The Grace of Loneliness

By Andrew Kreye

When I was little, I was afraid of the dark. I was also afraid of being alone. So being alone in the dark? Yeah, that terrified me. As you can imagine, that made falling asleep difficult.

I remember my mother tucking me into bed and reminding me that I wasn’t alone in the dark. She would tell me that my guardian angel would be right by me, protecting me all night.

Since then, I’ve grown and matured, and I’ve been able to find an appreciation for some of the things I used to dislike.

Like coconut!

And being alone.

“And after he had dismissed the crowd, he went up into the hills by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone.” – Matthew 14:23

1. Hello Darkness, My Old Friend

“Friend and neighbor you have taken away: my one companion is darkness.” – Psalm 88:19

Before we get to the topic, I think it’s important to note the difference between what I mean by “loneliness” and “being alone”.

When I say “loneliness”, I’m talking about the feeling of being isolated or cut off from people.

“Being alone” is the state of not being physically near another person.

Going by these definitions, it’s possible to be both lonely and alone, but it isn’t necessary to experience both at the same time.

You can be alone and not lonely, and you can be lonely when you’re not alone. In fact, being around people can often make loneliness more apparent.

I also feel that I need a disclaimer: loneliness is not something that should be sought out. Although I believe there are times when God calls us to be alone, I don’t think God calls us to loneliness.

As humans, we were made for relationship. First with God, then with each other. Being alone periodically allows us to deepen our relationship with God, which prepares us to more fully live out our other relationships.

Loneliness or feeling isolated, however, is harmful to relationships because it lessens our ability to relate to another by turning our focus inward to ‘self’ instead of outward to ‘other’. 

Loneliness, however, often isn’t something that is chosen. It’s something you find yourself in.

Like when you see someone walking toward you and they smile, raising their hand to wave, and you think, “Do I know this person? Well, I must, because they’re greeting me!” So you smile. And just as you start to wave back, you hear a voice behind you pronounce a greeting. Forsooth! The stranger was truly a stranger. Their smile and kind wave were not meant for you but for the person behind you. Awkwardly, you attempt to play off your wave like you were actually swatting away a fly. And you continue to walk. Alone, greetingless, and with a new realization of how much you would like to have someone wave at you right now…

But, as always, God is able to bring good out of bad situations. When we recognize that we are lonely, we are also recognizing that there is something we are lacking. We are unable to find fulfilment in ourselves. Fulfilment only comes from God.

“For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation.” – Psalm 62:1

2. Look at All the Lonely People

“While my body here decays, may my soul Thy goodness praise, safe in Paradise with Thee.” – Stabat Mater

During his Passion, Jesus shows us a profound example of loneliness. He had been betrayed by Judas, denied by Peter, and the people he loved wanted him dead. The feeling of isolation was so great he even cried, “My God, My God, why have you abandoned me?”

This isn’t a cry of defeat, though. Instead, it’s a light of hope and example for us of how to live in loneliness. Jesus is speaking the first words of Psalm 22, which, although filled with anguish, ends with hope: “The generation to come will be told of the Lord, that they may proclaim to a people yet unborn the deliverance you have brought.” – Psalm 22:32

When he felt the most abandoned and isolated, Jesus didn’t turn inward but continued to give himself to the Father out of love.

In our loneliness, we encounter Jesus on the way of the Cross. We have the unique opportunity to unite the suffering we feel in our own experience of isolation to that of Jesus.

In a very intimate way, we are able to draw close to Jesus in his suffering. Not in despair, but in following his example of hope by suffering in the context of the coming of the Kingdom of God.

Remember that this life is only a little while. Wait for God and keep your eyes on the goal. Strive for union with God.

“Wait a little while, my soul, await the promise of God, and you will have the fullness of all that is good in heaven.” – Thomas Á Kempis, The Imitation of Christ, 3.16

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