It’s lunch time and we’re poking at our cobb salad when the gut wrenching truth slips out:
I’ve felt lonely since I was 8. So yeah, we’re going on a good 20+ years of this same chorus.
Like that unexpected guest who doesn’t know when they’ve overstayed their welcome, loneliness keeps showing up as a bystander in so many memories.
Funny how the deepest truths can come lilting out over hotel salad as if it’s nothing more than a how-do-you-do. Because you can’t quite know when the deep wounds are going to gape open again and remind you that the scars are still there.
There was that time we moved from half way across the world to this grand country and I spent the next 15 years trying to figure out where I fit.
Then there was that college where every day I’m trying to explain with painful fits and starts why I’m following that Carpenter Man. Which explains my failing attempts at being a little more like Him and a lot less like everything else that’s upside down.
That first year in a big city, yeah that was a particularly lonely year. There are tear-stained journal pages to mark the rants I had with Abba asking if He really knew what He was asking of me.
Then I met that man with the ginger hair, and he didn’t think I was too much or too loud or too emotional or too rigid or too anything other than just what he wanted to spend the rest of his life with. And I finally thought I knew what it was to not feel lonely, but to feel known, to have a person in your corner from sunup to sundown.
And just as I start to figure out how to have those roots-run-deep friendships, the story gets turned inside out and we’re launched on this crazy wandering. And the loneliness rears its head again. Because how can anyone really know what it is to walk the thousand miles in anyone else’s worn-out shoes?
I’m thinking on all this when the lunch plates get cleared and the speaker gets up. I’m at a mom’s conference and worse than having an emotional break down is having it with a group of women. So yeah, this is just my top choice for where I want to be right now. A room full of estrogen and me with my face about to slide down onto the floor into a puddle.
She starts talking about some of the hardest parts of being a mom and wouldn’t you know, she mentions loneliness. Right there after housework. Heads are nodding all over the room.
You can bet the lip starts quivering and the eyes are welling up and I don’t dare glance at my friend for fear the whole thing will come crashing down.
She’s raised four kids who are all People of the Cross, has crisscrossed the globe meeting and encouraging people and written words to fill a half-dozen books. And yet in that moment, her raw admission has me realizing we would have plenty to share over a cup of tea.
Isn’t it the Devil’s lie to convince us all that no one else knows what we carry and so we best keep our secrets quiet? Share too much and you just might overwhelm that poor being sitting there hearing you bleed out?
So we walk around trying to stick band aids on the hemorrhaging, despairing that anyone could possibly understand. And while we’re grasping at scraps to cover the raw pink flesh oozing pain, we miss seeing how many others are bearing the same bruises and gashes.
And it dawns on me, like a slow sunrise warming the frozen ground: Every woman feels lonely. Every man feels isolated. Every single or married, father and mother, rich or poor, of high station or low, have we not this in common? That we have all felt the gaping ache of loneliness.
Your loneliness and mine, it may be the most common part about us. The most ordinary, frequently found, not special, not unique piece of our broken story. The thread that runs through every life.
There aren’t enough cheap bottles of wine, bars of dark chocolate and late night runs with the beat of your feet pounding in your ears to make the true untrue. We’re all aching to be known, to feel included and wanted. And there’s only one answer:
“Every soul wants more than a powerful experience. It wants to experience a powerful connection. More than being in awe, what the soul seeks is intimacy with the Other. More than profoundly astonished, we want to be profoundly attached. Communion, koinonia, is the miracle. more than seeing and experiencing something beautiful, we want to be fully seen and experienced by Someone. More than intimately knowing wonders, we want to know the wonder of being intimately known.” Ann Voskamp
In our loneliness there comes One who knows what it is to be abandoned. In our isolation there comes One who know what it is to be without friends, to see them all flee in His greatest hour. In our feeling forgotten, betrayed and left out, we have never been alone. In the most lonely, dark and despairing of moments, there is always One who sees and hears and most importantly, weeps with us.
Oh dear friends, what a comfort that has been these many years. For tucked into those lonely moments that have etched crevices into my soul, I see the shadows and fingerprints of Another who was and is always faithful. Always present, always comforting.
And that loneliness, it’s really a gift.
Some kind of gift, you say. Maybe like that sweater from your aunt that you can’t figure out how to send back or send along.
No, but really. From one lonely heart to another, this longing we have might just be the greatest thing for our faith. For our leaning into Love and leaning into other people. For making us reach out to hold the nail-scarred hands of that Carpenter Man so that we can grasp the clenched fists of a lonely world.
Our hurt, drenched in His wounds, might just be what makes us strong enough to sit with this whole screaming mess of a world and say, “I hear and feel and know your pain. And don’t you know, there’s a way through.”
We’re all a mess. Yeah, even that red-haired knight of a man I’m married to, even he sometimes leaves me feeling lonely and unloved and unseen. Because we’re all walking around busted. All but One. And that One comes to us when we’ve been let down, He beckons to us in our loneliness and He gives Love that will never disappoint, never fail, never betray.
No matter how many times we fail to do the same.
O Love that wilt not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee;
I give thee back the life I owe,
That in thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be.
“O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go,” by George Matheson