Sitting, staring at a wall. Staring outside. Looking at the birds. Listening to the wind in the trees. Staring, bored, restless.
It may have been mere seconds, but they stretched on as hours. The moments take longer and longer, as if being pulled apart by a black hole, as if being shred from your being. There isn’t anyone near you right now, but also, there is no one near you in heart. No close friends to call, nobody to see, not much to really do. You have friends, but in this season of life there isn’t really anyone there. God never leaves us, but His presence has seemed to dissipate.
Loneliness is a terrible feeling. Part pain, part boredom, and part anger, it tears at us like caustic acid, eating away our hope and courage until we are left staring blankly at a downpour because rain is the only thing that really feels good. Somehow it gives a visual to whatever it is that is happening within. Somehow, someway, in a small way, it tells us we aren’t actually alone.
Maybe it’s the cleansing nature of rain, washing away dirt, debris and any pain we have inside. Maybe. I just love rain, though.
Last night I met a good, dear friend who I haven’t seen in a long while, and may never see again. At first we shared formalities; job, families, school, plans for the future, but whenever I share about my plans for the future now, I say “I want to get a Master’s in counseling, because talking to students who struggle with anxiety and depression, and struggling with those things myself, I want to be able to help.”
Well, I share about my own struggles for a purpose, it eases people into sharing about their struggles with me, helping me to minister to them. It’s my way of saying, “I won’t judge you, I’m in the same boat, you are safe here.” It’s the entire idea behind this site. To share what I am going through so that we may all move forward together.
My friend asked me a bit later why I shared about depression, and I explained openly about my depression, and they proceeded to tell me of their own struggles, with depression, and especially with loneliness.
My heart broke.
Knowing how hard seasons of loneliness have been for me, my heart broke for my good friend. It sucks, and there really isn’t much I can do to help. One thing I can do, that I always try to do, I say, “well, that’s the way it is, and it sucks, and it’s OK that it sucks.” If it seems appropriate, I share my experiences, but usually I just let them know that it is OK to feel terrible, and it’s OK for life to suck. God doesn’t expect us to be happy all the time. There’s a time for laughter and a time for weeping.
I’m of a mind that loneliness serves a purpose, mostly because I’m of a mind that everything serves a purpose. There isn’t a single thing created that doesn’t show us or teach us something. The Preacher said in Ecclesiastes 3, “there is a time and a reason for everything under the sun.” The Preacher then pits seemingly good things against seemingly bad ones, showing us that there is a time, and reason, for all of this.
I’ve been lonely many times in my life, sometimes for short seasons, and sometimes seemingly for years. Feeling as if not a single person were there for you. Feeling the emptiness that seeps into every fiber of your being until you are willing to do anything, anything, to spend time with people who care about you. I’ve been so lonely, and it sucks.
Loneliness may suck, but I’m also so very thankful for periods when I had no one, nothing, and felt that pain of being left. I don’t want to go back to those times, but I wouldn’t trade what they have given me, either. Plus, I couldn’t trade away the intangible things those seasons have given me.
Because, loneliness has given me a better understanding of myself. Having time alone has given me greater courage, strength, and endurance to keep moving when things are tough. Those seasons have built in me a well of reserve and willpower that was never there before. Loneliness, it its own way, has brought me life. It has given me a more abundant life deep within my soul and oozing up around to help those around me. Even when I am depressed, it seems I always have a heart for those also going through those things. Periods of loneliness have given me the will, strength, and ability to do that.
If you were to introduce me to someone who has never been lonely, I would doubt their ability to understand themselves, and others. Perhaps that would be unfair, but I would. There is something intrinsic about being alone that pulls us deeper into the dark corners of our own souls, showing us our hurts, our angers, injustices we have felt but never spoken, wrongs we have committed but never repented of, and memories we have never reconciled. That isn’t something that can come up with other people around, it takes loneliness.
There’s a lot of writing about solitude, and solitude, truly, is “chosen loneliness.” Essentially, solitude is choosing to be lonely for a set amount of time. Solitude, or loneliness, allows whatever has been happening around us to seep up from the depths of ourselves, places where we hid things we haven’t wanted to deal with. Solitude is great to do regularly, to take a few hours a week for a walk, or 10 minutes a day. I spend most time I drive in silence. Whatever we need to decompress and open ourselves to what has been bubbling beneath the surface.
Sometimes God wants to do a bit more work than that. Solitude is great for day to day and week to week understanding, but sometimes God wants to bring healing over something from years or decades ago. Sometimes God wants to do something so new and unimaginable that He has to pull us aside, dig up the garbage, toss it out, and put us back on the path. Loneliness is God-given, I believe, even if it hurts.
Lastly, if you have gone through a season of loneliness or not, taking regular times for solitude, silence, and loneliness is good for us. It’s a regular spiritual discipline of mine, not just in the car but on walks a couple times a week and in the silence of a morning. Just let yourself be, whoever you are, whether angry or upset or sad or whatever, God can handle that, and letting those things come up with Him is far better than holding onto them or lashing out.
So to my friend, you may not read this, but I would say, “Live in this moment. Love the work God is doing, if not how He does it. We aren’t required to love the method, it’s OK if it sucks and you want to scream. God created emotions, He can handle anything you bring to Him. Loneliness sucks, but God created that too, and, He is in the pain and loneliness, even if it doesn’t feel like it.”
“Also, God is changing you, I can tell He has already begun the process, but He is still at work. You’ve always had a beautiful soul, but the light shone brighter last night. Pain, hurt, and loneliness has brought more beauty into your life, not less. It will continue to, but it won’t last forever. I look forward to seeing the completed plans of God in you, whether I see it here or in heaven.”