I sat alone in a crowded train station in a large German city. The winter holidays were approaching and the weather was damp and chilly. I had a long wait before my train departed. Drawing my scarf closer around my neck, I studied the other travelers. I knew not a soul among the crowd surging around me. Idly I wondered where they were going—if they had loved ones awaiting them—or if they felt lonely and hopeless.
There’s a difference between being alone and being lonely. A big difference. One can be lonely in the midst of a large crowd. Or one can live alone for many months, perhaps years, and not be lonely. That’s because loneliness is an emotion, a state of mind. It can be accepted or rejected.
In his book “Dove” author Robin Lee describes his battle with loneliness. At 16 he set sail in a 24-foot sloop to become the youngest person to sail around the world alone. Often he found that while his back was turned his “worst enemy had slithered aboard.” Lee tells how he coped with loneliness by occupying his time and hands usefully, thinking about pleasant times with people he loved and planning for when he would see them again.
Great things are accomplished in solitude. Michelangelo spent nearly four years lying alone on his back on a high scaffolding painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Rome. Paul Bunyan labored alone in a British prison cell to give the world his great classic “The Pilgrim’s Progress.”
It was when Jacob was alone that God gave him a vision. God reminded him clearly that no matter what mistakes he had made to result in his isolation, God was with him and would watch over him wherever he went. This revelation prompted Jacob to exclaim, “Surely the Lord is in this place and I was not aware of it” (Genesis 28:16).
God can still use aloneness in powerful ways. When other voices are shut out, the silence of the soul makes more distinct the voice of God.
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