Very early in the morning, while it was still dark,
Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place,
where he prayed.
One month and 20 days ago, I moved to Dallas, Texas. I chose to move despite dire warnings from my friends in Missouri that the blazing heat would likely fry me within mere days of my arrival in the state. Clearly, since I am not currently deceased, I’ve managed to survive the 100+ temperatures we’ve had nearly every day during my time here. It’s nice to know for certain that I won’t spontaneously combust in constant triple digits.
It’s been an interesting 40-odd days. I moved into one apartment, started a new job, learned to play Keeno with a very diverse group of people, celebrated the 4th of July with my extended family, spent far more than anyone ever should on tolls and gasoline, realized that I couldn’t stay at my current apartment because of said tolls and gas, found a new apartment 5 minutes away from my work, found a church, found out that my new church has a Korean congregation that meets there as well, broke my lease on my old apartment, and had the joy of seeing my check-engine light come on in my car.
In three weeks, I will move into my new apartment. In one month, almost exactly, I begin the Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages program at the University of Texas at Arlington. Because, you know…I don’t have enough going on, and I need more to think about.
The funny thing is, for all that’s been happening in my life, I’ve spent more hours in the last 40 days alone than in all the previous 6 months or so. I do have family here in Dallas, but they are all busy with their friends and their lives and families (rightly so), and we see each other only a couple of times a week at the most. So my life, when I’ve not been at work, has been a study in solitude.
I think there is an odd stigma against being alone in our culture. Granted, I won’t say it’s fun to be alone all the time. God did not create us for life without any companionship, and it’s not even healthy to be alone permanently. But I think somehow we’ve also lost the ability to be comfortable being alone with our thoughts – and that, to me, seems just as unhealthy as permanent solitude would be. So during this time of my life, away from friends and most social distractions, I’m trying to take each moment of solitary reflection as it comes. It’s quite a fascinating thing to get to know yourself as you are without anyone else around.
One of the first things that has struck me in my moments alone is that I so often, and so quickly, attempt to escape the silence that surrounds me. Silence encourages thought, and when I am stressed or worried or lonely I do not want to think. I want to be distracted. I want to find refuge in music or television or movies or anything – even white noise – that will keep me from reflecting. So I’ve forced myself to take a step away from all the distractions at least once in a while, and actually take the time to think. To really, really think.
I can’t say I’ve got any great and inspiring revelations to share with you that have come from these moments of quiet thought. But I will say this – in these moments, I have most often found myself naturally moving into conversation with God. Not praying it the traditional sense, but honestly just communicating in a rather low-key way with my Creator. The silence allows me time not only to tell Him about what I’m going through, but it also gives me time to wait for His response – for His comforting presence, for His wisdom, for His grace to flow over me. And I’m grateful that I’ve had this time, because how else would I have found out that when I stop reaching into my mind with half-interesting distractions, it will begin to reach outward toward the One that is the source of everything that is best and most fulfilling?
I know that at some point, my social life will pick up. At least, my studying life will, and I won’t have these long periods of solitude – I won’t have so much time to sit and reflect. Someday I will have a family and children and I am sure I’ll have even less time for sitting and just thinking. I look forward to those times. I know they’ll bring a whole new kind of fulfillment and joy to my life. But I do hope that even then I can find moments to be quiet and alone with my thoughts and with the Lord. Because sometimes solitude is beautiful, and alone is not lonely.