It is not good that the man should be alone…
– Genesis 2:18b (ESV)
I’m not the kind of person that views the idea of home as a specific place — I’d be glad to rewrite the adage “home is where the heart is” as “home is who the heart is with.” It’s been a difficult concept to wrestle with, and it’s only been these past few years that I’ve discovered what that means in relation to spiritual friendship and the community of Christ.
So in a sort of roundabout sense, home is where the friend is. And my friends… well, they’re all over the place.
I think of Westmont College as my home because that’s where the majority of my current friendships have been formed. But when school isn’t in session and everyone goes back to their geographical homes, I can’t help but feel that I lose my spiritual home. My community splinters every few months, and while I know that kinship still remains, it’s just not the same.
Is it too much to admit that I’m lonely?
This is my third year in college, so usually vacations are tolerable in that sense, but this season in particular has had me thinking about what lies beyond my four short years at Westmont.
As it so happens, I’m spending my next semester studying abroad in China, which means that I had to say goodbye to all my friends who are graduating in the spring. That I won’t be able to spend those last few months with them. And it kills me.
What will become of me after I graduate and leave the people I’ve invested so much of my heart in? Am I honestly capable of surviving the heartache I’ve spent so much time defending against after my home is uprooted? What I’m experiencing right now is only a taste of what I should expect in a year and a half.
And though I intellectually know that I have friends who love me — and I them — my heart has trouble believing that when I’m not with them. Perhaps that’s my insecurity speaking. Or maybe I’m unhealthily dependent.
Regardless of the reason, this is how I feel: I’m all alone in the dark, with no company but for the silence of God hanging over me as if to ask, what will you do now?
Some days, it’s bearable. Some days, it isn’t. That’s when the darkness weighs that much more, seeps in that much deeper, feels that much colder. When the loneliness drenches your heart and begins to freeze it. When your ability to love and be loved begins to crumble and when hope dims to a flicker.
Most of me cries out to God, asking for relief from the pain — daily bread to ease the hunger, living water to quench the thirst. Then there’s the part of me that wants to just give up and waste away while the broken earth turns.
But there’s also a small hope inside that always asks, “why?”. It’s a genuine question; while I generally despise the cliché “everything happens for a reason” cop-out, I still constantly wonder what God is up to in the world. Surely He can teach me something despite the circumstances.
Let me believe in the midst of heaviness. Let me believe in the dark.
– Thomas Chalmers
So this part of my journey has been an attempt to answer that question: why?
Why am I lonely? Because I love my friends.
Why does this loneliness matter? Because it reminds us what matters.
Why does loneliness exist? Because it teaches us about love.
I’ve come to realize that this is not an uncommon phenomenon; I’d wager that the good majority of humanity suffers from loneliness to some degree. Humans are wired for connection, so it’s no wonder that we feel lonely in this world marred by sin. But as painful as loneliness can be, I believe that we have much to learn from it.
Often when something hurts, our first instinct is to get rid of whatever is causing it. If that hurt persists, it turns to suffering, and sometimes despair. I don’t think it’s possible to ever be completely free from loneliness in this life. So what do we do about that?
My answer? Lean in.
The pain of loneliness is such a gift. Like all pain, it lets us know that something somewhere isn’t quite right. My loneliness reminds me that this world is unsatisfying and insufficient. It’s a signpost that prompts me to seek help outside of myself.
– Fabienne Harford, “Blessings of Singleness #1“
Loneliness draws us out of ourselves and into communion with one another. It keeps us from collapsing into our own little individualistic worlds and reminds us that we should not be alone. It is the divine gravity that pulls people together and keeps us there.
Lately I’ve been thinking about the human tendency to name absences: cold (the absence of heat), darkness (the absence of light), sin (the absence of righteousness), and so too with being alone (the absence of company, in a variety of respects).
The beauty of absences is that they force us to dwell upon presences. In fact, without understanding what isn’t, we’ll never be able to fully grasp what is.
If we don’t understand cold, we can’t understand warmth.
If we don’t understand darkness, we can’t understand light.
If we don’t understand sin, we can’t understand grace.
If we don’t understand loneliness, we can’t understand communion.
So this is my challenge — to myself and to anyone reading this: if we ever find ourselves alone in the darkness, may we lean into that mystery. May we stop fighting the darkness — not letting it overtake us — but letting it teach us the weight of loneliness so that we may more fully comprehend the glory of communion.
I was once told that suffering = pain × resistance. Perhaps if we learn to stop resisting the pain, we might ease the suffering.
This isn’t how I wanted to kick off the New Year; certainly I’d much rather be enjoying the company of my friends. But maybe this is where I need to be right now: alone in the darkness, with the silence of God hanging over me, teaching me the depths of His love.
Because the hold that the darkness has on us is temporary.
And how sweet will the Light appear when He finally breaks through the night, for us to know: that we were never truly alone.
Emptiness – Mudblood Catholic