Solitude is a dangerous thing. Of course everyone needs significant time to be alone, to rest and think and pray. And of course some are called to a lifetime of solitude and contemplation. But solitude also holds significant temptations—especially, I expect, for those of us who enjoy time alone, and often find ourselves wishing for more of it in this rushed and harried world. Long, lazy summer days, when everyone else is out of the house; finals periods when you can barricade yourself in your room and get down to serious studying; weekends when everyone else has to study for midterms and you are blissfully, serendipitously free—these are all good, even necessary things. However, there is a quality to such times that, at least in my experience, leads to an inward-facing way of thinking, to an attitude that becomes ever narrower and blindly tied down to our own wishes. Disconnected from people, we become disconnected from God.
In the Lord’s Prayer, we ask God to “forgive our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us”. Perhaps part of the reason for this is that without the necessity of forgiving others we do not see our own need to be forgiven. Complete solitude gives no opportunity for the bickering and judgmentalism and inattention that mark our interactions with other people. However, the absence of opportunity does not in itself make us holier people; I am just as easily angered, quick to judge, and uncaring when I am by myself—I just don’t notice as much, and so don’t repent. It is so much easier to remember why we need God when our patience is reaching the breaking point and our tempers are fraying than when we are comfortably doing what we choose, and so much easier to imagine that we have ultimate sovereignty over our lives when we need not heed the demands of others.
So, what now? Ought we to give up prolonged solitude entirely as a selfish and dangerous waste of time? Of course not. Leisure and solitude are in themselves good things. However, in our precious moments of solitude we must remember that we were not made only for ourselves. In My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers writes, “The real business of your life as a saved soul is intercessory prayer. Wherever God puts you in circumstances, pray immediately, pray that His Atonement may be realized in other lives as it has been in yours. Pray for your friends now; pray for those with whom you come in contact now.” Even in solitude we are not alone; we are in the presence of Our Lord, and we are part of the great mission of the Church that stretches through time and space around us.