The oxford dictionary gives the following definitions of loneliness; 1) Sadness because one has no friends or company:feelings of depression and loneliness 2) The fact of being without companions; solitariness:the loneliness of a sailor’s life 3) (Of a place) the quality of being unfrequented and remote; isolation:the loneliness of the farm.
For a word we hear used so frequently, we seem to have lost our respect for how its effects can be devastating on a life. Isolation, loss and abandonment can wreck us with fear and overwhelm us with the downward force they put on our spirit. Not all time separated is bad – some for each of us – even if uncomfortable, is healthy. But or some the feeling of loneliness become like a run away freight train, and can become the most present thing in our life.
There is no one way that loneliness looks. Sometimes it looks like a person stranded alone on a park bench or a widower facing life for the first time without his partner in decades. Sometimes it is the busiest of people, always surround, always going, but alone at night nursing their own deep wounds and fear that no one takes the time to hear. We need look no further than Robin William’s tragic death to realize lonely has no appearance.
I have struggled with a deep sense of loneliness for as long as I can remember. Who knows if this found it’s root in a genetic predisposition traceable through generations of my family, or through things I learned watching and listening in the early years of my life. My father was a wonderful, but deeply flawed man, who’s health and advanced age was often used as a point of leverage in family negotiations. For my father, who was already 60 when I was born death, mortality, and the fear of them played a significant role in his view and interaction with the world. A simple conversation about what TV show to watch could end with, “you can watch that after I am dead.” That very real threat of leaving, of death, became woven into the fabric of my life. Getting things wrong, failing to make the right choices, or unpredictable other events could endanger the presence of those I loved.
Slowly but surely through relationships – professional, friendships and romantic – I learned that my normal self was not good enough to be around. At least that is what I thought I learned. Perhaps it is because we seek out what we know, but I entered every relationship assuming that I had deep flaws which needed to be hid, and every person would eventually leave. And I would year after year, surround myself with those who made high demands of me and desired to have a relationship with someone who feared losing them. (I don’t blame them and over time I have learned that I do as much to create that asymmetry as anyone else.)
The ever present reality of death in my life, and the eventual sickness and death of both my parents only served to reinforce the feeling, that in the end everyone leaves. Even today that feeling is knit deep with in me. I had cultivated a garden of loneliness in my life. Others may have tilled the soil and planted the seeds or even ate of the bounty it produced, but I kept and cared for the garden. Perhaps it was because it was all I had ever known. Perhaps once you have become a gardener of loneliness anything outside of those fields bring unknown terror.
I know as one that works in the church I am supposed to say that God is a comfort through this. But tell that to someone who was watched the life go out of the eyes of a person they love. Tell that to a person gripped in the irrational fear that everything will lead their abandonment. The idea of a God that sits above us somehow making everything better might be a comfort for some, but it has been and continues to be of little comfort for me.
I have often been surprised by how little we talk about how lonely Jesus must have felt. He was poor, mocked, Joseph was not his father, beset on by people who only wanted things from him, and spent his entire life heading toward his crusifiction. He surrounded himself with friends and disciples, but they didn’t stand by him in his greatest time of need. His life was far from all bleak, but some periods of his life, those that are most written about are brutal and often isolated.
After his resurection, when he returned to his friends and disciples, it was togetherness and a spirit amoung them that he stressed as the blessings of this new era of the Kingdom. Relationships – true friendship, love and unconditional support would become the mark of His community. They would give up huge amounts of their own independence to become a community of believers, the very body of Chirst. As Christ had been for them, they would become for others.
I still have many days of my life that are overwhelmed with loneliness. As I write this I am in one of the worst seasons of depression and loneliness I have experienced in years. There are many stresses and strains, life changes and adjustments which have contributed to this season, but this lonely dusk lit evening is as familiar as an old friend. And now I know I must remember the understanding bred in this darkness and pain are part of who I am and part of why I can understand it in others. Perhaps that is why Jesus needed to be lost for us to understand him.
There is no greater gift than that we lay down our life for another. While this may sometimes mean literal death, I believe that most often it is about giving up things in our often life to be very present in the life of another. Friendship is to be radically, lovingly intertwined in the life of another. It is vulnerable and sometimes it hurts, but if we are not willing to take that risk there can be Kingdom here on earth. For it is going to another, through our own loneliness, as Christ did, that we create that body of the living God here. We must carry our loneliness to each other and together toil to carry that wieght.
Do not fear your loneliness. For if you find another also willing to fully bring their loneliness and brokeness, you will do more that find a friend or a partner, you will have created in that moment the Kingdom of God.
In Peace and Love,