When loneliness threatens to swallow you whole....
The unscheduled hours often felt like a cavernous vacuum. We didn't know how to live our lives without someone telling us what to do, where to go, when to arrive, and when to leave. What did normal people DO with all their spare time?...I'd told myself that leaving The Assembly was the solution we'd been waiting for, that freedom was all we needed to create our new-and-improved lives. I'd assumed that I could easily cobble together a patchwork quilt of belonging. If I drank Diet Coke, wore the right clothes, attended a thriving megachurch, and made friends with Southern California Christians, I'd find my place. I'd find my home. —excerpt from Girl at The End of the World, page 152, 154
Here's one thing I know for sure: loneliness is real and it keeps coming back.
Perhaps loneliness is a kind of homesickness.
What if my loneliness is homesickness for God? What if loneliness is homesickness for home I've rarely known, a home more Person than place?
I've tried to assuage this homesickness with everything other than God. I've done this with "good things" like small groups and Christian conferences and scrubbing toilets to pay for my daughter's ballet tuition. I've also tried to fill the homesickness with dangerous things like alcohol and sarcasm. All of these things end in disappointment.
Do you want to know the times I've felt most lonely? Directly after a big, success. Right after a big speaking engagement. Right after an appearance on national television. Right after a packed-out book signing. Right after a conference. Right after a deeply intimate moment with someone I love.
I'll be flying home or going back to my regularly-scheduled life and I can feel it: a black cavern of loneliness cracking open inside me. Sometimes it makes me scream.
I've worked through some of this in therapy—the panic and emptiness is sometimes a result of self-sabotage. One of my core negative beliefs is that I'm not good enough, that I don't believe I deserve success or good things in my life. So, when good things happen I feel like it's a mistake or a fluke. I feel like a fraud.
But there's another aspect to my loneliness: success truly highlights how empty and unfulfilling it all is, how NOT GOD it is. In fact, the bigger the success, the more NOT GOD it feels. The bigger my accomplishment, the more lonely I feel.
I am learning that a tiny sip of God is much sweeter than an ocean of personal achievement.
I am learning that I am precious and free. These days I find God in the backrooms and basements of 12-step groups. I find God in our common fellowship of brokenness, not successes.
I find God in the deep, bottomless chasm of my loneliness. I find God in the nothingness.
This nothingness takes me to the beginning, to the the nothingness before creation. It is "formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep..." (Genesis 1:2, NASB).
I am learning that darkness is nothing to be scared of because even in the darkest nothingness, God is there, the Spirit of God is "moving over the surface of the waters."
And in that nothingness, I breathe a prayer: "God, all that I am—please, take it. I'll do whatever you want because my way has led me down all the wrong paths. My way leads to greater pain and disappointment. Teach me Your way."
I am just so tired of trying to fill my homesickness with something other than God. I don't have any other ideas. I don't have any more "tries" left in me. I need Jesus and that's all there is to it.
Here's another thing I know for sure: all of us are lonely and when we help each other, some of that loneliness melts away.
I feel the least lonely when I make food for my children and teach them about God's love. I feel the least lonely when I help old people, when I do volunteer work, when I buy the homeless guy a lunch, when I go to bed numbering all the things in my life, when I call my mom just because I know she likes phone calls, when I write a note of encouragement to someone who is going through a stressful time, when I hold space for a friend who is struggling, when I help a young mom who is frazzled with her new baby, when I listen to my husband talk about his business, when I smile at a stranger.
Service is the antidote to loneliness.
Pope Francis' visit to the United States inspired me to dedicate more of my life to service. Today, I am putting that into action. This afternoon I'll begin teaching First Communion classes to 2nd graders. I am terrified and feel inadequate. But I can feel the Spirit "moving over the surface of the waters" and so I'm stepping out in faith...God, I offer myself to You. Do with me as You will for Your will is always good.