“I am lonely, yet not everybody will do. I don’t know why, some people fill the gaps and others emphasize my loneliness.” ― Anaïs Nin
“This makes me mad!” She had emailed me a link to another article from another Christian organization with the same tired points about why singles should be joyful and uncomplaining in their current season.
There was nothing wrong with the article. It made the exact same (good) points that every other article addressed to single Christians made. It was just one little line that set her off. Just nine little words; “there should be no lonely people in our churches.”
If you’ll allow me, I’m going to beg to differ.
Because the simple fact of the matter is… our churches are filled with lonely people. Should it be that way? Maybe, maybe not. I’m not sure that I’ve decided yet. But it is the reality of the world we live in. For me personally, church is the loneliest part of my life (that’s a squirm-worthy confession if there ever was one). It’s the one time I feel the most detached and aware of my singleness. I’m not blaming the church. I’m part of a really good church that I attend with amazing friends, friends who will most likely be shocked when they read this to discover the level of loneliness I fight against every single Sunday morning.
I thought it was just me, but I began polling my other single friends and so far the results are consistent. Gathered together in a place of worship is one of our biggest triggers for feeling alone.
I’m still not convinced this is a bad thing, even though it is a painful thing.
When I say I feel lonely in church I’m not saying that I feel alone. I’m saying that I feel single. Glaringly, obviously, annoyingly single. Maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe I feel that way because the church is filled with loving couples modeling Godly relationships. I know that’s part of it. I see that and long for it. That is not a bad thing… that is a great thing!
I’ve never wrestled with loneliness like I have the last few months. It’s different. I’ve felt alone before, but not like this. This is a deeper emotion. A deeper longing. A deeper searching. It’s led to a few sleepless nights, I’ll confess. But more than anything, it’s led me to cling to Jesus in a new and intimate way.
I think one of the reasons the loneliness is stronger than ever before is because I’m choosing to sit with it. I’m choosing not to push it away and distract myself from it. To allow it to be present in my life and reveal truth to me. The truth is; there’s a difference between being lonely and being alone. We can be surrounded by people and still long for more. The truth is; the best way to deal with loneliness is not to ignore it or distract ourselves from it, but to press into it and through it.
“To live a spiritual life we must first find the courage to enter into the desert of our loneliness and to change it by gentle and persistent efforts into a garden of solitude. The movement from loneliness to solitude, however, is the beginning of any spiritual life because it is the movement from the restless senses to the restful spirit, from the outward-reaching cravings to the inward-reaching search, from the fearful clinging to the fearless play.” Henry J.M. Nouwen, “Reaching Out”
I think we’re afraid of loneliness. Afraid to be swallowed by the great expanse of it, and I confess, it is a scary place to dwell. But even here, in this place, He promises to never leave us or forsake us.
I believe that loneliness can teach us more about intimacy then being with crowds of people ever can. The courage of pressing into loneliness can be the catapult that sends us straight to the heart of God. When we long for something we reach. And when we reach for God, we find Him every time.
There’s nothing wrong with longing for friendship, or love, or companionship, but sometimes those longings linger longer then we want them to. What do we do then? Give into despair? Or reach for Jesus?
So, I’m lonely. I don’t like it. Maybe you’re lonely too. Maybe you don’t like it either. That’s okay. I know this has been a quote heavy post but can I share one more? It’s intended to be a message from Charlie Brown to Snoopy, but I’m pretty sure it is actually a message straight from the heart of God to you and me…
“Are you upset little friend? Have you been lying awake worrying? Well, don’t worry…I’m here. The flood waters will recede, the famine will end, the sun will shine tomorrow, and I will always be here to take care of you.” ― Charles M. Schulz
He will always be here. And that is good news.
P.S. I’ve been thinking about posting this for weeks now but have hesitated because I fear what people’s reaction will be. So, to nip a few things in the bud… I’m fine. I’m not depressed. I don’t need an invitation to dinner (not that one wouldn’t be welcome, it’s just not needed). I’m not feeling abandoned by my friends. I love my life. I’m just sometimes lonely. That’s okay. No need for an intervention.
And while we’re here… why do we feel the need to rescue each other from every painful life experience when the Bible clearly teaches that painful life experiences lead to maturity and joy? Just wondering?