A New Kind of Loneliness
Early last year, I found myself feeling deep pangs of loneliness—again. I talked about it with my husband and my mom, lamenting a social life everyone but me seemed to have. I’m the kind of girl who has numerous friends and connections. I have lived in the same town and attended the same church for over ten years. Yet, there I was, still struggling with feelings of isolation.
Shortly after these lonely feelings began to set in and take root, a global pandemic made its way to the US, and we all found ourselves throwing around phrases like “shelter in place” and “flatten the curve” as though they were commonplace. Our little family hunkered down for the two weeks that we were instructed to shelter in place.
But two weeks turned into four, which turned into an indefinite order to stay home and minimize the risk of illness. The loneliness I was feeling was suddenly not so unique. Everyone was feeling alone. Sure, there were bright moments, too: we sought to uplift the spirits of those around us through creative encouragement, and there was so much levity and kindness in the midst of sorrow and loss. Yet, loneliness persisted.
As I look back on both this year and life as a whole, I see three kinds of loneliness that have developed in different seasons of my life: physical isolation, lack of time with friends, and the feeling of being misunderstood.
The Loneliness of Physical Isolation
Last year was unlike any other. We heard the term “unprecedented” one too many times. Our world came to a screeching halt as we all had to learn what it meant to quarantine from one another for the sake of our health and safety.
But isn’t it just like God to speak to us loudly in the midst of the unknown? Isn’t it just like him to call to our hearts in the wilderness? He certainly met me in the physical isolation of the shelter in place period, just as he did for so many others.
Though we are now slowly making our way back to “normal” life (or something like it), there are other seasons in which physical isolation characterizes our lives. The recently divorced woman who is now a single mother, the widow sleeping alone for the first time in twenty years, the overseas missionary in a foreign land—physical loneliness characterizes these experiences, too.
At the age of 22, I packed up my belongings and moved to Chihuahua, Mexico, to teach elementary school. Most of my friends were either starting grad school or beginning their first job in the States, but I went to a new city in a new country where I knew not one other soul. And you know what? God met me there, too.
The Loneliness of Not Enough Time
Some of the seasons when we expect to be the most filled up only lead to us back into loneliness. After years of singleness and longing for marriage, in the early days of newly wedded “bliss,” I found myself longing for time with friends I no longer saw since meeting my new best friend and partner for life.
It seemed as though loneliness was crouching at the door in nearly every season. The vision I had of motherhood included play dates at the park, lunch dates at my favorite spot, and afternoon reads while the kids napped. It was a life of ease and comfort. However, my journey to motherhood was unlike others’ in my peer group, and it took my husband and me about two years to conceive our miracle boy. During that season of trying to conceive, we became licensed foster parents. Motherhood was thrust upon me in such an unusual way that I didn’t feel like a “real mom” as I constantly compared myself to others.
I found that when I was in the midst of infertility, it was easy to envy the life I longed for as I watched my other friends meet up at the park for play dates while I was still working a full-time job. But in the midst of every season lies a longing unfulfilled. Perhaps you’re a single woman who is so afraid of being alone that you pack your schedule full and never sit down to just rest. Or maybe you’re an empty nester who doesn’t know who you are without your children at home in need of your daily presence and care. The enemy comes to steal, kill, and destroy (John 10:10), and loneliness is a weapon he loves to deploy among women, no matter the season.
The Loneliness of Being Misunderstood
Last spring brought to the surface the underlying tensions surrounding race in our country, and it almost felt like a cruel joke. We had already endured so much, yet 2020 kept handing us just one more thing to process. Everywhere we look, people are experiencing division. Each side demonizes and villainizes the other, insisting they hold the truth in their hands.
Esther’s story in the Bible has always captivated my attention—God raised up a woman with the boldness to share the Truth with her generation, regardless of whether it garnered her favor or attention. She wasn’t sharing “her truth,” but rather the Truth that is founded upon an unchanging God. The kind of Truth that we long for during a season of being deeply misunderstood.
Last summer, as we watched riots and social media backlash, my phone was abuzz with people saying, “I’m sorry,” and “What can I do?” As an African American woman, I feel a sense of pressure and expectation (perhaps self-imposed) to share about my experience in order for others to learn from me. It seems many are looking to me for pearls of wisdom and insight that (supposedly) only I can share. But I have nothing to say that has not been said before. After all, there is nothing new under the sun.
Do You See Jesus?
When people look at me, they may see my skin color and make various assumptions about my life experiences. But my greatest desire is not that people understand me as an African American woman. My ethnicity is only part of who I am. My deepest hope is that when people look at me, they see the presence of Jesus. A hope that is undeterred and unshakable. A love that is unconditional and unwavering. A faith that is deeply rooted.
There is a current trend in which certain people’s voices are being “elevated” or “lifted.” I don’t want to be listened to just because it’s trendy to give heed to my voice. I don’t want to be well thought of just because it’s the cool thing to do right now. My voice has been given to me by God, and it is a perspective that has a history influenced by a myriad of factors. I want to be listened to because I am a person made in the image of God.
There are so many ways to vilify someone else right now—and among them are disagreements about race and issues related to our current pandemic. You may feel that God has given you the opportunity to share humbly and truthfully about how these issues affect you, your family, and the Church as a whole. If that is you, sister, take courage. Know that he has entrusted you with the truth for such a time as this. Share the truth with grace and kindness, and know that he will stand for you, even if you are belittled by others.
The Cure for Loneliness
The loneliness I feel at this juncture is not unlike the other lonely times I have walked through. For just as I have in the past, I bring this loneliness to my Father, who binds my wounds and heals my hurts. I need not explain myself to him because he knows my every thought. And he is worth the loneliness because his presence is a balm to my weary soul.
So in the midst of a world that has chosen sides and has made a practice of isolating (read: canceling) those who don’t fall in line, I welcome the loneliness if it brings a closer intimacy with the One who made me, for I know that I am never alone and always held in his loving arms.
The only true cure for the lonely ache we feel lies in our Savior. He bore our sin so that we could be brought near to the Father. And when others misunderstand us, we can find comfort in knowing that he was despised and rejected, yet he knew no sin—even in crucifixion, no hint of bitterness or unforgiveness was hidden in his heart. So sister, if you are facing feelings of loneliness, know that you are not alone. You are held in the loving arms of a Father who makes a place for the lonely, and his unfailing love will not leave you. Tell him your hurts and trust him as the wounded Healer who will not forsake you.