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Photo by Richard Walker

By Angela Ryo

When I was young, solitude was my worst enemy. I could not stand to be alone with myself for any prolonged period of time because I didn’t really want to get to know who I was. If I wasn’t working, if I wasn’t serving, if I wasn’t relating to others, who was I? Because my sense of identity and self-worth derived from what I did and who I was with, aloneness indicated nothingness. I was afraid of being nothing.

But then, I had babies. And that was a game-changer. The more I loved my kids the more I disappeared. My identity as a mom took over, and I hid behind a mask of sacrificial love. That is, until one day in my early thirties, I realized that I had nothing more to give. I was totally burnt out from being a mom, working two jobs, and going to school at the same time. Then, I came across this quote, “Ask me whether what I have done is my life.” Is the life that I’m living really my life to live? Strange question, to be sure, but a question I needed to answer if I wanted to live in a way that mattered to me.

And that’s when I took up the discipline of solitude. Not being a morning person, getting up early on the only day I could sleep in felt more like a cruel punishment than a discipline. However, the desperate need to listen to God and my life got me out of bed most Saturdays and drove me to Panera where I read, journaled, listened to music, cried, laughed, and prayed over coffee and a bagel all by myself for many years. Those were sacred times during which I really got to know myself, one layer at a time.

Fast forward ten years. Listening to God and my life has led me to a life of ordained parish ministry where I am allowed one day off during the week. One day when I can be alone in the house to read, journal, listen to music, cry, laugh, and…maybe binge watch Netflix. One day a week I can “ask [myself] whether what I have done is my life.” I’ve come to cherish my solitude days, and I wait for it like a child waits for Christmas.

But recently, I’ve been feeling an itch not so much for solitude but for solidarity. It’s been a few days since the horrific school shooting in Parkland, Florida shattered our nation. And as a mom of two teenagers who send her children to high school every day, my anxiety and frustration levels have hit the roof. How can I stand with my children and their friends to make sure that there’s no more carnage in their schools? It’s time for solidarity rather than solitude.

I love what Walter Brueggemann says about God and solidarity:  “The Hebrew word for steadfast love is hesed. I translate it as tenacious solidarity. God is in tenacious solidarity with Israel in the Old Testament, particularly with widows and orphans and immigrants and poor people. God is tenaciously in solidarity with them and with the community that participates in God’s faithfulness. We are called to be in tenacious solidarity with the vulnerable which then leads to all kinds of actions and policy formation out of this tenacious solidarity.”

Listening to God and my life in solitude has led me to solidarity — from standing alone to standing as one with our vulnerable children. It was my identity as a mom that led me to solitude, and it’s that same identity that now leads me to solidarity. I hope you will join me in pursuit of God’s hesed.

Angela Ryo currently serves as the Assistant Pastor for Christian Formation at Kirk in the Hills in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. She enjoys taking long walks, reading, listening to NPR, and drinking good coffee with friends and strangers alike.

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