Well, I’m lonely again. Those of us who have been single for any significant period of time can relate, as can a lot of us who are in or have been in challenging relationships.
Loneliness is a kind of depression, or it’s at least closely connected. There is a sense of hopelessness and despair associated with it as (in my experience, at least) one isn’t lonely if there is a feasible prospect on the horizon of feeling connected to or known by someone else.
And that’s why it’s very common for people in relationships to also feel lonely, I think, when they feel disconnected from the person they’re committed to.
I really believe that loneliness is endemic in our culture in America – a lot of us feel lonely, and much of our entertainment and social beliefs are tailored toward giving the appearance that they offer solutions to being lonely.
I say that because loneliness is a root for a lot of other things, not least of all the myriad kinds of obsessions we have with sex and anything related to it.
As awesome as sex is, we way too often commodify it and treat it as if it’s something like a business transaction, just a “thing” we do with someone else that feels good and fills that loneliness void we have inside.
But it doesn’t really work like that, does it, if we’re truly being honest with ourselves?
One of the Christian beliefs that resonates true with me is that nothing that we do or are involved in is “neutral,” meaning, there’s a deep and spiritual significance to every human action and interaction.
What we do (or don’t do) truly affects the core of who we are and thus our quality of life.
If you share yourself with another person physically, it makes a lot of sense that, well, you share yourself with another person in other ways – whatever emotional baggage or spiritual trauma you’re lugging around is also a part of the sharing.
So, yeah…a decent chance my situation and yours becomes more complicated the more we try to fill our void of loneliness with the intimacies of different people.
Being human just doesn’t work that way – we don’t really solve our innermost problems by focusing on what we perceive to be a purely physical sensation because, well, nothing is purely physical. If spirituality is true, then behind the surface of everything human is a spiritual side.
So what do we do?
It helps to remember that life is tough for everyone, regardless of who we are and what our challenges are.
For myself, I know that I have a tendency to focus on what I think I don’t have in life instead of the great things I do have, so in the same way, just because as a lonely person you may see a perceived “happy couple” walking hand-in-hand and be envious, each person in that happy couple still has their own problems even if loneliness isn’t one of them.
Community and friendship are crucial but another potential source of frustration for those of us who are lonely. It’s not the easiest to find great friends or a community in which you feel like you belong. For different, unique reasons, both have become sore spots for me of late, but nonetheless (warts and all) both are vital to feeling connected and known.
Most importantly, though, is the health of our connection with God, something else that for me has seen better days (though it’s also seen far worse).
I have a difficult time not resenting God for life being the way it is, though (thank God), I’m not as bad about that as I once was. That of course impacts how (and how much) I intentionally relate to him.
But, man, as wrong as St. Augustine was in some select but important ways, he sure as heck was right about a lot more really important things, and he freaking hit the nail on the head with “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.”
Man, I hope I can find further depths to the “rest in you” part, but I know this is true. I’ve ignored God and tried to believe he isn’t there, going about my life as if that were the case, but my life was a heck of a lot worse that way than it’s been at any other point.
Life is really, really hard; unfair; often cruel; and frequently doesn’t make a bit of sense, but I try to remember it’s centered (often beneath the surface) on a God that deeply loves me and is going to make all this mess work out somehow when it’s all said and done.
And the crux of how it’s all going to work out is in how I relate to him and other people – the value, effort and time I put into loving others and him. If I don’t start actively cultivating that right now, I’m missing out on the whole bit of why in the world I’m here to begin with (to love God and others), and eternity is likely going to suck for me since that’s what it’s all about.
Because as difficult and painful as it is to admit, loneliness is often the result of me thinking too much about myself and not enough about others. If my thought and energy were directed more outward rather than inward, I’m focused on what I can do for others and not what I think is missing with me.
But don’t beat yourself up, none of us do this life thing perfectly without fault. While loneliness and depression can result from focusing too much on yourself, it’s stupid hard to get out of that habit when you’re stuck in it, and kicking yourself isn’t going to help.
Just remember you’re loved – truly. As hard as it sometimes (most of the time?) is to believe. You are valuable and beautiful, and things will get better, even if not necessarily in the way(s) you’d prefer.