Spiritual Practice

A Better Friend

Sarah Parsons

Being a friend to myself in solitude makes me a better friend.

Friendships can be difficult. When you are lonely, they can be even tougher—which is ironic because that’s when you want friends the most!

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I learned a lot about friendship—and loneliness—from an argument I had a few years ago. My friend and I met to play squash one morning, as we had on many other mornings. My friend said something to me that sounded critical, and suddenly I was boiling over with anger. I didn’t say anything at first; I just hit the ball harder. My friend noticed, of course; and we went outside to talk. I was overwhelmed with feelings. For a long time I had felt picked on; I had felt like a sidekick, and I was angry. I started talking faster, trying to keep my voice from shaking, trying to control my words so they didn’t turn mean and ugly. This flood of feelings took my friend completely by surprise. As far as she knew, I was having a weird reaction to one joking remark; and after listening to me for a while, she left, upset. We didn’t talk again for several days; and when we did, our conversation was strained.

Why hadn’t I said something sooner? Maybe I thought that she had been teasing, that I shouldn’t be upset. Maybe it had all been my imagination. Actually, deep down, I was afraid she’d go away and never come back. I was afraid of being left alone, and I didn’t want to take that risk. Being quiet was easier and safer.


Loneliness and Solitude

Looking back, I think my biggest problem was loneliness. I was desperately seeking companionship when what I needed was solitude. Solitude is a state of heart and mind that allows a person to be alone without being lonely. We all move back and forth between loneliness and solitude. Solitude is loneliness transformed. When I’m lonely, I want to jump up and call someone whenever I’m by myself. In solitude, I can sit quietly, resting in God’s presence and open to both God and myself. When I argued with my friend, I was lonely. I was terrified of being left alone, and so I had kept quiet when I should have been honest.

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Moving from loneliness to solitude means becoming friends with ourselves. We must take time alone to face the terrifying lonely spots and to move through them. If we persevere, we find ourselves on the other side of loneliness, like people relieved to watch a storm pass; and in the new stillness, we befriend ourselves. We may also learn how to listen to ourselves, encourage ourselves, and give ourselves good advice. We may even learn how to hang out with ourselves and have a pretty good time.

When you know that you can be alone, friendships are more relaxed and free. You can begin to take risks; you can even tell your friends how you really feel.


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Henri Nouwen writes, “To live a spiritual life we must first find the courage to enter into the desert of our loneliness and to change it by gentle and persistent efforts into a garden of solitude.”

Spend some time alone in your “garden of solitude.” Persevere, even if you are afraid. Listen to your thoughts and feelings. Be aware of God’s presence. How does solitude change you? your friendships?


Sarah Parsons enjoys friendship and solitude in Nashville, Tennessee.

–from Devo’Zine (March/April 2005). Copyright © 2005 by Upper Room Ministries. All rights reserved.

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