I like to be alone. Not all the time. Not even most of the time. But on a consistent basis. When it comes to creative work, I prefer to daydream and plan and build in solitude—and silence. Often, I’ll choose to spend an evening alone at home rather than make plans with a friend. I’ve had incredibly rich times walking by myself outdoors or quietly observing the world around me with no one else to add their commentary. I used to feel bad about this. Guilty, even. I feared that my love of solitude indicated that something was wrong. Don’t I like people? I’d wonder. Of course I do. But if I do, why do I get tired of them? Why do I feel the need to escape?
When I read Susan Cain’s book Quiet a couple of years ago (which has since become a touchstone for introverts), it was an epiphany and a much-needed permission slip. It shed light on my personality like no book or lecture ever had. It allowed me to embrace solitude as a necessary component of my mental and spiritual well-being. One way I get alone time is to wake up early and spend a half hour with my coffee, journal, and Bible. I enjoy listening to the world wake up around me—birds singing, car engines rumbling…everything sleepy and muffled. Another practice of mine is to take periodic “introvert retreats.” Admittedly, I don’t particularly like traditional conferences and retreats. Hour upon hour making small talk with a bunch of strangers and being shuffled from one scheduled activity to the next. This isn’t to say I dislike them. They can be fun. But I don’t attend them with the expectation that I’ll be refreshed and energized. I know I won’t be. To be refreshed and energized, I take retreats of my own—just me, a notebook, and some books in a coffee shop where I can be anonymous.
Introvert or extrovert or somewhere in between, I think we all could use an introvert retreat every now and then. A devotional book I read last year described how fire needs logs in order to burn but it also needs space between the logs. Without breathing space, a fire is squelched. It went on to suggest that the same is true of our lives. But it’s hard to get permission. Especially in a culture where doing is praised over being and we value packed schedules. I think it’s been that way for a long time. In her book Gift from the Sea, Anne Morrow Lindbergh accurately captures the dilemma even though she wrote these words 60 years ago:
“How inexplicable it seems. Anything else will be accepted as a better excuse. If one sets aside time for a business appointment, a trip to the hairdresser, a social engagement, or a shopping expedition, that time is accepted as inviolable. But if one says: I cannot come because that is my hour to be alone, one is considered rude, egotistical or strange. What a commentary on our civilization, when being alone is considered suspect; when one has to apologize for it, make excuses, hide the fact that one practices it—like a secret vice!” –Anne Morrow Lindbergh
The truth is, you don’t have to apologize for it, make excuses, or hide it. You need to schedule it and protect it. And speaking from experience, it’s worth it.