New York is not a city that believes in personal space – physical or mental. We stand nose to nose with total strangers on the subway, and continuously feed our minds an endless stream of news, emails and tweets. We’ve adapted to it, but for many of us, this noise and crush has become so familiar that we feel lost when we are alone, or feel frightened by silence. This week, we’re sharing how one of our church family members, Sherylene, learned to be alone and how this transformed her experience of God.
I don’t like to be alone. Maybe it has to do with me being Latina, but I am the most content when I’m surrounded by people. I seek out jobs that require community relationship-building because it’s my thing. I’m good at it. It’s also a good thing. In fact, God calls us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves in Mark 12:31. Jesus seems to always be surrounded by people in the bible, while healing them, teaching them or even just eating with them.
I was recently in Peru for six months and had no technology for days on end. Being cut off in this way caused me almost unbearable anxiety. I was scared I was missing out on my loved one’s important life events. I felt alone, abandoned and lost. I was addicted to being connected with everyone through the internet and it was the first time I noticed it. I also felt like I didn’t belong in Peru, that the whole trip was a mistake. I had a hard time making friends too, because most of the people in the town where I stayed, spoke an indigenous language. I prayed different prayers every day. One day I prayed that God would expedite my time there. And the next day, I prayed that He would help me enjoy every day and be grateful for the experience.
Many months and tears later, God showed me that I needed that time alone in Peru with Him and that I couldn’t escape it. I’m accustomed to living in New York and spending time in large family gatherings full of Dominican dancing and chatter. I’m most comfortable when surrounded by noise and people, but I learned that this quiet season in my life was good too, and very necessary.
God showed me that overcoming the fear of being alone was going to reveal beauty. He showed me that through Him I could pour more love into the children I worked with in Peru. He woke me up at 5am every morning to catch the sunrise while I was living by the mountains – fourteen thousand feet above sea level – overlooking Lake Titicaca. There, I had the most intimate quiet time with God. He reminded me that no one will ever be able to fill my empty places but Him. He reminded me that holding on to Him was enough.
God created that beautiful sunrise, He created those mountains, that lake, that bird that sang a beautiful song to me every morning. Who else could do that? No one. I stood still in His creation and was speechless many mornings, as I basked in all His love for me. It was the purest form of romanticism. It was natural and unexplainable, like nothing else I have experienced.
When I go back to the Bible, I am also reminded how during his most difficult moments, Jesus retreated from everyone and everything and had one on one time with His Creator. Often times, he escaped to the wilderness to pray (Luke 5:16). After feeding five thousand and before walking on water, he escaped to the mountainside to pray (Mark 6:46). Even before his arrest in Gethsemane, Jesus prayed alone (Mark 14:32-42). Every major decision he made was influenced by God’s guidance.
It’s not easy to be in complete solitude while living in the second most densely populated city in the country. It’s easy to run back to my comfort zone. But in life, you have to fight for everything that is worth it and this is so, so worth it.
I am grateful that God can take my biggest fear, loneliness, to teach me the biggest life lessons. It’s still an ongoing process, but I’m overcoming it little by little. He’s teaching me that in overcoming my fear, I am trusting God in everything I do, and releasing worry and anxiety for the future. He’s teaching me that when I spend quality alone time with Him, I can love people more. But most importantly, He teaches me that I don’t even have to be afraid of loneliness because if I have Him, I will never, ever be alone.