Occasionally I need to go out of town for a work-related conference. These types of excursions usually last between five and seven days. Kitty, being a very independent cat (or so I thought), would be fine alone for a week, I reasoned. I had asked a friend to drop by just to make sure that her water and food bowls were filled daily. Kitty sleeps 16 hours a day anyway, I told myself. She won’t even realize I’ve gone away. She will be fine, I reassured myself.
Upon my return from a recent trip out of town, I could see Kitty sitting in the front window of my house staring out at the street, as if on guard. However, as soon as she saw me get out of the car in the driveway, she quickly left her post. No sooner had I turned the key and pushed the door handle than I was met by one unhappy Kitty who was in quite a mood. I had just reached back to close the door when the high-pitched lecture began. Now I do not claim to be fluent in cat meow, but her fast and furious vocalizations made it clear she was telling me off for having abandoned her. I tried to reason with her as you would with an irate toddler, with approximately the same level of success. She would have none of it. Finally, after several minutes, Kitty turned around and scurried off to the kitchen, leaving me, presumably, to think long and hard about what I had done. I decided that next time I went out of town, I would find someone to stay over for the entire time to avoid another lecture from my cat.
Many people, whether young or old, find it terrifying to be home alone. A fear can set in that makes the experience utter torture, often resulting in sleepless nights and wasted days. This fear is most often unfounded and rooted in catastrophic thinking. How easily one’s mind can turn to thinking that the worst tragedy will befall us if we are left alone. But is this really true? If we were to count the number of times we were alone and then tally the number of catastrophic events we have experienced while alone, the results would not match up. It would quite probably be zero. Yet many of us persist in convincing ourselves that danger lurks around every corner, especially when we are alone.
Perhaps we’ve watched too many horror movies or crime shows. I often wonder what the purpose of this type of programming really is and whether it benefits society. Some call this entertainment, but filling our minds with these kinds of vivid, horrific stories can easily rob us of a sense of safety and all that is good and right in the world. I guard very carefully how I allow various media sources to influence my thinking because I know from experience how these media messages can negatively impact my sense of self and the way I view the world around me. This happens because our thoughts and feelings work together. What I allow to influence one will also influence the other—for better or for worse.
Could there be a different way of thinking about being home alone that could turn a fear into a gift, even a spiritual gift? We will all experience times of feeling alone, whether in a crowd or on one’s own. Part of the human condition is a pervasive feeling of being alone. I believe this awareness is what propels human beings to seek out deep, enduring connection with others and with God.
But is being alone something to be avoided at all costs? According to the theologian, Henri J. M. Nouwen:
“All human beings are alone. No other person will completely feel like we do, think like we do, act like we do. Each of us is unique, and our aloneness is the other side of our uniqueness. The question is whether we let our aloneness become loneliness or whether we allow it to lead us into solitude. Loneliness is painful; solitude is peaceful. Loneliness makes us cling to others in desperation; solitude allows us to respect others in their uniqueness and create community.
Letting our aloneness grow into solitude and not into loneliness is a lifelong struggle…. But wise choices will help us to find the solitude where our hearts can grow in love.”1
It is in solitude that we make space in our busy, frenetic, distraction-ridden world for an encounter with the One who sees us. Our Creator God calls each one of us by name to enter into a loving relationship. It is this relationship that fills the emptiness deep inside that can remove the perpetual feeling of living a life of quiet desperation.
Inevitably, in our humanness we avoid the silence, and the deepest longings of our heart to be called the Beloved go unfulfilled. The invitation to “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10) is not so much a command as it is an opportunity to inhabit our identity as the beloved of God.
What greater gift can one receive than a real relationship with the One who sees us and knows us and calls us by name, the one true soulmate of every human being?
I choose this gift of solitude. I will allow it to grow in my life and enlarge my soul. In so doing, I will experience the goodness and love of my one true Soulmate.
God in heaven, thank You for being the God who truly sees me and calls me beloved.
Article adapted from the book, Lessons from my Cat – Finding Peace in an Anxious World by Barbara Hein. Barbara holds ministry related credentials and is the creator of the online retreat webinar, “Flourishing after 50 – Renewing your purpose and passions for the second half of life,” which is a resource for churches to use. Barbara is a member of Life Church in Edmonton, Alta.
- Henri J. M. Nouwen, Bread for the Journey: A Daybook of Wisdom and Faith, illust. ed. (New York, NY: HarperOne, 2005), 64.
This article appeared in the April/May/June 2022 issue of testimony/Enrich, a quarterly publication of The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. © 2022 The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. Photos © istockphoto.com.