Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Embracing Loneliness

"Even when I was engaged, even then - I had a ten-year relationship with this girl - and I would often wonder why, even in those most intimate moments of our relationship, I would still feel really lonely. And it was just a few years ago that I finally realized that friendship is not a remedy for loneliness. Loneliness is part of our experience and if we are looking for relief from loneliness in friendship, we are only going to frustrate the friendship. Friendship, camaraderie, intimacy, all those things and loneliness live together in the same experience." - singer/songwriter Rich Mullins

Perhaps "embracing" loneliness is too strong of a word, but part of me doesn't think that's the case. It's just so foreign to so many of us. I think if most of us were to be asked, "Is loneliness a good thing or a bad thing?" many of us would choose the latter. That's because we often experience loneliness as a negative emotion.

Loneliness is something we run away from. How do we do that? We fill our lives with music, movies, shopping, exercise, church activities. None of these things in and of themselves is a bad thing, but none can fill the need that loneliness highlights for us. Often we cannot bear to spend a waking moment in complete silence, because it can be a kissing cousin to loneliness. So we turn on the radio, put in the earbuds, or turn to the satellite dish. Almost all of us do it, including myself.

Then there are friendships and relationships, as a mentor of mine, Rich Mullins, talked about in the above quote. What do we do when we're lonely? One of our first answers is "call a friend," "go out for coffee with a friend," or "find a partner." Certainly then our loneliness would be assuaged. Or would it? Have you ever been in a friendship or relationship and still felt that uneasy inward feeling that you feel when you're alone? There is that loneliness again. And we get pissed off, either at ourselves, our partner, or at life because "damn it, I'm in a good friendship/relationship now, I should feel better than this!" And the friendship or relationship inevitably breaks down because the other person cannot take away that aching loneliness.

Don't get me wrong, friendships and relationships are important, and they can make us feel better somewhat. I believe we were made for relationships, we weren't intended to live completely alone and isolated. I've been learning this in my own life as I make new friends, re-connect with old friends through Facebook, and become more involved in my spiritual community.

But still the loneliness remains. So what is it?

I believe that loneliness is a call from none other than God himself to draw near to him. It is a call to pay attention to our spiritual selves. We spend most of our days paying attention to our physical selves (eating, exercising, going to work to pay the bills) yet how easy is it to forget our true source. Loneliness is a call from deep within us that says "Slow down, just sit here for a minute, spend some time with me, rest your spirit on my shoulder for awhile." It is here, in these set-apart times where that aching and longing can truly be soothed by God. It is in these times when we hear our inner voice gently saying, "Be still, I made you, I know your needs, you can trust me fully."

Does this mean that it's a "one-time" solution? No. This loneliness, this aching, will stay with us until our very last breath. And it shouldn't be any other way. For we were made to be in relationship with not just those around us, but the God who lives both within and around us. So the next time you're feeling restless and unsettled or lonely, maybe the first question shouldn't be "what's on TV?" but rather "Have I consciously spent time with God today?"

It is here where you will find the love you desire, from which all good things flow.