- Aaron Chong
Alone, But Not Lonely
This article is a continuation of ‘A Refreshed Spirit…’
Being alone and away from home, on the other side of the world has both its perks and drawbacks. The two months spent in Toulouse, France, as part of my job secondment, may have been an unwelcome change when I first started my stint. Even as time went on and I came to embrace it as a season of blessing, I nonetheless had to battle with the bouts of loneliness I experienced.
The most obvious reason is the cultural difference. Unlike home, there was no local community of Singaporeans to easily chill out with. It also dawned on me that the company’s ‘unspoken’ culture was that business and personal lives are very distinct and don’t mix, hence, no one initiated the idea of a post-work meal or drink.
Thus, my daily routine was to come home to an empty apartment, cook a meal and savour it alone. Thereafter, I would either dive back into work or into my books (thank God I brought Peter Scazzero’s Emotionally Healthy Spirituality). In the stillness of my room, the silence was deafening at times and homesickness soon well and truly kicked in. Text messages sent over Whatsapp or Telegram would go unanswered until the following day because Asia was asleep by then.
But the silence trained me to spend time with Him.
I have a theory about why I (and so many others) find it difficult to spend time in true silence: we haven’t been trained for it.
Like running, singing, or cooking, silence is a skill we have to cultivate, and far too often we set out to practise silence in ways that we aren’t prepared for, with expectations that silence can’t meet.
Like Isaiah 30:15 says, “... In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength”.
It was in the quietness that I met God afresh. A special encounter happened when I went on a hike in the mountains. The words of the great hymn, How Great Thou Art came to mind that day:
When through the woods and forests glades I wander,
And hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees;
When I look down from lofty mountain grandeur,
And hear the brook and feel the gentle breeze:
I felt my soul refreshed that day. Knowing that He walks with me and talks with me, and He tells me that I am His own. I began to feel a sublime joy as I tarried in the wonder of God’s creation. It was deeply personal and uplifting.
Loneliness is felt in many ways. Sometimes, even in a social gathering, the lack of meaningful exchange or deep conversations, or a desire to connect that is met by busyness, can leave us feeling lonely and left out.
My new found comfort with being alone reminds me of how I used to whine about not having a large family with plenty of interactions. For years I would lament to my parents about this lack I felt. What I failed to see was that I was already blessed with a loving family - albeit a small one. I still had plenty to celebrate during the season - be it good health, a place to live, or food on the table.
Be it in France or at home during CNY, it was the easier option to choose to feel lonely because I was alone, or I could choose to feel grateful for the positive things in life.
Shifting from this place of demand and anxiety to gratitude has been transformational, allowing me to learn to live in the present moment and be mindful of my circumstances.
With Christmas and the New Year fast approaching, I am cognisant that there will be people among us who will feel lonely. I am inspired by a friend who at Christmas or New Year’s Eve, would it make a point to broadcast a message over her Instagram account seeking anyone to hang out with - whether for a meal or a movie. She does this, not because she herself was lonely but she recognises the fact that there are lonely souls out there. She seeks to bring the love of Jesus to those who may need it and meet their immediate need - company.
In that sense, an antidote to loneliness may be to look outward at the needs around us.
Just as I discovered afresh that I can feel lonely but am not all alone, I suppose the remedy for a downcast soul is to remember the great gift of Jesus’ presence in our lives. As Christians, we know that we are never truly alone. We can be certain of this by the promise Jesus has given us that He will never leave or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5), and we can be comforted by His assurance that He is with us always (Matthew 28:20).
If you’re lonely today, know God is indeed there, with you and beside you. Like Deuteronomy 1:31 says, “There (in the wilderness) you saw how the Lord your God carried you, as a father carries his son, all the way you went until you reached this place.”