Solitude is not loneliness and loneliness is not simply being alone.
Loneliness is a condition of the heart, not the circumstances of life. When one is lonely there is a lack of knowing love in the depth of the human heart. Loneliness is a symptom of the yawning absence at the foundation level of each human person. It is an unhappiness at being alone which grows into a restless search for something–we know not what.
So we spend an enormous amount of time, money and energy trying to fill that gap. We try to fill it with entertainment, drugs, sex, possessions, family, friends, career. In a multitude of ways we try to fill that gap, then when all those things are over the gap is still there because we never succeeded in filling it because we were trying to satisfy a hunger with the wrong thing.
Feeding the hunger for love with everything else but love is like trying to nourish your physical hunger with anything else but food. You will not make hunger go away by drinking water or taking pills or doing exercise or sitting still and taking deep breaths and telling yourself you are not hungry.
You need food.
So your heart also needs Love. I capitalize “Love” because I am not referring to human love, (although that helps to fill the gap). I am referring to the Divine Love. We are made for God. We hunger for God’s love and that is the only thing that will satisfy the hunger.
Loneliness is the deprivation of the knowledge of that Divine Love. That’s why you can be lonely in a crowd. That’s why you can be lonely at a party. That’s why you can be lonely in a family. That’s why you can be lonely in a marriage.
The monastic life (and the word comes from monos–to be alone) is a witness to the truth that the human person is able to be solitary but not alone. The photograph is of a Carthusian monk–hermits who live the most complete life of solitude as hermits.
The solitary hermit has learned that he can live in complete peace with no one but God. This is the witness the hermit gives to the whole church. He says to me and he says to you–“See, I am a living illustration of the truth that God will supply all of your needs according to his riches in glory!” (Philippians 4:19) The hermit says, “See, I live in this cell with nothing but God. I am a living witness to the truth that you do not need all that ‘stuff’ in your life to make you happy. I am happy with nothing but God!”
Finally, the hermit is a living witness that the follower of Jesus Christ needs never to be lonely. We may be solitary, but we do not need to be lonely. We can move out of loneliness by developing a life of prayer, and through the life of prayer we will learn that “He who has God is lacking in nothing.”