On Loneliness - Pastor Mark Mueller
If there is a word that I felt led to blog about this time it is the word, loneliness. This word is a precarious one. At times the mere mention of the word produces fear. Frederick Buechner describes it as, "a sense that something is missing which we cannot name."
There has been a time or two lately when I have felt lonely. I am not a fan of it.
Sometimes it is when Toby is travelling. I have several days alone, just me and Zoe. Loneliness feels empty. I am rather quick to find something to fill it but lately I am beginning to sit with my loneliness. I have come to believe that God has something for me in it.
When was the last time you were lonely? Was it when you stood in a crowd of 5,000 cheering people? When you visited with a friend, or when you lay next to your snoring spouse at 2 am?
Everyone experiences loneliness at some time. It's a common denominator in the equation of life. It's also something no one likes to feel, so our natural response is to run from it, avoid it or deny it by filling our lives with a million distractions.
God has a better way.
When we sink into loneliness and allow God to do His redemptive work, we can be powerfully taught. As Henri Nouwen writes in his book, The Inner Voice of Love, we may find our "loneliness not only tolerable," but even fruitful.
For starters, loneliness can be one way that God enlarges our hearts to love.
Several years ago a member of my congregation was diagnosed with leukemia. During the weeks before her death, a tenderness settled into her eyes and a loving spirit embodied her like I'd never seen. She hugged tighter, smiled wider and laughed more. On this side of her passing, I've often wondered why. My best guess is that the thought of saying goodbye to those she cared for and moving into eternity without their physical presence enlarged her heart to love. Her greatest sorrow produced a greater virtue.
Loneliness can also be God's way of helping us seek human interaction. It seems to be God's way of driving us into relationships. Without it, we would never marry, engage in friendships or endure the numerous problems that are a natural part of intimacy.
Loneliness can also be the way God opens us to a deeper knowledge of God's love.
Just as physical solitude helps us to hear God's voice, I have learned that when I embrace my loneliness and hold the hand of God, I don't fall into a pit of despair like I feared. Rather, I find His comfort, hearing His voice of love and healing for my broken places.
There are lots of suggestions about what to do during periods of isolation. Psychologists encourage us:
1. TAKE TIME TO KNOW OURSELVES BETTER.
In all honesty, you must learn to enjoy your own company before you can truly appreciate the company of others. Otherwise, you will only want to connect with other people out of desperation in an attempt to escape from yourself. You have to go deep within and break all the chains that bind you so that you can finally leave behind any emotional trauma from the past. It will seem much easier to connect with others once you're fully in tune with your own self.
2. TRY TO MEET SOMEONE NEW EACH TIME YOU GO OUT.
How many times do you notice people's heads in their phones when you go out in public nowadays? Maybe you have fallen into this habit as well, so try to put away your phone for a change and go up to someone new. Strike up a conversation with the girl at the grocery store check-out, or the person waiting at the bus stop, or the jogger at the running trail that you frequent.
You have a chance to connect with someone pretty much anywhere you go; we have a world occupied by more people than ever before, so really, we all don't have much of an excuse for feeling lonely. It just takes reaching out to someone and not limiting ourselves.
3. SPEND LESS TIME IN VIRTUAL REALITY AND MORE TIME IN THE REAL ONE.
We can instantly connect with almost anyone online, but it just doesn't compare with face-to-face human connection. We can't hug someone online, or see the change in their facial expressions, or feel the energy of the person through the computer or phone. Try to limit your technology use to a few hours a day if you can; you will find that you have much more time to bond with your current friends and even make connections with new ones.