On Isolation, Solitude, and Community

On Isolation, Solitude, and Community

I never know how to answer questions on personality tests.

Being mostly homebound, I'd rather go to a social event than stay at home and be stuck in bed. But that doesn't necessarily mean that I'm extroverted. 

For a long time, I've been trying to understand if I'm extroverted or introverted, and in a way, I hate the terms because I feel like my personality never fits neatly into either box.

Last fall, I did a Facebook Live, and I thoroughly enjoyed interacting with my audience. When I was awake and had my wisdom teeth pulled in 2020, my oral surgeon asked if I wished to listen to music during the procedure, and I declined saying I'd rather have a conversation with him. Somehow, I managed to interview him the whole time, which my family found hilarious. I also have many penpals, and I enjoy corresponding with them. Point proven: I love people, and I enjoy interacting with them. 

But I also spend a majority of my time alone in bed with symptoms such as brain fog, fever, nausea, headaches, and muscle aches, and having an illness that causes severe chronic fatigue means that too much mental or physical exertion makes me worse. Fortunately, my boundaries for what I can do without payback are growing, but going on a short outing often makes me feel more flu-like. If I'm going to do anything, mental or physical, I have to budget my limited energy, rest beforehand, and will often feel worse after the activity.

When I consider my love for talking, writing to my penpals, and meeting new people, I lean towards calling myself an extrovert, but then I wonder how I can claim to be an extrovert when I spend so much time alone in bed and often find social interactions, while encouraging and enjoyable, to also be very fatiguing. I wonder how I can call myself an extrovert when I enjoy being alone outside in the evening and watching the sunset. 

But I think I have finally put my finger on the issue. I hate isolation. I love solitude. And I need community.

Isolation is what so many chronic illnesses warriors find themselves facing. Many are too sick to attend church, go to work, or attend school. Many spend their days in bed and are fighting every minute to make it through the day. They may have chronic fatigue or migraines or severe pain or fevers or nausea or hypersensitivities to light and sound or brain fog or… Well, the list goes on and on. They may have all those symptoms and more simultaneously. Naturally, this causes isolation. Also, chronic illness, while chronic, is not static. Symptoms fluctuate. Sometimes symptoms are worse; sometimes they are better, but because of the fluctuations, one cannot make solid commitments. You might have to cancel an activity at the last minute. Isolation is finding yourself alone when you don't want to be. It is loneliness. 

Solitude may look like isolation, but it is different. Solitude is chosen, whereas isolation is inflicted. For me, solitude is choosing to go outside alone, sit on the patio swing, watch the sunset, and reflect and pray while knowing that I can go back into the warm house whenever I want and once again be surrounded by the love of my family. Solitude is me choosing to be alone yet having enough energy that at any time I can trade my solitude for company, be it in person or through technology. I enjoy and am rejuvenated by my quiet alone times, and I don't feel cut off like I do when my illness inflicts isolation. 

And lastly, I need community. We all do. We need friends to encourage us and build us up, and we need to do the same for them (1 Thessalonians 5:11). I find it interesting that even Jesus wanted His friends with him in the Garden of Gethsemane before He was crucified. He didn't want to be physically alone; He desired human companionship. And all He asked was for his friends to sit and watch with Him. Sadly, His friends kept falling asleep. 

It can be hard and uncomfortable to sit with someone in their suffering, but I am thankful for my family and friends who offer me the gift of presence. And I am thankful for technology that allows me to stay in touch with people when we cannot physically be together. I love people, and I can be quite outgoing because while I am refreshed by solitude I also need community. While social interactions use up much of my limited energy and might put me in bed for a nap, being with people simultaneously rejuvenates my spirit in ways that solitude cannot.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote, "Let him who cannot be alone beware of community… Let him who is not in community beware of being alone… Each by itself has profound perils and pitfalls. One who wants fellowship without solitude plunges into the void of words and feelings, and the one who seeks solitude without fellowship perishes in the abyss of vanity, self-infatuation and despair."

So am I introverted or extroverted? My personality is too complex to be confined to either box, but what I do know is this: I need both solitude and community. Everyone does.


Love this! It is SO true and a beautiful balance that few in our culture can find. Jesus lived it so well because He actively sought out the solitude of being alone in His Father’s presence but also welcomed anyone and everyone around Him and did life with a group of disciples. No matter our personality types, we are called to love people as Jesus did—which means interacting with them—and pursuing a constantly deepening relationship with God—which requires quiet time and solitude in the presence of the Almighty. Thanks for sharing your reflections on this important concept!

Kristin Renfer

Beautiful! I agree! So glad for spring!
Mrs. Ager

Louise Ager

Beautifully stated. I agree that everyone needs solitude and community. Love, Mom

Lisa Watt

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