Listen up, fellow extroverts! Guest blogger Taylor Berglund has the secret to being by yourself…and it’s not what you expect. Here’s what he has to say:
When Rachel first asked me to write on “being alone,” I thought it was a poorly-concealed jab at my relationship status. After all, being alone comes naturally to me. I’m an introvert, so my problem is the opposite—if I don’t get enough time alone from people, I become an unpleasant individual.
But after thinking about it more, I wonder how we define “being alone” in the Internet era.
Sure, I’m not hanging out at a bar with friends, but I’m hearing my friends’ comments and seeing their adventures through social media. My favorite YouTube vloggers seemingly talk to me. If you’re like me, your life is soundtracked Baby Driver-style to a constant playlist on Spotify.
Christians like me believe God is with us wherever we go, so we’re never truly alone. (I know, false advertising in the headline. That’s how you can tell I’m a professional journalist.) But the spirit of the question, I think, is how do we rest and find solace in a chaotic world. How do we find meaning detached from the crowd?
Our society is filled with noise. With distraction. The multibillion-dollar industry of marketing and entertainment has one goal: to keep you as distracted as possible, looking at their stuff as long as possible, so you don’t realize that none of it really matters.
Because it honestly doesn’t.
That’s a hard thing for a former Film major to type, but it bears repeating: the noise doesn’t matter.
Moreover, I think the noise is eating away at our soul.
I’m pretty young, but legend has it that in the olden days, before smartphones and DSL Internet, there was this crazy thing called “boredom.” Entire swaths of time where people just stood in line or sat on their front steps or stared at the ceiling just doing nothing. I couldn’t do it.
No, that’s not a joke. I don’t know how to be bored.
Earlier this year I tried observing the biblical ritual of the Sabbath. It’s a huge deal in the Bible, on par with not murdering, not cheating and not lying, but we treat it with the seriousness of “don’t wear mixed fabrics.” For me, that looked like setting aside a 24-hour window each weekend during which every electronic device in my home was turned off. I did it for five weeks, caved a little and did it in eight- or nine-hour blocks, and then eventually gave it up.
Why? Because I got bored. I couldn’t handle the defeaning silence and being alone with my thoughts.
Worse yet, after I sifted through all the thoughts, I ran out of thoughts. I had no unweighed opinions. I didn’t have Twitter streaming me new things to be outraged over or to laugh at. I couldn’t weigh my value against others on social media. It was just me, and it was terrifying.
I was truly alone for the first time in years, and I bored myself.
The truth is, I’m not sure many of us know how to be alone anymore.
But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. Here’s a few suggestions.
Time and life has taught me very few people are naturally great at things. You’re good at what we practice. And if you’re anything like me, you don’t practice being alone—really alone—nearly enough. Do it a little. 30 minutes here, an hour there, when you have a space in your schedule. If just sitting and being is too hard, start slow with an alone activity. Take a walk without headphones in or a friend walking with you. Do chores in your room in silence. It’s just like working out: do just enough that it’s uncomfortable. Eventually you’ll be handling Sabbaths like a true ancient Israelite.
2) Meet yourself.
That sounds funny, but who are you when your friends aren’t around? Do I like that movie, or do I just like it because a certain friend/parent/critic did or didn’t like it? Learn what you truly believe and then ask yourself why you believe that. The further you dig, the more uncomfortable it will be, but it has huge benefits when you return to society.
This wraps up elements of the last two. I believe there’s one person in the universe who really knows the true you, and who it’s impossible to get to know without silence. God is dying to get to know you, but He won’t force Himself on you. Like a shy friend who wants to hang out but won’t demand, He’s ready to talk to you when you’re ready to listen. And like friends, it’s easy to pay lip service that “we’ll hang out sometime.” It’s something else to schedule a time and be there.
I’m not doing any of these perfectly, but I’m working out those solitary muscles every day. I’d invite you to work out together with me, but I think that might miss the point.
Taylor Berglund is a writer, editor and podcast host for Charisma Media in Florida. In his free time, he writes and edits freelance videos and stories, plays strategy games and watches Netflix. He blogs infrequently at learninginstories.blogspot.com and is on Twitter @taylorwwjd.