Building Better Relationships

by Rob Furlong

The importance of being alone

As he prepares to leave Hobbiton for the final time, Bilbo Baggins, gives an insightful description to Gandalf about the way he is feeling at that moment ...

man alone

As he prepares to leave Hobbiton for the final time, Bilbo Baggins, one of the heroes of The Lord of the Rings, gives an insightful description to Gandalf about the way he is feeling at that moment in his life:
"Why, I feel all thin, sort of stretched, if you know what I mean: like butter that has been scraped over too much bread. That can't be right. I need a change, or something."

Despite being a work of fiction, it accurately describes how many of us feel when we come to the end of ourselves.

We have reached a point where we have nothing left to give, especially in our relationships.

Is there an answer to this?

There is, but it will surprise you!

US author, Sherry Turkle argues that one of the keys to maintaining healthy, flourishing relationships is to ensure that we carve out times of solitude for ourselves.

Her reasoning makes good sense.

"In solitude we find ourselves; we prepare ourselves to come to conversation (with others) with something to say that is authentic, ours. When we are secure in ourselves we are able to listen to other people and really hear what they have to say."

It's a powerful thought that seems quite contradictory on the surface, but when you think it through, it makes good sense.

The greatest challenge to this however, lies within ourselves.

Turkle quotes recent research to show that people today are not comfortable with being left alone with their thoughts for even a few minutes.

One experiment required the participants to sit quietly for fifteen minutes without a phone or a book.

They were instructed at the outset of the exercise to consider self-administering electroshocks if they became bored at any point in the fifteen minutes.

The participants were adamant that they would not do this.

However, after a mere six minutes alone, a large number of the participants were giving themselves electroshocks!

We are not comfortable with solitude.

But look at it this way: if we are not comfortable with our own company, how can we ever possibly be comfortable in the presence of others?

As Turkle observes,
"Afraid of being alone, we struggle to pay attention to ourselves. And what suffers is our ability to pay attention to each other. If we can't find our own center, we lose confidence in what we have to offer others."

Here are a few practices that I have found helpful to build solitude into my life:

Carve out some alone time for 30 – 60 minutes per day. First thing in the morning is usually the best, before you get into the full swing of the day. I spend my time praying, reading the Bible and talking over with God whatever the concerns are that are currently occupying my mind and heart.

Even alone, God is there:

Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend into heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there.

If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there Your hand shall lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me.

If I say, "Surely the darkness shall fall on me," even the night shall be light about me; Indeed, the darkness shall not hide from You, but the night shines as the day; the darkness and the light are both alike to You.

- Psalm 139:7-12

This time is invaluable for me because it allows me to get rid of any negative thinking that is weighing me down as well as allowing me to more clearly see the areas I need to grow in as a person.

Keep this time as "device" free as possible. If you use your phone to read, that is fine. But discipline yourself to resist other apps. Those things have their place – but not here! Work hard to make your time of solitude a distraction free zone!

Plan a half or full day retreat. These usually work best if you have somewhere to go. Take something to read and a journal and pen to jot down any observations that come to you. But keep it simple – you do not want to overload the day!

Solitude, rightly practiced, can become a rich experience that not only deepens our personal lives but also our relationships with others.

Don't be afraid of solitude!


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