A reflection on loneliness

“I am just so shocked at how alone I am,” said a friend recently when we last spoke. “I just can’t believe I am so very alone . . .” And I couldn’t help feeling that I understood.

How many times in my own experience has this chilling killing feeling of loneliness come to strangle me as well? I can’t get away from it no matter what I do. Sundays, or long evenings, can be the loneliest times, since everyone is busy with something else.

How could I not feel angry, miserable and forlorn, since options for socialization are limited by a physical disability? Even if someone is not hindered by a disability, he may find himself in some other confining situation — which can make life feel like a prison. Many times, I’ve struggled to accept this imprisonment. I feel stuck and trapped and want to break out of it! How I long to go for a hike in the woods, or a drive on a pretty day, but physical mobility is not easy for me.

Before this awful Sunday came, I tried everything to avoid spending it alone. I even called casual acquaintances to go for dinner or a walk. But no one was available, and how the hours dragged!

Don’t get me wrong; I am not afraid of being alone. Oftentimes, being alone, for me, can be a great blessing. When I am in solitude I am comfortable with just being with myself. I have space and time to think — exterior room and rich interior silence. In open space and silence, I can pray and reflect on my life. I can be with God, as with a friend.

No, I am not afraid of being alone, but loneliness and being alone are two different experiences. Being alone can give new life, while being lonely kills. Isolation suffocates — a person has no air to breathe — starving, with no food or water. It is like a prison cell. There, I am cut off, stuck inside my own little world. There is no one to connect with on a deep human level, no intimate support of any kind.

While I am lonely, I cannot sustain hope. I find it hard to flourish, dream, and grow. In my desperation, I try to make the pain of isolation go away. But sometimes I may do that in all the wrong ways. I just get very busy, so I don’t have to feel or think. I fill up empty hours with endless work. And although there is nothing wrong with being busy or working hard, if I am compulsively grasping at things or activities, merely so as to not feel the emptiness, something is amiss. I may work so hard in a day that exhaustion swallows me up. Then I don’t have to feel that deep inner pain. Ministering to others who suffer in great need helped me to find joy and meaning in life. However, when I did this work, hoping  to ease inner pain, I only felt deeper anguish, for  suffering was everywhere I turned!

Cleaning out a closet, scrubbing out cabinets, or working on a long over-due writing project — work like this, in and of itself, is healthy. But if, at the core, I am only driven to it because of a desire to avoid the emptiness I feel, then somehow I am running from what is most real. These are my personal attempts at defying loneliness. Other people may try to blot out loneliness by eating too much, drinking too much, or using any other habit to excess or distraction. None of these remedies for inner emptiness work, however, because, in the end, these methods cannot fill the void. When the busy work is over, when another morning dawns, loneliness comes back, and even more fiercely. Unless I try to find out what the loneliness is saying, I will be left with frustration and endless pain. What am I in need of and what (or who) am I thirsting for inside? When I am lonely, rather than panicking and trying to blot it out through compulsive activity (or through any other method), I must look that dreaded demon in the face, not run away from it by meaningless work or pursuit, which only fills the hours and not my heart. Rather, I must listen in silence, opening to God Who dwells within.

In my experience, the core of loneliness is a call from the God who loves me. It is yearning, a burning hunger God has placed into my heart. The hunger can only be filled by God’s great love. Nothing, or no one will ever heal this pain. The answer to loneliness is not busyness, but stillness. Therefore, I will go to God in times of need with trust. Like Saint Therese of Lisieux, I am God’s little daughter. Whenever she had a problem, no matter what it was, she’d  “cast herself forth on the ocean of confidence and love” as if she were a little boat on a mighty sea. Her little boat would then be carried by God to freedom and peace! She’d throw herself into God’s loving arms, a child forlorn and little. Doing as Saint Therese has done, I can trust with complete abandon. Just as a child is safe in her mother’s arms, so my soul will rest secure in God. When I place myself in God’s loving arms, I am happy, knowing that all will be well. In that safe, loving place, I can tell God everything, all my feelings, troubles, longings and needs. God alone will satisfy the longing of my heart. God alone will comfort and sustain me.

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