The Notable Distinction Between Isolation and Solitude

The Notable Distinction Between Isolation and Solitude

“Perhaps the bereaved ought to be isolated in special settlements like lepers.” C. S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

Grief brings more than loss and sadness. In some ways, it brings the feelings of rejection. You don’t seem to fit any longer. Not in the way you did before. Sometimes loss instantaneously moves you into another category of humanity. Leper. If C. S. Lewis felt it, surely, I will experience it, too.

“Loneliness brings with it another feeling of not belonging.” H. Norman Wright, Experiencing Grief

Bottom line, loss can lead to isolation. Isolation is the negative side of the coin—being alone. Lonely. Isolation can be done to you, or you can do it to yourself. You can be excluded, or you can pull away on purpose. Not healthy.

However, when it comes to the other side of the same coin, you have to intentionally get away to seek needed solitude. There is a healthy side of being alone.

Isolation. Solitude. There’s an important difference.

Isolation should be identified, and preparation should be made to address it. Being isolated for extended periods of time is not healthy. Proactive, intentional steps should be taken to develop a plan for your self-care. Allowing yourself to be isolated increases the prospect of depression. Four walls start to close in on you. Isolation breeds loneliness. Loneliness breeds lack of clarity which gives birth to a multitude of mistakes. History is replete with the mistakes made by those in grief.

“Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment.” Proverbs 18:1

My children asked me to take care of myself, and they suggested I get outside every morning. Their intent was that I get some exercise. The result was I got outside of my four walls; leaving the isolation of my four walls gave context.

I’ve discovered isolation and solitude are very different. It’s important to know the difference.

“Only in silence can our souls be resuscitated by the Savior. He will work wonders in us if we wait before him. He can speak calm and contentment into our personal storms.” Boyd Bailey, The Spiritual Life of a Leader

Solitude was necessary for my healing. Where isolation happens to you, solitude is planned. Solitude is getting alone for the purpose of healing. Boyd Bailey says “…an inner stillness serenades the soul with tranquility so that the cares of the world lose their caustic control.” Solitude provides space to process your loss. Solitude gives the opportunity to commune with God about your loss.

“Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted.” Psalm 25:16

Proactively seeking solitude enables our healing from the plague of loneliness. Julie Yarbrough writes, “Solitude is aloneness without loneliness. …Solitude inspires the courage…as we adjust to the vicissitudes of grief.” While suffering loss, we pull away on purpose for times of solitude to entreat our God of sorrows to turn to us and to be gracious to us.

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” Hebrews 4:15

In our affliction we lay ourselves before a loving God—our loving High Priest. We pour out our hearts to him who sympathizes with our weakness. Our Father sent his Son to the very depths of loss to meet us. Now, meeting him only comes through solitude. And as Richard A. Burr has aptly penned, “There are some things that God only says in secret, and there are some secrets that are only heard in solitude!”

“One must get alone to find out that he never is alone.” S. D. Gordon, Quiet Talks on Prayer

There is an important difference between isolation and solitude. Where isolation breeds loneliness, solitude delivers intimacy.

“Be with me in my silence…in company and in solitude… Cheer the lonely with Thy company and the distracted with Thy solitude.” John Baillie, A Diary of Private Prayer

“But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.Matthew 6:6


  1. Anonymous

    DRay – Thank you. This was a very important post, – the distinction between isolation = loneliness and solitude.

    In times of grief we do not necessarily know that our choice, albeit unintentional but in self-protection mode, may be unwise and consequently disabling. From Dale

    • D. Ray Davis

      Yes, Dale…it’s a very important distinction that has been important to recognize and address.

  2. Grant Hignight

    Thanks for the clarity and substance you provide. Valuable words. Valuable distinction.

    • D. Ray Davis

      Thank you, Grant. I appreciate you walking this journey. I pray my lessons can help you in your ministry.

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