Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Truth About Loneliness



Without question, the emotion that most consistently brings me to the very fringes of myself is not frustration, not anger, but garden-variety loneliness. For me, this is the root of all the others, the father of lesser evils that hacks my confidence off at its knees and assaults my joy.

The belief that I'm alone in the world, that no one has my back, has the power to crank my emotional equilibrium left of center. My rationality swerves for the ditch. When the dust settles, my confidence is measured in shards. 

Coming from a dyed-in-the-wool introvert, I'd be inclined to think I might be immune to loneliness. Give me a free day and I'll probably scoop it up and steal away alone. But there's a big difference in being alone and feeling forgotten or unseen.

In recent years, I've faced this struggle more than ever before. It's fleeting, but it always remembers my name. It hits in waves and leaves me gulping, flailing. I don't understand why God allows it. Shouldn't my faith be all the protection I need against this peril?

Just two days ago, I finally recognized the power Satan has over me in this area. Though a jerk, he's no fool. I hand him this weapon and he's found it quite effective. If he can convince me I'm alone in the world, at any given moment, I willingly fork over a portion of my holiness, no questions asked. He reacts as expected, fueling my pain as I lash out or become withdrawn or paranoid. He greases the rails of vindictiveness and I ride. He double-binds me to myself - the guaranteed recipe for disaster.

This web widens, my fragility dangling more precariously in the balance with each silky loop. I circle-back, telling myself I'm all I've got, better buck up. Better get used to it. Who needs them, anyway?

Friends, I wish I could tell you loneliness is a lie, the economy of the enemy, dealing empty hands with dead eyes.

But I keep watching the way God scoops me out of these valleys and I can't find away around it. It's certain beauty, and I'm not so sure anymore that these are even ashes.

Aren't we promised that following Christ means some of our relationships will be chipped up, or even fractured? Are we not signing up for a measure of rejection? Doesn't this count as suffering?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes in The Cost of Discipleship, "It is Christ's will that [man] should be thus isolated, and that he should fix his eyes solely on Him."

That is where my pitiful humanity wrecks this gift of loneliness. Over and over, rather than fixing my eyes on the One who loves me best, I frantically scan the horizon-line for a jeans-and-sneaks person to save me. I run to my husband, or my mom. Affirmation is only a text message away. From the security of the school pick up line, from the comfort of my kitchen, I can yell for help and someone will throw me a float.

And yes, this is community. Yes, God loves His people through His people.
It is our unequivocal duty to love the lonely. We should be linking arms with the outcast, remembering that sometimes the outcast wears $200 jeans and drives and Audi. Sometimes the lonely sits in a nursing home, but she also sits next to us on the bleachers at gymnastics practice.

There are times when He moves and heals through us, but he doesn't really have to. He's fully enough, and I wonder how long it will take me to really believe that.

I'd like to begin living this part of life differently. I'd like to allow God's work to be completed by Him, rather than throwing the keys to my sworn enemy, the one who despises my life and plots my ruin. I feel like my relationships and my sanity might be protected if I learned to lean into His presence rather than fumbling for the sick comfort of anger and self-pity.

I know God allows me to occasionally feel the burn of loneliness not only because He wants to rescue me, but because He's called me into community, where others are lonely. Sometimes we need to feel pain to recognize pain.


I am the one who answers your prayers and cares for you. (Hosea 14:8) 


So, if you're lonely tonight, let me remind you that you're not alone. Alone doesn't exist within the bounds of God's love for you.

Refuse to wrest this gift from the giver, passing it off to the author of pain. Hold it as an opportunity to be cared for by the only One who really can. Let Him heal you. Then bear your scars as holy tattoos, connecting you to the rest of His kingdom, marking you as The Healed.

The truth about loneliness is that it brings us to the edge of ourselves, which is actually the goal.
We can choose to nose-dive, but I'd really rather ascend.


45 comments:

  1. Struggling with this lately - well off and on always - and you express so much of what I feel, what I run from or to, And this "If he can convince me I'm alone in the world, at any given moment, I willingly fork over a portion of my holiness, no questions asked. He reacts as expected, fueling my pain as I lash out or become withdrawn or paranoid." describes it, though I had never looked at it this way. You have given me much to pray/think about.

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  2. How do you do it? You have such a way with words. Thanks for your honesty and vulnerability. It always blesses AND challenges me.

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  3. Beautiful. Words for something I have never been able to articulate.

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  4. Love this! I have an 18 year old graduate who is dealing with some of this (although it would kill him to admit it to me). These are words I can share with him as well as remember for myself. Your posts so far this year sure have been "meaty". I really love your light-hearted posts as well, but you really touch my heart with your words and you paint such lovely pictures that bring tears to my eyes. Thank you!

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  5. I have definitely been reminded these past couple years that God can take our pain and use it to comfort others who are hurting, to point them to the Hope we have in Christ. I love your heart and that you share it freely Ms. Shannon :)

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  6. "Sometimes we need to feel pain to recognize pain." I know this is true. Some of the things that have happened to me have greatly expanded my capacity to love others in the same situation - a situation I might not recognize or understand if I hadn't experienced it myself.

    I love the way you have been very, very open here about yourself but in the end turn the focus to offering hope for others. It is beautifully written.

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  7. Literally JUST wrote about this! Thank you- you are far more eloquent than I, in fact I was just whining about how lonely I felt and not saying anything positive about it. This was a real encouragement to me tonight!

