Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Truth About Loneliness

Without question, the emotion that most consistently brings me to the very fringes of myself is not frustration, not anger, but garden-variety loneliness. For me, this is the root of all the others, the father of lesser evils that hacks my confidence off at its knees and assaults my joy.

The belief that I'm alone in the world, that no one has my back, has the power to crank my emotional equilibrium left of center. My rationality swerves for the ditch. When the dust settles, my confidence is measured in shards. 

Coming from a dyed-in-the-wool introvert, I'd be inclined to think I might be immune to loneliness. Give me a free day and I'll probably scoop it up and steal away alone. But there's a big difference in being alone and feeling forgotten or unseen.

In recent years, I've faced this struggle more than ever before. It's fleeting, but it always remembers my name. It hits in waves and leaves me gulping, flailing. I don't understand why God allows it. Shouldn't my faith be all the protection I need against this peril?

Just two days ago, I finally recognized the power Satan has over me in this area. Though a jerk, he's no fool. I hand him this weapon and he's found it quite effective. If he can convince me I'm alone in the world, at any given moment, I willingly fork over a portion of my holiness, no questions asked. He reacts as expected, fueling my pain as I lash out or become withdrawn or paranoid. He greases the rails of vindictiveness and I ride. He double-binds me to myself - the guaranteed recipe for disaster.

This web widens, my fragility dangling more precariously in the balance with each silky loop. I circle-back, telling myself I'm all I've got, better buck up. Better get used to it. Who needs them, anyway?

Friends, I wish I could tell you loneliness is a lie, the economy of the enemy, dealing empty hands with dead eyes.

But I keep watching the way God scoops me out of these valleys and I can't find away around it. It's certain beauty, and I'm not so sure anymore that these are even ashes.

Aren't we promised that following Christ means some of our relationships will be chipped up, or even fractured? Are we not signing up for a measure of rejection? Doesn't this count as suffering?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes in The Cost of Discipleship, "It is Christ's will that [man] should be thus isolated, and that he should fix his eyes solely on Him."

That is where my pitiful humanity wrecks this gift of loneliness. Over and over, rather than fixing my eyes on the One who loves me best, I frantically scan the horizon-line for a jeans-and-sneaks person to save me. I run to my husband, or my mom. Affirmation is only a text message away. From the security of the school pick up line, from the comfort of my kitchen, I can yell for help and someone will throw me a float.

And yes, this is community. Yes, God loves His people through His people.
It is our unequivocal duty to love the lonely. We should be linking arms with the outcast, remembering that sometimes the outcast wears $200 jeans and drives and Audi. Sometimes the lonely sits in a nursing home, but she also sits next to us on the bleachers at gymnastics practice.

There are times when He moves and heals through us, but he doesn't really have to. He's fully enough, and I wonder how long it will take me to really believe that.

I'd like to begin living this part of life differently. I'd like to allow God's work to be completed by Him, rather than throwing the keys to my sworn enemy, the one who despises my life and plots my ruin. I feel like my relationships and my sanity might be protected if I learned to lean into His presence rather than fumbling for the sick comfort of anger and self-pity.

I know God allows me to occasionally feel the burn of loneliness not only because He wants to rescue me, but because He's called me into community, where others are lonely. Sometimes we need to feel pain to recognize pain.

I am the one who answers your prayers and cares for you. (Hosea 14:8) 

So, if you're lonely tonight, let me remind you that you're not alone. Alone doesn't exist within the bounds of God's love for you.

Refuse to wrest this gift from the giver, passing it off to the author of pain. Hold it as an opportunity to be cared for by the only One who really can. Let Him heal you. Then bear your scars as holy tattoos, connecting you to the rest of His kingdom, marking you as The Healed.

The truth about loneliness is that it brings us to the edge of ourselves, which is actually the goal.
We can choose to nose-dive, but I'd really rather ascend.