I’m sure isolation is a word we view differently now than we did just a few short weeks ago. Before, most of us knew the word conceptually, but now it seems it has become one of those words we feel.
For some, isolation has been, at times, sought out in an attempt to inoculate our pain or minimize the risk of experiencing it in greater portion. However, in the light of now having it thrust upon us isolation seems to be exposed for what it is – lonely.
Like the hamster on the proverbial wheel we have gone from a society hurriedly running the race of life going everywhere and nowhere as quickly as we can to a society seemingly stuck in a bad dream. Suddenly we find ourselves craving those human interruptions we used to avoid and missing even the most innocuous human touch we receive through simple handshakes or pats on the back.
This morning I was reading in Mark’s Gospel and I took pause as I read Jesus’ invitation to His disciples, “Come away by yourselves to a lonely place and rest a while.” Mark 6:31 (NASB). It reminded me of a sermon I heard a few months ago while visiting our daughter. The pastor said, “When we do not seek solitude we crave isolation.” The pastor went on to share how Jesus would often retreat to pray, spend time with his disciples, rest, and worship.
According to W. Doyle Gentry in the article The Importance of Solitude for Happiness, “Solitude frees the mind up from all the distractions of everyday life and allows it to focus more fully on one thing. It allows your brain to think outside the box and to come up with unique, extraordinary solutions to ordinary problems.”
Isolation is different, however. Isolation is usually either something forced upon us – as in the case of a prisoner in an isolation cell or a patient kept in isolation – or it is a willful, albeit unhealthy, defense mechanism.
While this time of social distancing has been forced upon us in order to keep us and others safe, it can feel like very much like a lonely place. However, as I read through the Gospels Jesus didn’t retreat to a lonely place to avoid the crowds, but rather to recharge His batteries so that He could once again go out and serve them.
As I further meditate on these two words it strikes me that outwardly they look very much the same, but inwardly they are altogether different.
In isolation our focus is on our fears, our pain, and on our self-preservation. While in solitude our focus is on our relationship with God, our family and friends, on rest, and self-improvement.
I am further reminded of the importance of solitude as I recall something I recently heard Ashley Cleveland say:
“When we allow ourselves to get to a place of burn out we become thin-skinned and hard-hearted. But when we take time to rest, recharge and fill ourselves up we are then able to be thick skinned and soft-hearted.”
So, while solitude can often seem selfish it is anything but. I am hopeful this time will allow us all be more mindful of our need for solitude with God and family as we move beyond this pandemic.
It occurs to me, as I close that, while we have no choice in this moment but to distance ourselves, we do have a choice at what our distancing becomes: isolation or solitude.