So recently I had the opportunity to sit and have some conversation with a dear friend. As it does with really good friends, the conversation moved quickly from “how’s it going? What did you do this week?” to more serious topics.
Don’t you love those friends? You know, the ones that you can just cut through all the small talk, straight through to the stuff that really matters? Not because you don’t care about what happened in her week or how her kids are, but having people that you can talk to about the real stuff is such a gift that you just don’t want to spend time on the mundane. You just want to talk about the good stuff.
Now we are both busy women, involved in numerous things, connected to a multitude of people, which makes the direction that our conversation took all the more interesting. We talked about how loneliness creeps into our lives and hearts, even when we do have a million things on the go, even when we see more people everyday than maybe we actually want to.
Loneliness is a weird thing, isn’t it? I mean, really, how can you be surrounded by people and still be lonely? How can you be out for lunch with friends and feel alone? How can you be lying in bed beside your spouse and feel completely and desperately alone?
Yet it happens. Every. Single. Day. And I dare say that if we’re honest, to every single one of us.
I think it’s easy to pick out people in your life who everyone can agree are obviously lonely. I think of my younger sister who lost her husband this summer – that’s an awful kind of loneliness that no one ever wants to experience. Or my daughter, sitting on her hospital bed, away from family and friends – again, all kinds of lonely.
Dictionary.com defines lonely in a few different ways – “lone; solitary; without company; companionless…standing apart; isolated.”
Ouch. That hurts just even reading it. I think we can all think of a time can be described by those words pretty well. I remember years ago, in junior high, being part of our church’s girls’ group. We would meet every other Wednesday night at the church, which was pretty much the extent of my social life outside of school. We would do Bible study, make crafts, stuff like that. But what stands out to me was always the break. In the middle of the evening we would have some free time, and the girls my age would often go outside. So, naturally, I would go with them, right? Well, unfortunately I didn’t fit in too well back in junior high, and what I remember so clearly is running behind other girls in my group, trying to catch up with them. I just wanted to be with them, but they would run away, because they didn’t want me there. Yup. Pretty darn lonely.
Fast forward to today. I’m no longer having to chase people around the back of the church in order to have someone to talk with. I have people – I have some pretty amazing people, actually. But yet there’s still Sunday mornings, standing in the foyer amongst 800 other people, that I’m lonely. Why?
Because we need more than people in the room. We need more than someone to nod and say “good morning”. We need relationship, we need connection. And that connection can look like many different things to many different people.
Right now I’m reading “Love Warrior”, by Glennon Doyle Melton – and it’s fantastic, by the way. Anyhow, in her book, Glennon Doyle Melton describes how she felt so lonely in her marriage, how she wasn’t connecting with her husband. She also describes the process in which she builds relationships and feels connected with friends, and I think this is just brilliant – take a look:
“In all my close friendships, words are the bricks I use to build bridges. To know someone I need to hear her, and to feel known, I need to be heard by her. The process of knowing and loving another person happens for me through conversation. I reveal something to help my friend understand me, she responds in a way that assures me she values my revelations, and then she adds something to help me understand her. This back-and-forth is repeated again and again as we go deeper into each other’s hearts, minds, pasts, and dreams. Eventually , a friendship is built – a solid, sheltering structure that exists in the space between us – a space outside of ourselves that we can climb deep into. There is her, there is me, and then there is our friendship – this bridge we’ve built together.”
Isn’t that fantastic?? Ahhh. I read this, and it makes my heart sing. And the best part? I have friendships like this. And they’re wonderful.
Anyways, Glennon Doyle Melton goes on in her book to talk about how while this is her way to feel connected, it was not her husband’s. His standard mode of operating was sex. How many times have you heard this? She just wants to talk, and he just wants to have sex. Nothing you haven’t heard before.
But the loneliness it can lead to is devastating. When two people are yearning for the same connection, but are looking for very different ways of getting there, it often ends with both feeling extremely lonely.
So what are we supposed to do with this? What do you do when you and your spouse just don’t connect on the same level? Where do you find friends to have that deep connection with? What if they’re just not there?
I type these words, and answers pop into my head instantly – well, obviously we’re never going to feel completely connected here, because we all have a God-sized hole in our hearts, right? We can’t have perfect relationships here on earth, because we’re broken. We’re lonely because we live in a sinful, broken world.
But then I heard this interesting statement by Tim Keller – “Adam was not lonely because he was imperfect. Adam was lonely because he was perfect. Adam was lonely because he was like God, and therefore, since he was like God, he had to have someone to love, someone to work with, someone to talk to, someone to share with. All of our other problems—our anger, our anxiety, our fear, our cowardice—arise out of sin and our imperfections. Loneliness is the one problem you have because you’re made in the image of God.”
Read Genesis 2. God realized that Adam was alone and needed a partner before the fall, not after. Our desire for relationship and to not be alone is not a result of sin – it’s hardwired into who we are, how God created us.
So what are we supposed to do? I’ve had many tell me about how God fills that lonely spot in their lives, and that’s wonderful. But what does that look like? Because I dare say that I have a pretty good relationship with my Father, but I still find myself lonely. Does that mean I’m not a good Christian? Am I doing it wrong?
I think when we give pat answers like “Oh, just give it to God. He’ll fill you up”, we run the risk of doing serious damage, because now I’m not only lonely, I’m also doubting my relationship with God. I’m not saying those aren’t the answers – but it’s just not that simple. It looks different for everyone.
I don’t know what the answer is – I think loneliness is honestly part of the human condition. It comes and goes, it’s worse in some seasons than in others. I guess I’d lean back towards what we tell our kids – “If you want to have a friend, be a friend.”
If you’re blessed enough to be in a season that you are feeling filled up, if you have people in your life, then remember how it felt when that was missing. Be intentional – ask good questions. Those people in your life who may have a smile on their face, but that smile doesn’t quite reach their eyes – invest in them. Let them tell you their story. And then maybe become part of the next chapter of their story.