Making Friends with Loneliness

This is taken from a book called Riches Stored in Secret Places written by Verdell Davis seven years after her husband died.

The need to love and be loved, the need for companionship, the need for a feeling of connecting with someone is a daily part of our existence.  When these things are missing from our lives over a long period of time, the resulting loneliness often seems to threaten our sanity.  It becomes an ache that feels very much like physical pain, and it goes on day after day after day.  Then we will do almost anything to escape it, just for a little while, even when we know it will come back when the pleasure produced by our escape passes.

There is nothing wrong with an occasional soothing balm for the open wound; the danger is in those means of escape that lead us further from ourselves and further from the healing graces that only God can give — and that only in time.  Some escapes in themselves are destructive, and others are self-defeating.

How do I keep from being engulfed by the emptiness that often cries out for anyone to please give me a hug?  How do I turn my endless nights into occasions for magic moments to happen in my soul?  How do I take the silence of my house and let it become a “garden of solitude”?  How do I come to see loneliness as a gift I can unwrap and find therein treasures I might never have if I only curse the darkness?  How do I keep from running so fast and so hard that I can’t feel the loneliness and thus miss the blessing?

I tried busyness.  I have tried reading voraciously.  I have been accused of being permanently attached to my telephone.  I have spent hours at a time writing in my journal.  I have begged God to send relief.  I have bribed family and friends by cooking for them or by treating them to some entertainment.  Although some of these have become self-defeating and some have led to pure fatigue, gratefully, I was able to stop short of searching for escape in more destructive ways.  The real danger for me was in giving in to loneliness as a way of life and dying inwardly long before I died physically.

I had to get very angry at the persistence of loneliness before I let it become my teacher instead of my master.  As time went on, loneliness became a pain as real as the pain of grief, and equally as paralyzing.  I did become angry, angry that loneliness pervaded my whole life like a bad cold that leaves you miserable but not sick enough to go to bed.  And I got very tired of the sadness that accompanied it.  I yelled into the silence, “Please, God, what am I supposed to do with this?  I’m going down for the third time!”

Well, He didn’t take it away–He sent me into what I call the laboratory of loneliness.  Instead of getting easier right away, the loneliness became vicious.  Like the pain of grief, there was no way around it.  I had to go through it.

I found inside of me one last door that, in all of my dealing with the issues of my life, I had avoided opening.  It was labeled SINGLE, and when I opened it, I found all the things I was sure I couldn’t handle.  This room frightened me so much I had put a padlock on it, built a moat around it, and stocked the moat with alligators.  But alligators don’t scare God.  So, in His severe mercy, He led me through the treacherous moat and into that room.

Having married young, living alone was something I had never had to deal with.  Neither was singleness.  I found myself a very reluctant middle-aged adolescent.  I was a fairly young widow but definitely an older single living in a world of married couples.  I didn’t know where I fit in.

I was frightened of my vulnerability, but more frightened to ignore it.  There didn’t seem to be a map for the maze I found myself in.  So I had to stumble through, not knowing what lay ahead.

I asked myself questions I couldn’t answer.  Did I really want to put myself in a position to lose again and hurt as badly as I have these last few years?  Will keeping the door on that part of my life closed protect me?  Or will keeping the door closed eventually make me cold and distant?  Will opening up to new possibilities with all the uncertainties inherent in new relationships make me more fun for even my kids and my friends to be around, just because I am not being so protective of my feelings?  Will the loneliness ever go away?

I knew the cure for my loneliness was not finding another person to spend my life with but in coming to a comfortableness with all that makes me who I am.  So I lived the questions.  For a very long time, it seemed.

As I struggled long and hard with all the emotions that accompany aloneness, I sometimes felt that God had abandoned me.  One time I took a walk in anger and asked Him if He really knew what He was doing.  I was angry because I needed that tiny touch of human companionship I had been waiting for, and then was deprived of through something I felt God could have intervened in had He so chosen.

I thought of what C.S. Lewis said in the early days of his grieving the loss of his wife, Joy; “Not that I am (I think) in much danger of ceasing to believe in God.  The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about him.”

I wrestled at yet another level with God’s promises, with His love and His wisdom, with His sovereignty and our free will, with His doing what is best for us when we see it differently and plead with Him to do it our way.  What I was actually wrestling with was whether I was going to trust Him with this part of my life too.

I came to see that God was right all along.  An intriguing allegory began forming in my thinking.  There was inside of me a room that for too many years had held something akin to a caged animal.  As the animal became more and more aware of its hunger, it began to pace furiously, looking for a way out of the cage.  Even though with the longing for freedom came a fear of what might be out there, the hunger kept the animal from simply lying down and accepting the cage as home.

Then one day the Trainer who knew all about the animal allowed the door to the cage to be opened.  The surprised animal burst through the door only to find itself in a larger pen with very little food, and the only opening being guarded by the Trainer himself.  The angry animal began to run wildly around the pen growling insults and accusations, and occasionally lunging toward the opening in the hopes that the Trainer would relent and let it out into the spaced beyond.  Yet, each time, the Trainer stood firmly in the way, never giving explanation why the animal must stay thus contained.

After some time the exhausted animal began to slow its pace and look more carefully at the food that had been provided, at the realities of true freedom, and at the possible motives of the Trainer for standing in the gap.

Soon the Trainer began to quietly speak.  The animal had to be very, very still to hear the words that would bring a sense of peace to its tired and troubled spirit.

“You may have thought you were, but you were not ready for freedom.  Your hunger was too great.  You had become so accustomed to the caged way of thinking and relating that immediate freedom would have destroyed you.  You needed some time in a larger arena, but an arena with safeguards.

Oh, I knew the fences would make you angry.  And I knew you would blame me for teasing you with a little food and a little freedom, and for standing between you and what you thought you wanted.  But I know you better than you know yourself.

It had to be this way.  You had to be fed slowly so you would later know how much is good for you and how much would be harmful.  You had to have time to get used to the new inner compulsions, so you could control them rather than them controlling you.

You needed me to protect you, not from the one whom I allowed to open the door to your cage, but from yourself.  You were too vulnerable to the forces at work inside of you.

I understood your anger when you yelled at me, and I felt your tears when you cried them.  I, too, suffered when I was tempted, and because I was tempted, I am able to  help those being tempted.

So you see, I stand in the gap as long as it takes for you to become acquainted with the intensity of your passions so long denied.  I will let you out into full freedom only when those passions are your servant and are no longer in danger of being your taskmaster.

When that the Trainer stepped aside.  The animal felt rather than saw that the boundaries had been removed.  It need look no further–for its freedom was within.

And so in loneliness I again saw a wise and loving God at work.  He has a purpose in all that He does, in the pains He allows as surely as the blessings He bestows..  He would teach us, as oft as we need it, that our sufficiency is in Him.

One response

  1. Wow! That is so good, once again, Candy! That is real food for thought! I too have had all those feelings, and been paralyzed by this new ‘lonliness’- our stories are very similar…. I will meditate on this new thought. Thank-you. ~Sheri


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