Reaching Out is my favorite Henri Nouwen book. Henri says that our spiritual growth begins with our transformation from loneliness to solitude. It is in this solitude that we can then determine our vocation.
Our lives have become “reactionary”, a nervous series of reactions to our surroundings and the people who we interact with. We are constantly rearranging schedules, making appointments that may never occur and balancing on the shifting sands of the demands of others. It is no wonder that at the end of the day, week or year we are still unclear whether we have fulfilled our mission and purpose. This lack of purpose fuels our loneliness even when we are in a room filled with people.
How can we move from being lonely to seeking solitude?
Amazingly, Henri points out that it is not a question of “either, or” but that we internally fluctuate between loneliness and solitude. We shouldn’t try to control it; instead, we should recognize it and develop sensitivity for the inner tension. We no longer have to feel lost but can begin to slowly convert our loneliness into times of solitude. It is there that we create that precious space where we discover the voice telling us about our inner necessity, that is, our vocation.
Moving from loneliness to solitude means we can discover great healing powers, not as a unique property to be defended, but as a gift to be shared with others.
The next time you feel lonely, ask yourself if instead it is a time of solitude for you, when you can use the precious space to reconnect with God.