What does it mean to be alone? This is a lesson I am just learning - at almost 50 years old.
I have spent my life with people - serving people, working with people, in relationship with people, helping people, learning from people - yes, my life has been spent with people.
There have been times of loneliness throughout the years. I remember times in high school and college when I felt like I was alone. Sometimes even in a crowd of people I felt alone. It was a feeling that I did not like then - and I still do not like today. It seemed that these times of "alone-ness" were short lived, and I quickly moved back into the world with fervor.
But over the past few months, I have experienced a loneliness that is gut wrenching. It is quiet, yet it screams at me. It is solemn, yet full of extreme pain. It is constant. So what is the difference? How is it that this era of loneliness is causing so much more difficulty?
Here is what I am learning.
There is a loneliness that is a result of missing contact with people. It could be just a break in connection locally, or it could be that you are far from the person(s) with whom you want to connect. It could be a quieting of your soul when all around you is chaos. When you feel like you are the only one who sees the chaos and you have no power to make it stop. It could be a positional loneliness that comes from being away from people - especially the people you want to be with. This loneliness is hard - but typically is short lived - as you reconnect with the people you miss, or you build relationships with new people who (for a period) take the place of the ones you are missing.
There is a deeper loneliness that comes when you are excluded from something/someone. For example, people at work plan an activity, but you are not included, or your friends decide to do something and somehow you are not invited. Being on the outside - even if unintentionally - causes us to ponder why it was that we were not invited. It makes us think that there is something wrong with us - something ugly that others do not want to be around - even if for just a short time. As a part of any group, whenever one is left out - for any reason - this monster of deeper loneliness raises its head.
There is a loneliness of heart when you feel like no one in the world understands what you are going through. When you feel like you cannot tell anyone what is going on and if you did, they would not understand. When you think that the difficulties of life are exclusively yours - no one would be able to comprehend what you are dealing with, nor could they empathize with you. This is a much darker loneliness of heart.
But there is a loneliness that tears your heart out and stomps on it. It is the rejection of people that you love, who, for whatever reason (valid or not), have decided that you are not worth the effort to move toward. You have crossed the threshold of being wanted/valued/desired, and now you are discarded and excluded from relationship. You are there - but you are not there. You are looked at, but you are not seen. You say something, but you are not heard - and what is heard is not accepted as valid because it comes from you. You used to have a position of friendship, but that has been reclaimed, and now you are a stranger. You are alone at the deepest level - alone and rejected.
Here is what I know.
My Savior experienced all of these forms of loneliness on my behalf. He was the creator of the universe - yet rejected by His own creation. He had an infinite and eternal connection with His Father (and the Spirit), but for my sake, He was considered "sin" and therefore was prohibited from relationship with His Father. He knew loneliness that I cannot comprehend - and He chose it.
As I experience loneliness in my life - typically it is not a choice (sometimes it is the result of my choices - but not the intended consequence). I would chose connection, belonging, intimacy, relationship - I would not chose to be alone. Yet Christ did - for me!
When loneliness comes - and right now, it is all over me - I must turn my eyes to the one who experienced the same feelings and difficulties, and did it perfectly. He entrusted His life to His Father who is sovereign over all. So that is what I must do as well.
God help me to not turn inward and feel sorry for myself. God help me not to turn outward and try to fill the void of loneliness with other things. God help me to turn to You and find my true satisfaction, connection, intimacy in a genuine and real relationship with you. You have never failed me - and I know that even in my loneliness you are doing something amazing. Help me to see with Your eyes, hear with Your ears, love others with Your strength, and move through this with joy.
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