Lonely or solitary?

O Lord, you have searched me and you know me.

You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thought from afar.

You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways.  Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O Lord…

Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.

If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.

If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.

(Psalm 139.1-4,7-12)

Do you like being alone? Does the prospect of time without other people present stir up fear, or anticipation? I know that each of us has a natural disposition which will incline us to one or the other, and that is a part of the wonderful variety which makes us all individuals. But I also believe that ultimately none of us need fear being by ourselves… Because as followers of Jesus, we are never truly alone!

The psalmist is well aware of the fact that God sees and knows him through and through, that there is nowhere on the earth that God is not present with him. I am never quite sure whether this is seen as a good or a bad thing! Perhaps there are times when our feelings are in such turmoil, or our consciences so troubled, that we feel we want to hide from God until we get sorted out. But the psalms reveal over and over that the best way to get sorted out, is to be in the presence of God, acknowledging our struggles, our failures, our anger and grief, and allowing the steady, healing and cleansing light of his holiness and love to quieten our spirit. Here is one of many such occasions:

When I said, “My foot is slipping,” your love , O Lord, supported me. When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought joy to my soul.

(Psalm 94. 18 & 19)

This for me is one of the most precious truths of my faith, that in my solitude, I am never alone. I have a perfect companion. I have one who knows my thoughts, who understands my tastes, and who delights to share with me as I experience every moment of life and savour each detail of my days.

I cannot irritate him with my eye for the tiniest details of a leaf or flower; he waits joyfully and patiently while I appreciate the beauties which he has placed for me to enjoy! When my spirit lifts with the majesty of great trees around me, my companion hears my cry of delight and thanksgiving, and rejoices in my pleasure. Did you know that our loving Father loves to be thanked, to see us enjoying what He has made – from the tiniest detail to the most breathtaking panorama? It is one of the greatest pleasures of solitude, to have uninterrupted communion with the one who has made all this beauty, and be able to deliberately share our pleasure with him.

 And in my darkness – whether I have sought it out deliberately, because of weariness or grief; or have been overshadowed by it in spite of my best efforts to remain in the light – I am not alone.. there is nowhere that my Lord cannot reach me, cannot be with me, comforting and holding, his arms ever around me even when mine are too weak to hold on to him.

David spent many days and hours in solitude as a young man – shepherding sheep for his father – and I believe that he learnt then what it was to be loved by a God who was always present. We see from the songs David wrote that he hid nothing from God, whether of grief or joy, frustration and anger, fear and despair, triumph and rejoicing. He knew the presence of God was not simply a special feeling that came and went, but a fact, on which he could rely.

It is a fact on which I rely too, which transforms loneliness into solitude, a precious space shared only with my Lord, where I can be utterly at rest because I am utterly known, accepted and loved. Thanks be to God, who through Jesus his Son, brings us into this most intimate of relationships and gives us peace!

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