There are many things in life that we tend to fear, but for many people the idea of being alone is terrifying. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that at some point you’ve likely been afraid of being alone. Whether that be the idea of having to go to your company Christmas party by yourself or thinking about the possibility that you may never find someone to commit to you forever in a loving marriage, the idea of being alone can be scary. We are meant to be with other people, it’s built into our basic survival instincts. It’s typically much easier to be safe when there is at least one other person around to back you up if needed. So the feeling of fear or dismay that is often associated with the idea of being single for the rest of your life is completely understandable. The problem with this fear is that when you’re afraid to be by yourself, what happens when that’s your only option?
I am very much an introvert. I enjoy my time alone to recharge, I’m easily overwhelmed in social situations where there are a lot of people, and I find small talk intensely draining (both physically and mentally). I am also a human being, which means that I need social time to connect with others, but as an introvert, I usually prefer that connection on a deeper level rather than simple small talk. We are social creatures. God made us that way, that’s the beauty of our complexity.
The problem that we encounter as single people—especially in this modern age where our friends, family, and strangers across the world who write amazing blog posts (*wink, wink) are all just a tap or click away—is that we have the ability to be alone, but we are rarely ever actually alone because we are connected to others through our many electronic devices, so this makes it harder to be okay with being alone when it’s our only option (whether that be for an evening or a lifetime).
There’s nothing wrong with being around people. In fact, if you’re an extrovert, then it’s what you thrive on. There’s also nothing wrong with being alone. Let me be clear that there is a distinct difference between being alone and being lonely. Being lonely is often emotionally painful and can be fatiguing and depressing. However, being alone can be empowering, clarifying, and relaxing.
In my previous post, I mentioned that one of the best ways to get over the bitterness that we can feel as singles in a world that values constant romantic relationships (and in a church that often places greater value and resources on marriage) is to learn to be okay with being alone. I realize that this is not an easy feat, so I’ve come up with a list of ways that you can improve your confidence and gain peace with being alone. So here’s how to be alone without being lonely.
- Start out slow
If you’re feeling lonely and you’re the type of person who feels the need to constantly be surrounded by friends, family, acquaintances, or even strangers, then start out slow. Try to be in a public place (such as a coffee shop) by yourself for 10-15 minutes and journal, do a crossword, read a book or do whatever it is that will occupy your time, but also take your mind off of the fact that you are alone at that given moment.
If you’re already able to be alone for a fairly long period of time, then try to set aside one day a week or a couple of days a month to have a “me day.” Take yourself to the beach, the movies, go for a long bike ride, do whatever it is that you like to do, but do it without someone else there. Obviously if you’re going hiking or bike riding or something of that nature, bring your phone so you can be prepared for an emergency and always use your street smarts. The goal is not to become a hermit living in a cave on a desert island. The goal is just to get used to being with yourself. This is especially useful if you are going through a recent break-up and need to get in touch with yourself again. Get in touch with yourself and use this time to connect with God without the distraction of others.
2. Make a list of your personal life goals
Often times when people are in relationships, especially long term relationships, they can risk losing their sense of self. If you’ve ever been with someone and made the relationship the center of your world, rather than evaluating what each of you (as individuals) values and wants, then you know what I’m talking about. When you’re single, however, you have the freedom to be only yourself because you are the only one in the “relationship.” You can set your own goals without having to consult with someone else. The goals don’t have to be entirely achievable, they can be lofty, pie-in-the-sky dreams, but they should be dreams that are entirely your own. If you’re crafty then making a dream board may be more up your alley than a simple list. So compile all of those dreams and goals to help you get in touch with who you are. Also, if one of your goals is to get married/remarried one day, that’s totally okay, just try not to make the rest of the list a description of your ideal wedding.
As I’ve mentioned before, nothing makes you forget your own hang-ups like serving others. When you give of yourself and see others in need, God can open your eyes to show you just how blessed you truly are, even if you don’t have a significant other. Volunteering can help you to take a personal inventory of your life situation and help put things back into perspective. If you’re feeling bitter about being alone, helping out with homeless ministry or serving at a homeless shelter with people who are typically genuinely alone, can help you to give of yourself and be filled at the same time. Also, volunteering is a great way to meet new people and explore new hobbies, which may influence a new passion that you never even knew existed.
I know that I’ve named this tactic on my other lists, but it holds true here as well. For years, I tortured myself with negative thoughts about how awful it was to be alone and how nobody loved me, everyone hated me, so I may as well go eat worms. Boys didn’t like me, so clearly my life was over. My crush didn’t notice that I even existed, so obviously I was a lesser human, not worthy of any kind of love or affection. I prayed diligently every night for God to “send me a boyfriend” only to have those tear-filled, self-loathing, heart broken prayers go unanswered. Or so I thought.
After years of praying that same prayer, one night I decided to change it. I thought, “If this is not what God wants for me and no amount of my praying for it will change His mind (He’s God after all), then maybe I need to ask Him to change my prayer.” So I diligently changed my prayer and asked God to take away the desire for a boyfriend, if it wasn’t part of His plan at that time.
1 John 5:14 states “This is the confidence which we have in approaching God: that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.” Sometimes it’s as simple (and as difficult) as that. The keywords here are according to HIS WILL. We can’t just pray for what we think we want. We must humble ourselves and our desires and align our prayers with what God wants. Just like the Lord’s prayer states “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done.” When I really sat down and listened to the words of the Lord’s prayer, I noticed that I had been praying for years for God to do His will, but hadn’t realized it. Not to mention the number of times I thought that I could manipulate God into doing what I wanted by bargaining and promising that if He just granted this one prayer, I’d never ask Him for anything else ever again. Ever tried that one? Yeah, it’s ALWAYS going to end up being a lie and God knows that. We must ask God to change us from within if we want to see true, ever lasting change.
By no means, was my new prayer an instant fix. I didn’t wake up the next morning sunny and ready to conquer the world as a proud single lady. It took a couple of years of praying this prayer every night before I started to really notice a change in my attitude, but that has been one of the biggest, most liberating changes that God has blessed me with as a single person. It’s not to say that I might not get married some day if He sends me the right guy, but I will definitely consult with God on what His will is on the topic.
Through hard work, personal growth (emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually), and prayer I’ve been freed from those awful nights when I cried myself to sleep thinking that I was some how inferior to everyone else because I was a solo player in a game meant for couples. You, too, can free yourself from the spiral of anxiety, self doubt, anger, bitterness, and turmoil. You simply need to ask God to change your heart. I know it may seem scary at first, but most things in life worth doing are scary. God is with you, He wants you to know that you are never truly alone. He is the God of the universe and He so desperately wants to have a relationship with you that He sent His only Son as a sacrifice so that we’d never have to know a day apart from Him for all eternity. So let God change your heart for the better and free you from those awful, sleepless nights and allow Him to shower you in His peace, His rest, and His love.