August 2nd, 2014| Topic: RaMbLeS | 8


Everyone says they crave a moment of solitude. “Leave me alone,” they beseech.

But a study by researchers from the University of Virginia and Harvard showed, in findings published in Science, that if you do leave them alone, they don’t like it.

One scientist commented:

I was surprised that people find themselves such bad company. It seems that the average person doesn’t seem to be capable of generating a sufficiently interesting train of thought to prevent them from being miserable with themselves.”

No clock. No reading material. No cell phone. And participants got anywhere from 6 to 15 minutes alone. In an undadorned room. To think. No dozing allowed. This alone time was graded as “not enjoyable”—a 5 on a scale of 0 to 9.

Could it have been the lab environment? So the researchers let people do the same thing at home. Guess what? The enjoyment was even lower! At least a third cheated, checking their phones or listening to music.

Wow! Then the scientists carried their experiments to a new level. If people found being alone with their thoughts so unpleasant, what lengths might they go to, in order to get away from their aloneness?

They left 55 subjects alone in rooms, with the option of jolting themselves on their ankles by pressing a button.

Said Dr. Timothy Wilson, psychology prof at U of V, and lead author on the study:

I have to tell you, with my other co-authors, there was a lot of debate: ‘Why are we going to do this? No one is going to shock themselves.’”

They were stunned (pun intended) by the results. Two-thirds of the men and a third of the women (the smarter gender, no doubt) chose to shock themselves. One individual (guess which gender) pressed the button 190 times!

People would rather shock themselves than freely cogitate on whatever they wanted.

Regardless of age, education, income, gender, gadget-addiction, social-media capabilities, folks (and they were recruited from a church and a farmer’s market!) hated being alone. No fun. Quite boring. Horrible.

I wonder if there’s a bigger lesson here. Everyone’s bemoaning the era of smartphones and attention-grabbing devices and facebook and stuff. Hey, maybe the problem isn’t these electronic things. Maybe—just, maybe—the problem is … us! We’ve forgotten what solitude and reflection mean.

The article in Science concluded:

Most people do not enjoy ‘just thinking’ and clearly prefer having something else to do.”

Solitude and silence. We’ve forgotten these spiritual disciplines. Choosing to be alone and being freed—at least for a while—from the normal course of day-to-day interactions locking us into patterns of thought, word, and deed that belong to a world set against God. Closing off our souls to sounds—the incessant noise, music, words, the whirring, buzzing, murmuring, chattering, and whining of the multiple contraptions that supposedly make life easier. All of this is shocking to a world because it feels like nothing is happening. Hey, what could be worse than that!

The truth is: God works even when things are silent, dark, and lonely.

“Cease striving and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”
Psalm 46:10

Christ practiced solitude often.

After He had sent the crowds away,
He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray;
and when it was evening, He was there alone.
Matthew 14:23

If he needed solitude and silence—the Second Person of the Trinity!—how much more you and I?

Yup, time to reflect, pray, meditate!


  1. Vinodh Gunasekera August 4, 2014 at 9:45 am

    Dear Abraham,

    Appreciate your post. I think solitude is scary when one doesn’t know God. The verses that you have chosen seems to be indicating that the discipline of solitude is for knowing God and communing with Him in prayer. Your post and the ensuing comments reminded me of an old hymn. Here are some of the words:

    No, never alone,
    No, never alone,
    He promised never to leave me,
    Never to leave me alone.

    He died for me on the mountain,
    For me they pierced His side,
    For me He opened the fountain,
    The crimson, cleansing tide;
    For me He’s waiting in glory,
    Seated upon His throne,
    He promised never to leave me,
    Never to leave me alone.

    Keep writing brother!


  2. Luc Ladry August 3, 2014 at 6:53 pm

    It is so unbelievably true! Even in family it seems impossible to be alone at supper time together anymore, since the age of overcompassing “information” has invaded society! The iPhone, iPad, newspaper, TV … as far as I’m concerned many would need to be weaned and suffer withdrawal … even fast ….
    I suppose that with so much information available, unfortunately, we’ve lost our necessary longing for God.

    Thanks for this encouragement to go contrary to the world and benefit from a time of solitude to think God’s thoughts.

    Luc Ladry

  3. Eric August 3, 2014 at 6:33 am

    If we call solitude the time to be spent with God, in a way it is a misnomer. We are actually not alone and never will be as He has promised. But as Abe implied, we seem to have lost the instinct of turning to Him. While we hate feeling utterly alone, we often do not turn to Him, but rather things that do not satisfy the true need of His companionship.

    • Abe Kuruvilla August 3, 2014 at 7:13 am

      Thanks, Eric.

      Yes, we wouldn’t survive if we were truly alone, for it is “in Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).

  4. Dave M August 3, 2014 at 3:01 am

    An excellent reminder of our reluctance to engage contemplatively especially in relation to our Creator. A reminder of our true need.
    Thank you Dr. K!!


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