It’s time for me to admit something I wish were not true: in this season of life, loneliness has been a frequent companion of mine.
If it were up to me, my life would be a constant episode of Friends or Cheers or Seinfield-living in the assurance that I belong to a tight-knit group of people whose doors are always open to me, and who are seemingly always available. Sure, I’m an introvert, but I want to know that someone’s there if I need them.
Perhaps my expectations are a wee high.
But we all want to be known, to belong, to be pursued, to be loved. Loneliness feels like a stamp of disapproval, like you somehow missed the invitation to the party.
Whenever I have encountered loneliness in my life, I have begged God to take it away. This time around, I feel Him asking me to linger in it a little longer, because loneliness has something to teach me.
This is what I am learning about loneliness:
It is not an indictment. I have remained silent about being lonely because it feels sometimes like a judgment; there must be a reason I’m lonely. Like maybe I’m really unpleasant to be around and no one’s telling me (although I’m confident enough to doubt this is the case. I like me. I can’t be the only one). In the void, the enemy will speak shame to the lonely, keeping us locked in silence.
Sometimes loneliness just is. It’s not the result of doing something wrong, or something wrong with you. It’s just a character in this chapter of the story, and God’s writing a good story for each of us.
There is a difference between loneliness and being alone. Several weeks ago, my husband went on his first long trip in awhile. I was achingly lonely, even though I interacted with plenty of people. Last week, he was gone again for another week, but I felt content to be by myself, breathing in the silence and enjoying more time to think.
You can be alone and not lonely. And you can be surrounded by people and feel terribly lonely. It’s good to recognize the difference.
Lots of people are lonely. Sometimes I wonder how many of us sit in loneliness, wishing someone would reach out. Imagine all the people who could be finding each other if only we would stop being silent about our loneliness. But again, shame wants us to believe we are the only ones.
The lonely ones are probably the most unexpected. My guess is most leaders are lonely. Think of our pastors, our bosses, the famous men and women we admire from a distance.
You know what that distance does? It isolates. The pressure to fit an image, the way position or status makes it hard to relate to others-they make it a challenge for many to find people who relate to them as peers. They might need companionship the most.
Loneliness pulls back the veil. One of the most frightening aspects of loneliness is that it exposes what we hide in our busy activity. It shows how much we hunger for companionship, what we most deeply desire, and how easily our souls settle for lesser things.
It is an invitation to solitude and silence. Sometimes I shy away from solitude and silence because they feel too much like loneliness. But loneliness is becoming an invitation into these very practices that are so necessary for my soul. Here, loneliness can become not only a teacher, but a friend in itself, leading me to places where God will meet me.
In the allegory Hind’s Feet on High Places, the protagonist, Much Afraid, is given two companions for her journey: Sorrow and Suffering. She is loathe to take their hands, but the more she does, the more strength they give her.
Loneliness is another unwanted companion for many of us, but as we take its hand, we may learn it is not to be feared as much as we believe. Rather, it is a place where we can meet God in our deepest hunger and desire, where He can teach us.