitude
Words by David Hollows
Ruth is a Covid-19 widow. She recently described her experience following the sudden and quick death of her husband;
I had not realised just how ill Tom was until the paramedics arrived on the Saturday to take him to hospital. I knew that his breathing had become more difficult but was stunned when the doctors told me that he needed the assistance of a ventilator which was applied on the Saturday evening. On the Sunday I was told that he was stable but in a serious condition and I was not allowed to visit. On the Monday the hospital rang to ask me to prepare for the worst as his breathing had deteriorated. On the Monday evening I received the call to say that Tom had suffered a massive cardiac arrest from which he did not recover. We have been married for 43 years and have 2 sons with families in different parts of the world. Owing to the lockdown I am in isolation; I am alone yet I am not lonely. I am simply alone.
During the lockdown period, did you have to self-isolate? What was your response initially to the experience and did this change as you went through the days of being alone?
Did you use the opportunity to complete a variety of outstanding tasks or take up a new activity?
At the end of the isolation period were you desperate to go out and had you become acclimatised to the situation?
Photo by Dustin Groh via Unsplash
The scientists tell us that humans quickly adapt to new ways of lifestyle. Recently, an older person who has been housebound for many years commented that she could empathise with those people who had been in self-isolation as they began to appreciate her situation.
However, there are two key issues at play; Isolation and Solitude and there is a distinction between the two terms:
Isolation is a state of being alone that’s a product of our circumstances and probably doesn’t occur by choice. It’s not what we’d prefer, but is generally something we have to “deal with”, “cope with” and “overcome”.
‘Solitude, on the other hand, is when we choose to be alone for certain purposes. Ruth, unfortunately, was in isolation because of the virus and her family situation but hers is not solitude.
There are times when we all need ‘time out’ from those around us and our situations and this we choose according to time and purpose. But the Covid-19 issue took this choice away for many of us, even if it was for the greater good.
The scientists tell us that isolation does have an impact on mental health for many of us in one way or another in addition to social pressures and anxieties caused by having to stay home; loss of income, abusive relationships, spending more time than usual with others in close proximity.
Photo by Noah Silliman via Unsplash
Therefore, as isolation, solitude, loneliness are key issues, what does the Bible teach us about these issues?
Isolation features in several Bible stories with different interpretations. For example, Adam and Eve hid (isolated themselves) from God in the Garden of Eden prior to their expulsion (imposed isolation) as a result of the breakdown in their relationship. Elijah felt isolated from God in the wilderness to the point of depression (1 Kings chapter 19) Following his conversion, Paul spent 3 days in isolation in Damascus which also included blindness as another form of isolation.
Solitude also features in the lives of some of the Bible characters; David, the shepherd boy, knew about solitude on the hill sides whilst tending the sheep yet being in communion with God and the Psalms being a result of this solitude as David developed his relationship with God. Joseph spent many years in prison often in solitary confinement yet learning the purposes of God. Joseph did not choose to be in prison but the place of solitude prepared him for the future.
Scripture calls us to connect with God in community, but it also calls us to do so in the quietness of solitude. At times, we need to stop what we’re doing to take ourselves away from the busyness of our lives, so that we can “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10) For this purpose, the Church will sometimes organise a retreat to provide the opportunity for reflection away from other people.
‘Jesus calls us to shut the door of our room and to pray in secret (Matthew 6:6), and He Himself often retreated into solitude to commune with the Father (Matthew 14:23, Mark 1:35 and 6:46, Luke 5:16 and 9:18).
During the Falklands was in the 1980’s Prince Andrew commented that he felt he was alone. For Christians that is never the case. Throughout the Bible God promises never to fail us or forsake us (Deuteronomy chapter 31 verse 6) not to leave us as orphans (John chapter 14 verse 18) and Jesus promises to be with us always (Matthew chapter 28 verse 20)
Photo by Fabian Mardi via Unsplash
So, how do you respond if you are in a time of isolation, solitude or loneliness? Is your response a positive one in that you make the best of the situation whether this is chosen or imposed? Or does your response, either in the short or long term, simply consolidate the negativity of the situation?
Sometimes, all we have to do is simply open our eyes and look for God through prayer and Bible reading to discover His leading in our situation – next time, why not have a go and meet with God?
You might find the following hymns useful; Open our eyes, Lord (Mission Praise 545) Turn your eyes upon Jesus (Mission Praise 712)
You may wish to use these prayers:
Let silence be placed around us like a mantle. Let us enter into it as through a small, secret door, stooping then to emerge into an acre of peace where stillness reigns and God is ever present. Then comes the voice of God saying; I am here, and pointing to the stars as a signpost or lantern to a better future. O Lord, may the mantle of silence become a cloak of understanding to warm our hearts in prayer.
God be with us in our reality. Christ be with us in our adversity. The Holy Spirit be with us in our perplexity, loneliness or isolation and may all three be with us in solidarity.
God bless you
Photo by d d via Unsplash
Signing off; your local Lay-worker, David Hollows