This gorgeous oil painting is by Frederic Leighton, a British painter and sculptor from the late 1800s. His paintings were enormously popular and expensive during his lifetime, but for some reason, fell out of favor in the early 20th century.

Generally, his work illustrates biblical, classical, and historical subject matters but this painting is more on the metaphorical side as he invokes the feeling of solitude and isolation. Leighton explains his attempt to do this with the location of this painting. He describes it to his sister as “the vehemence of winter has scooped and worn pools so deep that . . . you come at last to absolute dark brown night . . . no sound, no faintest gurgle even reaches your ear; the silent mystery of it all absolutely invades and possesses you; that is what I vainly tried to put into my Solitude.”

This woman looks quite melancholy in her solitude. However, being alone and being lonely are not the same things. Solitude can be a positive experience—time away from the noise and distractions of the world. Loneliness, however, is much more painful. You can be lonely and surrounded by people. Is she lonely or just alone?

To point out how lonely people can be, Charles Swindoll put an ad in a Kansas newspaper. It read, “I will listen to you talk for 30 minutes without comment for $5.00.” Before too long, he was receiving 10 to 20 calls a day. The pain of loneliness was so sharp some were willing to try anything for a half-hour of companionship.

Sometimes in our pain, we try to fill the hole of loneliness with things that were never meant to fill it. But loneliness can’t be solved with substitution. We must address the emptiness.

It seems glib to say that God is the answer to our loneliness because the pain feels more complicated than that. But God is the only one that can adequately and permanently address the emptiness. His presence is the balm for the open wound of abandonment. Just as the rain outside my window as I write this is quenching the holes in the land left by a drought, the presence of God can turn dry and dusty wanting into life-bearing hope.

Isaiah 58: “The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your soul in drought, and strengthen your bones. You shall be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.”

Being Human connection: In your loneliness, draw near to God, for we have been promised that when we draw near to God, he draws near to us (James 4:8).

Featured art: Frederic Leighton (1830-1896), Solitude, 1890, © Maryhill Museum of Art, Washington