A month or two ago, after our move to California, I would have told you that I was not quite ready to make new friends. But that sentiment has changed. I’ll admit it…I’m lonely now. I’m in a new place and missing having best friends nearby.
I used to think loneliness was a weakness. Or that you could only be lonely if you don’t have any friends or people around you. But I have lots of friends across the country. And a loving husband in my home. I have little people around me almost all of the time. My little pink shadow, Hannah, pretty much never leaves my side. We recently had 4 sets of visitors in 5 weeks. I haven’t exactly been alone. As a matter of fact, I LOVE to be alone. I CRAVE time alone. But I am restless. There is an ache in my heart.
Wikipedia will tell you that loneliness is “a complex and usually unpleasant emotional response to isolation or lack of companionship.” Among the steps to deal with loneliness, WikiHow suggests getting a pet or joining an online community. I get it. There are plenty of people who suffer from loneliness due to being isolated. I could benefit at this point by getting out there and putting a bit more effort into developing new friendships.
I have thought about this topic a good bit over the last month or so as these feelings of loneliness have snuck up on me. As the topic of loneliness keeps presenting itself over and over in different contexts – blogs, books, articles, sermons – I’m realizing that perhaps loneliness is more ‘normal’ than I realized. Even The Huffington Post defines loneliness as a basic human condition – “To be alive is to be lonely” says the venerable HuffPost. Well, that’s crappy…no one ever told me that…Except they kind of did.
When I was in high school, my Young Life leaders told us about a ‘God-shaped-hole’ in our hearts. One that nothing could fill, except for God. They said that trying to fill that hole in my heart – with even the best things of this world alone – would leave me feeling empty. Twenty years later, I still struggle with how that reality affects my life day in and day out.
Success doesn’t cure loneliness. Attention doesn’t cure loneliness. Being in a room full of people doesn’t cure loneliness. Close friends and family really don’t even cure loneliness. I have found that on the days when I have posted a picture on Facebook or shared a new post on my blog – the days I keep looking at my screen to see who has liked or commented…those are the days my loneliness is emphasized. Not necessarily because I miss my friends. But because I’m looking in the wrong places to fill the hole in my heart. Lately, in this new place, I keep thinking – if I can just get in a visit (or a phone date) with a good friend or family member…if I can just post a picture to share my life with friends and family…if I could just steal a couple of hours alone with my husband…if I can just find my routine. But every time these are the only ways I try to fill my heart, I come up not.quite.full. So based on my own personal experience, to be alive and not seeking my God first, is to be lonely. Maybe The HuffPost is on to something.
Perhaps loneliness isn’t a weakness. Perhaps it’s not a curse on the human condition. Because so often, it’s this loneliness that drives us back to God. In her book, Playdates with God, Laura J. Boggess describes this desperate, empty feeling as “groping for God.” Boggess quotes Saint Augustine from AD 397 as writing that our “heart is restless until it rests in You.” AD 397! Clearly, loneliness is not a new cultural phenomenon, and I’m not alone in my restlessness.
Blogger, Sara Hagerty wrote,
“He made me to crave being known and yet He allows me to feel the all-too-frequent disconnect between what I think I need, from another, and how they respond. He carved this hole. And only He will fill it. Holy lonely.”
This Holy Lonely she writes of drives us back to God. Loneliness is a gift for those of us who struggle to balance the joys of this world with our fulfillment in God. Loneliness re-orients us to the One and Only. He then points us to the many, many blessings in this life.
When Jesus was teaching his closest buddies in Matthew 6, he told them to FIRST seek the Kingdom of God…then everything else will follow. The companionship of true friends and close family is most definitely a blessing that I hope to never take for granted. I can’t imagine navigating my life without them. And I look forward to developing close friendships here in our new community. But I’m just still learning…over and over again…that the best friends and family in the world don’t quite cure the restlessness for me.
As a matter of fact, maybe even being alone more could be the key to healing my aching heart. My friend, Doug Swagerty, recently preached a sermon on loneliness at Christ Church Santa Fe. He encouraged the congregation to trade loneliness for solitude. He shared the wise words of Paul Tillich:
“Language…has created the word ‘loneliness’ to express the pain of being alone. And it has created the word ‘solitude’ to express the glory of being alone.”
When I am able to find a bit of solitude to allow God to fill my ‘Holy lonely’, when I seek first the Kingdom of God, everything else does come a little bit more naturally. And I feel more of a peace as to where God has me today and where He will take me. In this kind of glorious solitude, I can be alive and not lonely. Very much alive, actually. So there you go, HuffPost. When was the last time you enjoyed a bit of glorious solitude?
In the long run, I will see that loneliness is not a weakness. As a matter of fact, I believe that loneliness will have strengthened me. The ache in my heart reminds me just how much the people who surround me each day bring me happiness and joy. And that same ache reminds me even more that my ultimate contentment rests elsewhere. You can be lonely in a room full of people. But the more mysterious and unique truth is that you can find complete peace in a bit of solitude.
“Be still, and know that I am God…” ~Psalm 46:10
“For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,” says the Lord, who has compassion on you.” ~Isaiah 54:10