Lonely. It’s a sad word.
Loneliness isn’t the same as solitude, which entails a willingness to be alone. No, lonely means being alone against one’s wishes. It can feel needy, pathetic, and vulnerable. Loneliness can surface anytime, when one is actually alone, or in a room full of people. In fact, sometimes being alone in a crowd is the most extreme form of loneliness.
Loneliness is like an emotional alarm bell for connection.
There was a time after college when I spent much of my time feeling lonely. I had recently moved to a new town and a new state where I had very few friends. My husband was my best friend, but after he left for work each day I found myself with hours to fill and no one to talk to. I took my dog on walks at the park, went shopping, or spent time in the local library, just so I could be around other people. Even if I didn’t speak to other patrons, the simple act of being around other human beings seemed to dissipate the panic of feeling so very alone.
Fast forward to having children, Bible studies, a job, church small groups, and homeschool co-ops to belong to, and my moments of loneliness felt few and far between – until this year. Life changes have shifted some of our family routines, and the result is that I have seen friends less frequently this year. I was in the process of contemplating how I could remedy this issue when the quarantine hit.
Granted, even now, during the long weeks of social distancing I am rarely alone. With four children in the house, I find it difficult to even find moments of quiet, nevermind solitude. Still, I find my desire for relationship increasing as the weeks go by.
There’s always the beacon of belonging via social media, but this kind of connection is a double-edged sword. Although social media allows us to view each other’s lives and keep up to date on life events, it is just a mirage of real connection. It never quite scratches the itch. Actually, I find that social media increases my loneliness, as it often leaves me feeling left out and discontented.
The thing is, I know I’m not alone in the experience of loneliness. (See what I did there?)
There may never have been a time in the history of the planet that people have felt more lonely than they do right now.
There is absolutely nothing shameful about feeling lonely. Read that again: There is NOTHING wrong with you if you feel lonely. The catch-22 is that loneliness often leads us to a place of shame. As we register the emotion of loneliness, it can send our thoughts into self-questioning, self-loathing, or at the very least a loss of self-confidence. You may find yourself questioning what’s wrong with you that you don’t have more friends? Why has no one called or texted you today? Has everyone else moved on in life and forgotten you? The questions loneliness conjures up can be unique to the situation, yet almost always tinged with shame or fear.
I’m encouraging both of us, you and myself, to challenge those thoughts. We don’t need to challenge the feeling of loneliness. It’s a valid emotion, and it’s okay to acknowledge it. No, I want us to challenge the thoughts that accompany loneliness. Rather than turning them inwards in a self-questioning fashion, let’s embrace ourselves instead. If anything we need to give ourselves grace right now. We have the right to desire friendship and relationship. Relationships are beautiful. We are wired for human connection. This is a hard time, but we will make it through. We will hug again. We will socialize again. We will reunite with old friends, and we will make new ones. This won’t last forever.
On the other hand, right now is an opportune time to contemplate relationships. After all, when will you ever have this much thinking time again? Two questions for contemplation might be:
- How can I cultivate my relationships while social distancing?
- In what ways do I want to invest in relationship more or differently when I re-emerge from social distancing?
If you’ve been feeling lonely, hear me come alongside you and tell you that you’re not the only one. It’s a valid feeling, and it’s completely normal to experience it right now. Our grandparents are feeling it, our children are feeling it, our single friends are feeling it, our extroverted friends are especially feeling it, and, you guessed it, so are the introverts. We are absolutely made for connection. Let’s give ourselves and others grace as we navigate the waters of loneliness on our way back out into normal life.
Pause: God said in the beginning of Genesis, “It is not good for man to be alone.” Contemplate/journal about your need for relationship. When do you feel most connected in relationship? When do you feel most connected to God?
Renew: What are you learning about yourself during this time of social distancing? How do you want to work on cultivating friendships now and in the future? How can you give yourself grace to experience loneliness without shame?
Next: In your circles of relationships, who can you think of who might be especially lonely right now? How can you reach out to them this week?
May you be comforted by a God who promises to never leave or forsake you. You are never alone.
Pause, Renew, Next!