Leadership can be a lonely assignment, as a recent post here on Gifted for Leadership explored. By definition, leaders are often self-reliant and achievement-oriented. We can easily let tasks and strategy become more important than the people accomplishing those tasks or implementing that strategy.
That recent post offered some great strategies for engaging in authentic community. While making time for relationships is an important step toward alleviating loneliness, I believe it is insufficient. To address core loneliness, leaders must engage in what seems like a counter-intuitive strategy: spend time in solitude. The cure for loneliness is a balance of solitude and community.
As a leader, you may work alone. You may spend time preparing sermons or lessons, studying, strategizing. This can sometimes look like time alone with God, as you pray for his help in exegeting text and seek his wisdom for counseling those you lead. You may even have a daily "quiet time" that, ironically, is full of words—books, study guides, even words of worship and supplication. But very little quiet—in which you are silently listening to God.
I am talking about a deeper sort of solitude—a place where we go without tasks, without agenda, just to be alone with God, to rest in his presence. It is more than just time alone by default. Rather, solitude is time alone with God, entered into with no other intention than tending to that relationship by listening to him. It is a place leaders sometimes believe they don't have time to visit. As a result, leaders are lonely.
If we are not steeped in God's love, which we experience differently in solitude than we do when we are accomplishing tasks for him, no amount of lunches with friends will cure our loneliness. Community is a discipline in which we give and receive love, we live out the "one another" commands of the New Testament. In order to have something to give, we must first be filled. That happens in solitude.
What does that look like?
When my son was a preschooler, he loved to cuddle on my lap on an oversize rocking recliner. He'd snuggle in, stroke my arm, make soft humming noises. (Now that he's a teenager, I miss those days!) Occasionally he would leap up and grab his latest Lego creation. "Look what I made!" he'd say. I'd examine it and tell him how I liked it, that I was proud of his abilities. Or he'd stand before me, teetering on one foot. "Mommy, look what I can do!" he'd tell me. "Wow, you are very talented," I'd say.