Silence. Solitude. When I was the stay-at-home mom of a brood of small, needy, loud children, I craved the silence and a few moments alone. Sometimes, I’d even lock myself in my bedroom for 3 minutes of alone-time with some hidden chocolate. (Which is how a mouse once found its way to living in my underwear drawer, but that’s another story.)
Now, though, I sometimes have more silence and solitude than I really prefer. Both girls are away at college; and since the divorce, the boys spend one week with me, then one week with their dad. And when they aren’t here, the house feels too empty, too quiet, too lonely. Don’t get me wrong – there are moments when I enjoy the quiet. I can watch a Netflix movie without interruption; I can eat the Pringles without sharing; I can write without distraction. Heck, I can even pee with the door open! But after a little while, the novelty wears off. And I miss my kids.
I imagine some will read this and think to themselves that I shouldn’t whine because this is the bed I made and I should lie in it without complaint. I got divorced and gave up half my time with my children. Yes, I know. And I know I risk judgment by vulnerably writing this post. But I’m writing it anyway because two of the most powerful words in our language are “Me too!” And maybe someone else is experiencing this and needs to know she isn’t alone.
After the divorce – the first time I dropped the kids off at their dad’s and came home to an empty house, I sat and sobbed. Actually, I didn’t make it out of his driveway before the crying began. For months, I cried every other Sunday afternoon as I backed out of his driveway. And throughout the lonely weeks of silent evening hours, I would randomly sit and cry – missing my children, grieving.
I imagine this isn’t unique to divorced women with shared custody. There are all sorts of reasons we might find ourselves alone in an empty house, trying to fill the time and space with activity or noise or ice cream (don’t judge!) or something.
In an effort to fill up some of the time and space, I started a book club last year. I also watched a lot of Netflix and Hulu, mindlessly filling the time, trying to feel less alone. There were times I drove to the grocery store to buy something I didn’t really need, just to have human interaction. And there were times I just sat on the couch feeling sorry for myself.
But I also began to learn to sit with loneliness and silence and grief and discomfort and insecurity. I’m still learning this — that there are lessons to be learned in those moments (or hours).
Those moments of emptiness can be my reminder of how much I need God. I am learning to take a deep breath during those moments and say, “Ok, God. I feel it, the loneliness, the emptiness, and I need You to fill this time with Your Presence. And I need to feel that You are enough in this moment.”
I’m not talking about days or weeks or months with no human interaction. I’m telling you – to my own embarrassment – that sometimes spending an entire evening alone, from 3:30 in the afternoon until bedtime, feels like too much for me. Oh, sometimes I enjoy an entire evening on my own; it can be rejuvenating and relaxing. But sometimes, the hours stretch before me and I feel so alone. Because I am an extrovert and I had a team-full of children and I am used to noise and activity. But also because being alone – really being alone – has always been one of my biggest fears, and sometimes my brain has to work extra hard to reassure some tiny corner of my heart that six hours alone doesn’t equal being alone.
Now, I’m going to interrupt myself to say that I was reading in Genesis, Chapter 2 the other day, and I noticed that God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone.” God knows our need for other people. He made us this way! Yes, God is always with us, and God is always enough. But God created us with a need for other human beings. And so it’s OK that we want human connection. It’s normal that we feel unsettled when we’re alone too much. God designed us for community. And there have been times when I have been truly lonely and I have felt guilty for wanting friendship or connection because a churchy-voice in my head said that God should be enough. And I don’t believe that guilt was warranted, and I don’t think that voice was the voice of God’s Spirit. God is compassionate and understands our need for other people. It isn’t good for us to be alone — like alone, alone.
However, my desire to fill up empty moments and empty space with shallow connection or with noise or entertainment can sometimes be ridiculous. I end up missing out on allowing the God who loves me to draw near. I miss out on recognizing God’s presence in the middle of those moments. So I’ve been learning to see those moments as gifts, as opportunities to feel God filling up my neediness with Himself.
Oh, sometimes, I still don’t like it. And I don’t just sit on my couch for four hours feeling God’s presence. That isn’t what I mean. I just mean when I start to feel sorry for myself or when I start to feel that uncomfortable loneliness, I try to recognize God’s presence and His desire to fill that space in that moment. I might read a chapter in the Bible. I might journal. I might pray. I might sit for ten minutes in silence letting myself feel all the uncomfortable feelings and giving those to God. And then I can watch Netflix or read a book or write or scroll Facebook, but my attitude is just a little different.
God wants to supply our needs. God wants to give us peace. God wants to give us complete joy in His presence. Sometimes I just forget all that and I get things out of whack. I look for fullness of joy and peace and the meeting of my needs in people or food or entertainment or busy-ness. And I just need a minute to rearrange or shuffle things back around to the right order in my mind. People and food and entertainment and activity are all good in their proper place, but none of those are designed to really satisfy my deepest need in those moments of hot loneliness. That’s God’s job. And He really is perfect at His job!