“I whispered the last of the goodnight kisses through the shrinking door crack to my daughter’s bedroom. When the latch clicked into place, I paused, my hand still on the knob, with my forehead bent toward the familiar wooden panel. I shut my eyes and breathed heavy. It was always the same.
On the one hand, I couldn’t wait to get my kids into bed and lose myself in my own weariness and sorrow. I longed to shake off the pressures of playing and smiling and living as though I wanted to be alive. But on the other hand, bedtime brought with it a deep sense of foreboding, an underlying terror that came with being alone.
Putting my kids to bed was like blowing out the only light in an otherwise dark and terrifying cavern. Their light helped to kindle my own, but when I tucked them in under their sheets and heavy comforters, and wooed their energy into peaceful slumber, my own light dimmed. It lacked the energy to burn on its own, and gave way to all manner of darkness that lingered semi-contained in the back corners of my heart and mind throughout the day.
Turning from their bedroom door to face an empty house was always the same. Fear rose up around me like a towering devil. It made my heart leap up into my chest, almost choking me in my throat. But loneliness… it’s nature was different. It mocked me. It wore the dark form of a human silhouette and managed to lurk behind every corner, around every turn, watching me, always lurking in the distance just far enough that I could not confront it, but near enough that I couldn’t escape its presence either. Loneliness was like an evil companion, an unwelcome visitor, an unforgettable yet invisible wretched foe.
Fear and loneliness had a contract. They were in cahoots. They worked together to enslave me in those dark hours of the night, to ensure that darkness would reign over me, to keep me bound and isolated, with no one but them to befriend. I had hours alone to rest each night, but woke up exhausted, barely able to scrape myself from the bed to face a new day. The idea of rest is certainly nice, but it is hard to rest when you’re petrified.”
REFLECTING ON LONELINESS.
During my season of widowhood, when I lived alone on Prince Edward Island, I experienced a potent sense of loneliness that was only exacerbated by my fear of being alone, which was really rooted in my fear of not being good or strong enough to make it on my own… But the thing is, both the loneliness and the fear were not new to me in that season, just… bigger.
Whether young, married, widowed, or re-married, I can trace the fingerprints of loneliness throughout my life and track his presence nonetheless. Both fear and loneliness have lingered nearby, as quiet companions or glaring demons throughout every season of my life.
This is why I don’t attribute loneliness to certain circumstances, but as something that lives in a person’s heart. I have come to think of him as a demonic presence that lingers near the empty spaces of our hearts, the places that I have also come to recognize as sacred territory, where God intends to dwell. All of us, in every season have empty spaces, for no human relationship or circumstance can fully saturate the breadth and depth of the human soul. So the war wages on, with God knocking on the door, and loneliness lingering nearby, his bags packed and ready… who will move in and make a dwelling place out of this void?
DIFFERENT KINDS OF ALONE.
I think that some people are feeling different things when they use the word lonely or alone. Presently, I break it into these different nuances, that seem to mingle together more often than not:
To be physically ALONE is to live isolated from others, without human touch, without a companion to live alongside, another person to talk to or just be with. Grief has carved out its empty space, however big or small, and its void sends a poignant aroma of aloneness, hellish separation, and violent disconnection from human togetherness.
To be relationally UNKNOWN is to be surrounded by people while living the tragedy of an unobserved life.* This is when a person stands in the middle of a full and busy room, living in the midst of all sorts of people and relationships, but feels missed – personally unknown, and therefore untouched. There is terrible sadness in being unknown, it is a terrible loneliness.
Rejection is loneliness with a knife. It is grief and separation and isolation that has been carved into shape by violent hatred and utter cruelty. Rejection has a bitter taste that breeds despair in the strongest of persons. It cuts at the deepest core of who we are as human beings – people made for love.
All of these nuances seem to weave themselves together in the stories of our lives. They cut away at our souls creating more and more empty spaces of thick void.
We all have these empty spaces, though inevitably, someone will dwell there. And God fights with great passion that it might be Him.
Whatever evil has carved out your empty space, whatever loss has been replaced by thick void, however monstrous fear and loneliness have become in this season of your soul, there is HOPE. Because empty spaces are sacred places, like high mountaintops or deep valleys, even long expanses of desert… All throughout history these places have awakened the spiritual eye and invoked a sense of searching.
We are meant to be with people. We are meant to be known. And we are meant to be loved. But more than any of those, we are meant to be His, to be God’s beloved, and Him ours. To be restored in a First-love relationship with Him, with Him as our One desire, and us as the apple of His eye (Zechariah 2:8). And though not everything in life works out because of a glowing relationship with God, inevitably blessing flows… And usually, that bears good fruit and healthy relationships to come.
*Crabb, Larry. 2003. Soul Talk: The Language God Longs For Us To Speak. Nashville: Thomas Nelson.