I’ve suffered from feelings of loneliness since I was a young child, even while surrounded by friends and family, while engaging with others in meaningful ways, while enjoying fellowship with God. The huge secret that few people mention is that we are all lonely—even those we least suspect. Some of us feel the depth of our loneliness more intensely because of our wiring or our wounds or both. But I’m convinced all of us know some degree of loneliness even though we don’t talk about it. Well, I’ve seen poets talk about it. Poets are great at naming what the rest of us want to avoid. We walk around with smiles plastered on our faces, numbing our loneliness or misnaming it or camouflaging its secrecy with busy-ness and denial.
I’ve been ashamed of my loneliness ever since I was old enough to know shame. As a Christian, I used to assume my loneliness was a sign that something was wrong with me. Maybe I didn’t have enough friends or the right types of friends or a Godly marriage or the right kind of relationship with God. If I were really in communion with God and others, would I feel this lonely?
I recently stumbled across a loneliness quiz online, so of course, I took it. The quiz told me I’m not lonely. My results literally stated I have nothing to worry about. I do not recommend this quiz because I do have something to worry about. I’ve come to believe everyone does.
By this point, you might be trying to track down my contact information in order to reach out to me and make sure I’m okay—to be a balm to this loneliness of which I write. I appreciate your thoughtfulness, and maybe we can hang out one day and decrease the intensity of our aloneness. But unfortunately, there’s nothing you can do about my loneliness. While I sometimes suffer from aloneness, the kind of loneliness I sense most deeply is what Dr. Tom Varney calls “core loneliness.” It’s not simply aloneness or feelings of rejection. Varney says of core loneliness, “This kind of loneliness is more basic, more fundamental to our existence as human beings, and it is seldom discussed or even acknowledged.” He describes it as the type of loneliness that lingers even while we enjoy meaningful relationships with God and others. He says it is inevitable and a result of the fall. He even says core loneliness is necessary because it makes us long for eternity when God will wipe away every tear and welcome us into perfect fellowship with Him.
Communion with God and others are good things. Healthy doses of community can diminish our feelings of aloneness because we are designed to be in relationships with God and with people but being a Christian will never fully remove our core loneliness. On this side of Heaven, not only are we stuck with the aloneness we sometimes experience because relationships are formed between people who are selfish and pretty good at wounding and rejecting each other, but we are also stuck with this core loneliness that can make us feel isolated, different, awkward, unworthy, and out of place even when we’re in community with others. We are each on our own desert islands, thirsting and hungering for nourishment and longing for a shaded respite.
If this is how it will always be, what do we do with our aloneness and our core loneliness? If this is how it will always be, how do we respond? How do we move through life with a sense of isolation and loneliness that hums deep inside us like the refrigerator in my kitchen? How do we move through life with this sense of isolation and loneliness that will never dissolve, never disappear?
I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I’ve been asking God to point me in the right direction. If I apply the lessons I’ve learned from facing other types of suffering I’ve known, it’s probably safe to say that even though our loneliness will remain, it will always be interrupted with glimpses of beauty, tastes of true rest, and moments of genuine connection. I don’t know. I’m searching for the answers, and I’m asking God to show me where our loneliness intersects with His grace and mercy. Isn’t God supposed to take away our pain and suffering? Sort of. Maybe. He doesn’t promise to on this side of eternity, so at some point you’d think we would stop being so damn surprised by our pain and suffering. And while we’re trying to not be surprised; and while we’re waiting for that next glimpse of beauty, rest, or connection; we can move toward each other in our loneliness. We can compare notes—even if we have to whisper. And we can be lonely together.
A version of this essay first appeared online at mbird.com.
Soul Storying’s Hope for the Lonely Podcast
We all experience loneliness sometimes, but not many people are willing to talk about their loneliness. I’m starting a new Soul Storying podcast that explores loneliness and how it intersects with faith, and I would love your help. Below is a link to an anonymous survey with six questions about loneliness that will take just a few minutes to answer.
Please spread the word to others who might want to help out, too. I’ll have the link on my Soul Storying Facebook page over the next several days if you want to share from that account or feel free to share the link to this post. Thanks for your help!
Please Note: By completing the survey, you are giving me permission to share your anonymous answers and comments with others.