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Intersection of Life and Faith

Don't Be Afraid of Loneliness

  • 2001 28 Aug
Don't Be Afraid of Loneliness
You have made known to me the path of life;
you will fill me with joy
in your presence,
with eternal pleasures at your right hand.

-Psalm 16:11

God gave us loneliness so we would seek out relationship. Loneliness is a feeling that speaks to our deep hunger to belong and be known. We are often embarrassed or ashamed, or we believe there's something wrong with us for experiencing loneliness.

In truth, loneliness is the gift that speaks to how much is right with us while also pointing to how much has gone wrong. Because of loneliness, we inescapably desire relationship with ourselves, others, and God. Loneliness also points to how often we distance ourselves from all three vital forms of relationship.

Relationship with Self

Acknowledging loneliness allows me to see my heart and begin to know myself. It also allows me to see the hearts of others, and others to see my heart. This vulnerability is the foundation of intimate relationship. At the same time, loneliness exposes pain because it expresses how much I need what I hunger for.

Loneliness often speaks to our need to be with and know ourselves. It reveals our need for solitude. We learn through solitude that we need to stop activities in order to give ourselves a chance to hear our hearts and listen to what they are saying, sometimes waiting to get clarity. We do this through stopping, listening, waiting, resting, planting, and trusting.

We need to rest for the heart to regain strength, replenish hope, and prepare for the next step. We need to plant, tending to the seeds of desires, needs, longings, and hope within us. And we need to trust that we are emotional and spiritual creatures who need time out from the world's incessant urban clanging.

Valuing our loneliness through solitude does not necessarily lead to serenity. Sometimes we learn in loneliness to put our sword and shield down and cry our guts out about the battles we've waged and lost-dreams and hopes not fulfilled, friends missed, intimacies not honored, opportunities not taken, and struggles with God not seen through. But by struggling in solitude, we eventually rekindle the passion that led us into battle in the first place.

Relationship with Others

Another expression of loneliness identifies our hunger for the intimacy of community.

"Will you be with me?"

"Can we spend time together?"

"Can you listen to my pain?"

"Will you pray for me?"

"Will you stand up for me?"

Loneliness pushes me to seek to be known. There's a limit to how long I can stand being around others without being known.

For instance, have you ever been to a dinner party where you don't really know the people? You mingle, smile, eat, visit, but you can't wait to get home and spend time with your spouse, your children, or your friends. You want to be where you can put your elbows on the table and just talk and laugh. The people who know you already accept you as you are, so you leave that situation highly replenished. Even if you are at a banquet as the recipient of an award, you may be more replenished by eating with your buddies than you would be by receiving a coveted prize.

Loneliness arouses an emotional and spiritual hunger to be received, known, and loved by another. It is a hunger to be accepted as we are. If we are accepted and enjoyed for who we truly are, then we cannot help but find replenishment. We will likewise be filled emotionally and spiritually. We will be compelled to share our passion for life and do good things through relationship with others.

Relationship with God

The heart also voices a kind of loneliness that can never be completely filled, answered, or quieted as long as we live. This loneliness awakens us to our emotional and spiritual longing for God.

Have you ever seen a sunset that struck your heart with its strength of color spread all over the sky and ground? The part of you that is struck by such movement and beauty is the same part that aches with the recognition of how incomplete you are. In the aching, your heart recognizes the need for the One who made it.

This loneliness for more goodness and fullness quite often comes in moments of celebration -- a child's birth, a twenty-fifth anniversary, a graduation, a marriage. The goodness of celebration, which must be felt to be truly known, will end. In our hearts we want to go where the wonder, celebration, passion, and relational fulfillment never stop. We want to go to the source of this goodness.

When my oldest son was about 3, I remember showing him his first rainbow. Instead of stopping in the wonder of it, he began walking toward it, saying, "Take me there, Daddy." His heart was lonely, longing to be more a part of the beauty. He valued it. When he found out that I couldn't take him there, he ached in his waiting for what he could not completely have, but what he knew he was made for.

Loneliness renders us vulnerable to our hunger for emotional and spiritual fulfillment, thus exposing us to all relationship needs. But in a world that screams negativity about dependency and glorifies self-sufficiency, loneliness is the feeling that we work hardest to avoid. The irony is that the more we work to avoid it, the more it occurs. And the more we work to hide it, the more we miss out on life.

Loneliness is satisfied only in intimacy. Without admitting loneliness, we are destined to remain in deep emotional and spiritual conflict. If we don't address it, loneliness never stops whispering to us in the quiet moments, "something is missing." So instead of filling our hunger with authentic relational sustenance, we feed our hearts junk that relieves instead of fills.

If we have courage enough to walk into the spirituality of loneliness, we will awaken to how good God is and how much we are dependent on that goodness and the goodness of the One who shapes children's hearts.

Excerpted from The Voice of the Heart: A Call to Full Living, copyright 2001 by Chip Dodd. Published by Sage Hill Resources, Franklin, Tenn., www.providencehouse.com or www.sagehillresources.com, 1-800-321-5692.

Chip Dodd is the founder of Sage Hill Institute, an organization dedicated to teaching and training others in the Spiritual Root System. Dodd is also the executive director and co-founder of the Center for Professional Excellence in Nashville, Tenn., a multi-disciplinary treatment center for licensed professionals with addiction, depression, burnout, anxiety, and
other behavioral problems.