The Rich Rewards of Solitude

I still remember the day I first met Ruth Graham. She was so authentic and talked with humility and depth. She is a wonderful person. This blog post is brilliant on our need for solitude. I read the blog and put a date on my calendar to take some solitude. Her new book, Transforming Loneliness: Deeping Our Relationships with God and Others When We Feel Alone is so good. I encourage you to read it as soon as you can.

The Rich Rewards of Solitude

People often equate loneliness and solitude, but in truth they are quite different. I agree with author Hara Estroff Marano, who wrote in Psychology Today, “There is a world of difference between solitude and loneliness, though the two terms are often used interchangeably. From the outside, solitude and loneliness look a lot alike. Both are characterized by solitariness. But all resemblance ends at the surface. . . . Loneliness is a negative state, marked by a sense of isolation. . . . Solitude is the state of being alone without being lonely. . . . Solitude is a time that can be used for reflection, inner searching or growth or enjoyment of some kind.” [3]

Another way to put it is that loneliness tends to feel like an excess of alone time and is marked by feeling discontented. Solitude, on the other hand, tends to feel peaceful. It seems to surface from a rich inner life. It replenishes us, renews us, and refreshes us. When we choose to spend time in solitude, we can use that time to explore our hearts and minds and get to know ourselves and our God better—to come away with a fresh perspective. Marano also said, “Solitude restores body and mind. Loneliness depletes them.” [4] I would add that solitude restores our spirits as well.

The question I suggest we explore, then, is this: If loneliness is so negative and solitude so positive, can we actually change our loneliness into solitude?

What do you think? Both are the state of being alone. It begins there. I tend to think of solitude as something we choose, whereas loneliness is a feeling that comes over us unbidden. But once loneliness has arrived on our doorstep, can we transform it into solitude? Elisabeth Elliot seemed to think so. She wrote, “Turn your loneliness into solitude, and your solitude into prayer.” [5] Isn’t that what happened to me that Christmas night in Texas? I moved from lonely to grateful to singing God’s praises. But did that come about by a choice I made, or did God transform my loneliness into solitude? Perhaps it was an interplay of both?

I like to think of solitude as making room in our souls for God by shutting down all the noise of the demands on our lives and opening ourselves up to His influence on our thoughts, feelings, and ideas that have been living below the surface for too long.

Of course, not everyone needs the same balance of solitude and connection with others. One article said, “By actively taking the time to be in isolation [note that I would say “solitude” rather than “isolation”] it allows us to find balance. Extroverted people live primarily on social life, whereas introverted people tolerate loneliness much better. Both ultimately need a certain amount of solitude to find harmony.” [6]

Solitude, therefore, is not a one-size-fits-all exercise. We have to experiment to explore the healthy balance that suits us, and we may very well find that balance shifts with various seasons of our lives.

I came across a rather sad piece of information as I was researching solitude. The Google Ngram Viewer or Google Books Ngram Viewer is an online search engine that charts the frequencies of use of any set of words or phrases. How telling it is that Google Ngram reveals a decrease in the use of the word solitude while at the same time use of the word loneliness has increased. [7] The reality is that if we devote ourselves intentionally to solitude with God, we can actually decrease our loneliness. We’ll explore how, in this and the next chapter.

I wasn’t surprised to find that science positioned solitude as being focused solely on self, while I, focusing on the spiritual experience of solitude, saw it as a time for spiritual intimacy with God. Keeping that difference in mind, however, let’s look at five “science-based benefits of solitude” according to author Anne-Laure Le Cunff:

  1. Increased productivity
  2. More meaningful relationships
  3. Better mental strength
  4. More creativity
  5. Self-transformation

“In the end,” writes Le Cunff, “it all boils down to being intentional in the way we approach solitude. . . . Solitude can be a mindful activity, if you decided to dedicate time to it.” [8] If science can identify those benefits, how many more benefits might we identify as believers in an eternal soul?

This excerpt from can be found in the book, Transforming Loneliness (pgs. 118-121), 2021, written by Ruth Graham and published by Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group. Used by permission.

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Ruth Graham

“Transparent” is the word most people use to describe Ruth Graham, founder and president of Ruth Graham Ministries. She is the author of multiple books, including best-selling In Every Pew Sits a Broken Heart (Zondervan 2004), in which she demonstrates her heart for those who face life’s difficult challenges. In 2006, she started conferences, Ruth Graham & Friends, to minister to those in the church who are wounded by life, others, or self. Partnering with some of the nation’s leading experts on such issues as addictions, loneliness, abortion, control, pornography… these conferences provided education and hope. photo Her passion is to motivate people by God’s comfort and loving acceptance from a place of woundedness to a place of wholeness in Christ. Ruth Graham Ministries seeks to create safe places where people can begin their journey to wholeness in Christ. No stranger to heartache herself, she provides a Biblical perspective on her journey of faith. She is warm and articulate as she connects with her audience, talking openly about her own pilgrimage through life’s unexpected heartaches and struggles. She is an experienced Bible teacher and conference speaker. She is a frequent interview subject in the news media having appeared on Good Morning America, Life Today, Fox and Friends, and The 700 Club. She has three children and nine grandchildren. She lives in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. Her life verse is John 1:16, “For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” (ESV)

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