Solitude or Isolation? Which is it?

I’ve always loved my alone time.

As an introvert (who can, if pressed pretend not to be!) my energy is restored when I interact with one or two folks or no one at all.  A dream afternoon is writing while listening to nothing louder than the wind chimes outside my door.

I treasure solitude.

Since Dominic ran ahead to Heaven, I find I need even more alone time than before.

That quiet place is where I do my most effective grief work, undisturbed by interruptions and distractions.

But I need to be careful that solitude doesn’t shift into isolation. 

I have to remind my heart that spending time with others keeps me from falling so deeply down the well of despair that all I see is darkness.

I need human interaction to keep me connected to a world that, quite frankly, I might sometimes just as soon leave behind.

So how can I tell the difference between solitude and isolation?

Here are a few questions that help me figure that out:

  • Do I feel lonely, neglected or abandoned? If my alone time feels less like a gift and more like an unwelcome burden then it may be isolation rather than solitude.
  • Where are my thoughts taking me? Being alone is often the only way to “hear” my own thoughts without having to block out the noise and activity of other people. If I am sitting with myself, processing hard things or even beautiful things, resolving internal conflict, conjuring new ways to deal with difficult relationships or situations then solitude is doing its work. If, instead, I find my mind tangled up in fearful knots, filled with negative self-talk or unable to break a downward spiral into despair then I probably need to find someone to talk to.
  • Am I getting stronger or being drained? After the holidays or other hectic seasons I need time alone to recharge my batteries. Often it is almost a day-for-day exchange. I can feel tension melting away and strength returning. My mind begins to clear and life doesn’t feel so overwhelming. Solitude grants space for my body, mind and soul to be refreshed. When it slides into isolation I can feel the shift. Instead of waking refreshed and eager to greet a free day, I wake to dreading another long one alone. Instead of energy rising in my spirit, I can feel it draining away. Instead of thinking kindly of friends and family who choose to leave me be, I’m resentful no one has checked up on me.
  • Is there a helpful rhythm to my days alone or am I counting the hours until sundown? When I’m enjoying solitude, the hours feel like a welcome opportunity to do things (or not do things!) at my own pace and according to my own preferences. I sit with pen in hand and jot down a list knowing that if I complete it or if I don’t the only person I have to answer to is myself. No pressing appointments and no worrisome commitments. When I’m isolating, the hours feel like a long march through deep mud-every step tedious, treacherous and exhausting. I’m alone but I’m not getting any benefit from it. If I’m enduring instead of enjoying then I’m isolating.
  • Do I have an endpoint in mind? When I look ahead at a week on my calendar, I try to balance alone time with social commitments. A day or two alone (or with limited human interaction) is solitude. A week holed up in the house is isolation. If I find myself pushing off needed outings (to the grocery store, to run errands) then I ask myself, “why?”. Often it’s because I’ve drifted from solitude (helpful alone time) to isolation (unhelpful hiding).

I can shift myself out of isolation by choosing just one small social interaction.

I might text or message a friend, go to the grocery store and make a point of speaking to the clerk, call someone or show up at a church or community event even if I sit in the back and slip out early.

I’m never going to be that person who is up for every outing. That’s just not how I’m made and child loss has intensified my need for solitude.

But I don’t want to be alone and lonely, sinking deeper and deeper into a pit of my own making.

Some days it’s harder than others.

But I keep trying.

Fragile

I’ve spent the past two days fighting anxiety and panic.

Breath caught mid-throat, chest pounding, sobs threatening, head throbbing-just like that first day 47 months ago. 

A series of events broke down the defense I’ve carefully constructed that helps me make it through most days without tears.

I did pretty good. 

I managed a family dinner, church and a covered dish luncheon with no one any the wiser.  

Underneath it all I was barely hanging on.  

I love that my words give expression to my feelings, thoughts and experience and also help others give expression to theirs.  But sometimes I’m afraid that the people closest to me think that because I can write about it, I must be a bit beyond it-detached, clinical, untouched.

Nothing could be further from the truth.  

I feel every. single. thing.  

My heart hurts like every other bereaved parent.  My brain struggles to comprehend the reality of my son’s death and a lifetime without his earthly companionship.  I fight for my faith.  I cry out to God.  I feel lonely, misunderstood, abandoned, frightened, and so, so sad.

grief bubble

I am fragile. 

Like moth’s wings. 

The slightest touch threatens to undo me.  

 

 

 

He Knows My Name

Grief can be isolating.  

It separates me as one who knows loss by experience from those who have only looked on from the outside.  

It opens a chasm between me and people who aren’t aware that life can be changed in a single instant.

And I can feel like no one sees me, no one cares about me and no one notices my pain.

Sometimes it even feels like God has forgotten me-that He isn’t listening, that He doesn’t care.

But Jehovah hasn’t abandoned me.  

Have you ever wondered why there are lists of names in the Bible?  Do you, like me, sometimes rush through them or pass over them to get to the “main part” of a story?

But look again, the names ARE the story. 

The God of the Bible isn’t the God of the masses.  He is the God of the individual. 

He walked in the garden with Adam and Eve.  He called out to Cain, ‘Where is your brother?”

He took Enoch, guided Noah, chose Abraham and Moses.

He anointed David, spoke to and through the prophets and He CAME, flesh to flesh to bear the sins of His people, redeem them from death and cover them with His blood.

My name is graven on His hands.

“Can a mother forget the baby at her breast
    and have no compassion on the child she has borne?
Though she may forget,
    I will not forget you!
See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands”

Isaiah 49: 15-16a NIV

My life is hidden with Christ.

For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life,appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Colossians 3:3-4 NIV

He has a new name for me, a secret name I’ll receive in Heaven.

“To the one who conquers through faithfulness even unto death, I will feed you with hidden manna and give you a white stone. Upon this stone, a new name is engraved. No one knows this name except for its recipient.”

Revelation 2:17b VOICE

The enemy wants to convince me that God has forgotten me.

That He has abandoned me in my sorrow and pain.

That when my son breathed his last, He was looking the other way.

That’s a lie.

And I refuse to listen.

Years ago I heard this song for the first time and it touched my heart:

He Knows My Name by Israel  (listen here)

Lyrics:

I have a Maker
He Formed My Heart
Before even time began
My life was in his hands

(Chorus)
He knows my name
He knows my every thought
He sees each tear that falls
And hears me when I call

Not everyone reading this has lost a child.  

But everyone has lost something or someone.

And everyone, if they are honest, has experienced moments of anguish wondering if God in heaven cares.

graven on hand

 

He does.

He hears.  

He knows your name.