I think one of my greatest fears is loneliness. I can’t stand the idea of family dying, or Julie leaving or being left alone. Some of this is perhaps connected to an extroverted personality, but I know it goes deeper than that.
One summer during seminary I went on a mission trip for a week in London. I was able to leave a few days early and travel first to Dublin and then to Edinburgh. I had 3-4 days with no plan, and no agenda and – NO PEOPLE. Although it was stupendously fun and beautiful, I went crazy. I started talking to strangers. I would go up to people and strike up conversations. I just didn’t know what to do with myself. I was so thankful to join up with the rest of the mission trip and start making new friends instead of traveling by myself. I think we were meant to share things with others. We’re meant for community.
I’d do better now. I like being alone much more. I need to be alone more. As a pastor, I need to get away and spend time with God by myself so I can think and pray and process and evaluate.
But that’s still not the same as loneliness. Loneliness is being and feeling alone even when I’m not choosing it. It’s an ache in my and heart that can’t be fixed right away or easily. It’s a craving for more – more connection, more intimacy, more inside. It’s not a camping trip away in the woods, away from the lights, away from technology. It’s being left in the woods – and you didn’t know you were being left and you can’t see a way out. There’s a panic. I have to fix this immediately!
So what is this loneliness for? New moms experience this often. They get what they’ve wanted and now they feel stuck. Alone. Used. Unvalued. And it’s a complicated because they don’t feel like they can talk about it because it feels so ungrateful.
Women feel this. They aren’t sure if they’re going to be loved and cared for in any substantive way besides that they do or for their bodies or how it’s supposed to work with careers, families, being chosen and their contributions to society.
Kids feel this. They’re in class and they can’t pay attention or they aren’t doing well and it’s overwhelming to be 10 or 15 or 18 and not know what’s next or if anyone really cares about your heart.
Men feel this. They’re far more emotionally complex than anyone gives them credit for, but it’s a perpetuated idea that they’re so simple and they just want to work. So they work. And they long for authentic friendship and meaning.
We all feel this. We’re ashamed. No one would understand. We’re damaged. We’re guilty. We’re foolish. We’re unwanted. We’re lonely and trying to make it alone.
I hate this loneliness. I hate to hear it in our church and want people to embrace a messy communal life together that explores real friendship and calling. I hate to see how this loneliness produces counterfeits, thieves, addictions and idolatries. I hate how to drives us away from each other because we don’t want to admit that we want so much more. We feel foolish. We feel needy. We feel – lonely.
I think we were made for more. And maybe that’s what the lonely is for.