Beware Solitude

Solitude produces melancholy. 

When we are alone, the worst and saddest things come to mind. We reflect in detail upon all sorts of evils. And if we have encountered adversity in our lives, we dwell upon it as much as possible, magnify it, think that no one is so unhappy as we are, and imagine the worst possible consequences. 

Martin Luther

Luther wrote more than 95 Theses and Chambers wrote more than his Utmost. Four centuries separated the two, but truth is truth and they landed square on it. Then, 50 years ago, D. Martin Lloyd-Jones came along and his  Spiritual Depression punctuated their warning: Beware of solitude.

Especially, they all said: Beware when you are suffering. Be wary of separating yourself. Be especially careful when you’re lonely. Because when a certain temperament and tough circumstances are mixed in, it’s a mighty dangerous cocktail.

These three wise men provide three compelling reasons why.

1. “More And Graver Sins”

“More and graver sins are committed in solitude than in the society of one’s fellow men. The devil deceived Eve in paradise when she was alone. Murder, robbery, theft, fornication, and adultery are committed in solitude, for solitude provides the devil with occasion and opportunity. On the other hand, a person who is with others and in the society of his fellow men is either ashamed to commit a crime or does not have the occasion and opportunity to do so. Christ was alone when the devil tempted Him. David was alone and idle when he slipped into adultery and murder. I too have discovered that I am never so likely to fall into sins as when I am by myself. 

God created man for society and not for solitude. This may be supported by the argument that He created two sexes, male and female. Likewise God founded the Christian Church, the communion of saints, instituted the Sacraments, preaching, and consolations in the Church. 

Solitude produces melancholy. When we are alone, the worst and saddest things come to mind. We reflect in detail upon all sorts of evils. And if we have encountered adversity in our lives, we dwell upon it as much as possible, magnify it, think that no one is so unhappy as we are, and imagine the worst possible consequences

In short, when we are alone, we think of one thing and another, we leap to conclusions, and we interpret everything in the worst light. On the other hand, we imagine that other people are very happy, and it distresses us that things go well with them and evil with us.” -Martin Luther, Luther: Letters of Spiritual Counsel, 95.  

My most melancholic, self-pitying thoughts have met me in solitude. My darkest night of the soul found me alone the most. When my melancholic temperament met nine years of infertility, my lack was magnified, and-to my shame- other’s good news distressed me.

Man is born to suffer as sure as sparks fly, a friend told Job. Suffering will come to us all. 

But each of us face it in different ways. 

2. “The Most Dangerous Isolation, Pride”

“Men and women betray their suffering in different ways–by threatening and evil doing; by sullenness and quietism; or by active well doing. Suffering is the heritage of the bad, of the penitent, and of the Son of God. Each one ends on the cross. The bad thief is crucified, the penitent thief is crucified, and the Son of God is crucified. By these signs we know the widespread heritage of suffering.

[A] sign of suffering among men is characterized by sullenness and quietism. There is a luxury of suffering that fosters the growth of the most dangerous isolation of pride, and produces a kind of human sphinx, shrouded in mystery, which seems more profound than it is. This luxury of suffering is pre-eminently cowardly as well as proud, its habit of the cloister or nunnery…the Apostle Paul uses a significant phrase, but worldly sorrow produces death (2 Corinthians 7:10b).  -Oswald Chambers, Christian Discipline, Volume 1, pp. 76-78

Suffering can be sublime when, as Chambers writes, there comes greater friendship with God and closer fellowship with Christ. Suffering can help us plumb the depths of God’s love-to touch the bottom and know it’s sound– and to rely on his friendship more fully. 

But pain can get proud. We can exalt in bearing our sorrow alone. 

Sometimes I still respond to a hug with a body as stiff as a board. But this, I know, is clinging to a worthless idol. It is exalting in my pain-shrouded, sphinx-like. When we seek solitude for self-pity and pull away from the God of all comfort and the Body he equips to bind our wounds, we stiff arm His Body. That’s dangerous.

But there’s another reason to be wary of too much (or the wrong kind) of solitude. 

3. “The Impression Being Made Upon Others”

We live to make God look good.  To magnify and glorify him and to adorn the doctrine of our saving God.

“It is quite clear we can divide human beings into two main groups. There are the so-called introverts and the extroverts…There is a type of person who is particularly prone to spiritual depression. That does not mean that they are any worse than others. Indeed, I could make a good case for saying that quite often the people who stand out most gloriously in the history of the Church are people of the very type we are now considering. Some of the greatest saints belong to the introverts…

[But] we are living in a pragmatic age. The one question they ask is: Does it work? They are frantically seeking and searching for something that can help them…Nothing is more important, therefore, than that we should be delivered from a condition which gives other people, looking at us, the impression that to be a Christian means to be unhappy, to be sad, to be morbid…

It behoves us, therefore, not only for our own sakes, but also for the sake of the Kingdom of God and the glory of the Christ in Whom we believe, to represent Him and His cause, His message and His power in such a way that men and women…will be drawn and attracted as they observe us, whatever our circumstances or condition. We must so live that they will be compelled to say: Would to God I could be like that. 

The devil’s one object is so to depress God’s people that he can go to the man of the world and say: There are God’s people. Do you want to be like that?”  -Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Spiritual Depression, pp. 11-12, 14

So beware. Take heed. We must watch ourselves in solitude. We must know where we’re prone to stumble. The essence of wisdom is to realize this fundamental thing about ourselves. If I am naturally an introvert I must always be careful about it, and warn myself against it lest I slip.

Yes, but- I hear my introvert friends ask…

Didn’t Jesus often withdraw to lonely places? 

Aye, but he did (Luke 5:16, 9:18, Mark 1:35). And Scripture tells us why. Jesus went away to pray. 

Christ didn’t slink to the mountain to sulk, or come to the garden alone to whine. He withdrew to commune with his FatherWitness his darkest night-all mankind’s darkest night. Did Jesus retreat alone? 

And they went to a place called Gethsemane. He said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” And he took with him Peter and James and John and began to be greatly distressed and troubled. And he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch.” (Mark 14:32-34)

The Surest Cure For The Sullen Soul

We must not be content in solitude to sympathize with ourselves and sit and watch the water. We must, says Lloyd-Jones, take ourselves in hand. 

We must talk to ourselves, instead of allowing “ourselves” to talk to us! Have you not realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself? You must say to your soul, preach to yourself, questions yourself “Why are you so downcast?” Then having done that, end on this great note: defy yourself, and defy other people and defy the devil and the whole world, and say with this man: I will hope in God for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. (Spiritual Depression, p. 20)

Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are so in turmoil within me?

Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God. 

Psalm 42:5