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  8. You know, I never thought about loneliness this way. I am a major introvert as well, but really struggle with this issue. Thanks for putting this into words so eloquently. Your blog entries never cease to convict me and encourage me.

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  9. Just beautiful, girl. You're totally right. Not sure why I keep forgetting that God allows loneliness to drive me into his arms. He's been opening my eyes and heart to so many new things, but it's hard to find people around me who are tuned into the same frequency. Often the feeling of being alone is overwhelming, and I'll admit, I turn to the internet, where a new post about orphans or Haiti or Africa is always awaiting me, and in the moment, it feels so good to connect with like-minded hearts through this medium.

    But it's temporary, and really doesn't fill the void---and you're right, it wasn't meant to. It's good, this connecting-through-the-internet thing---but I admit, it's become easier to turn to my keyboard than to the Lord. I've been tricked and lied to and deceived by the enemy in almost every way possible in the last 2 decades, but none more than this: "God isn't enough. He's too hard to find. Find another." This lie has a hiss and fangs, and I am DONE listening to it.

    Thanks for your heart, Shannan. If we lived closer to each other, I'd bring you chips and salsa and give you a big hug!! (after I spent time with God of course, lol) :) xoxo

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  10. Songwriters: ROY TURK, LOU HANDMAN
    (Words & music by roy turk and lou handman)
    Are you lonesome tonight,
    Do you miss me tonight?
    Are you sorry we drifted apart?
    Does your memory stray to a brighter summer day
    When I kissed you and called you sweetheart?
    Do the chairs in your parlor seem empty and bare?
    Do you gaze at your doorstep and picture me there?
    Is your heart filled with pain, shall I come back again?
    Tell me dear, are you lonesome tonight?

    My mind went to this secular song Elis san, but in reading this first verse, I found it spiritual in many ways.

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  11. Thought provoking on many levels. Thank you.

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  12. But there's a big difference in being alone and feeling forgotten or unseen......OH YES!

    For our BATTLE is not against flesh and blood, but against angels and principalities....and the rest of Ephesians 6:10-18.

    Wield the sword!!!!!

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  13. Sitting at my kitchen table about to open the bible, but scrolling through my blog reader and this popped up. I'm feeling this exact thing at this moment. I'm feeling lonely, and like it's on my back to do everything, like I go unnoticed. I'm struggling with lashing out at my husband, etc. You just gave me a little hope and normalcy, and realization of the way i'm feeling is faced by others, too. Not going to let the devil control my life and my mind. Thank you for putting this so eloquently and honestly.

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  14. Thank you. This time of year is especially hard for me in this aspect. I know all pain can produce life if we will just let it. Thankful to have found your blog to connect. Plus I enjoy your pictures! And home! Blessings!

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  15. Thank you so much for putting into words so eloquently what all of us feel. Sometimes alot, sometimes not so much.
    For me, it used to be all the time. Now, it is not all the time because I know what works for me. I read the bible and/or my big book until I start to feel God's love surround me. I pray for comfort, guidance, and love. I always feel it if I am being sincere in my heart. Always.
    Thanks again for reminding us all that we are not alone and we don't have to feel lonely.

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  16. This is the exact time of year for this post. Winter can be depressing already and especially for people going through trails.

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  17. you were in my head on this one..
    and even more, my heart.
    realizing, HE ALONE is enough!!
    yes. and amen!!

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  18. Last Sunday our Pastor asked if there were any of us with a testimony to share. Not sure you realize how beautifully you so often share testimony that serves us all so well.

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  19. You pierced my heart! I have often felt lonely--at church, at home, and at work. How is God going to use my pain? To help me notice and help others, of course.

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  20. Joan Didion wrote in one of her essays ... "loneliness is not a longing for company, it is a longing for kind." This idea can be interpreted in a couple of ways, but I think all of them are good, It spoke to me and I've always remembered it. I want to be the - kind - other people need. The kind of person ... and even the kind of "kindness." I have learned the very best way to get inside myself ... is to go outside of myself.

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  21. I've discovered it's quite possible to be in a room full of people, yet still feel lonely. At some point, it reaches all of us. Truth be told, there isn't a community where lonely people do not dwell. You often find them in crowded rooms, wearing masks that look like smiles.

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  22. "Then bear your scars as holy tattoos, connecting you to the rest of His kingdom, marking you as The Healed."

    Oh, Shannon, this is beautifully said but the thought contained in the words is profound, sacred even. Wow!

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  23. Shannan, I don't have much time to read blogs these days, but for some reason I read yours tonight. I have tears in my eyes reading it. I needed to see this tonight. I needed to be reminded and know this. I feel like i'm spiraling out of control lately. This brought comfort. xo

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  24. "Alone doesn't exist within the bounds of God's love for you."

    Why do I forget this beautiful Truth so dang often???

    Love you so. xo

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  25. Half the battle is realizing where it's coming from. God's got us and won't let go. I love how you reaffirm His word in my heart.

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  26. Oh girl I know the feeling. I read this devotion this morning and thought back to your post...
    http://www.incourage.me/2014/01/sometimes-im-an-island.html
    Be blessed today !!!! : )

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  27. Best post yet. Seriously sooo good. It was for me and so many others around me that I couldn't share it fast enough. Thank you for writing it, you did a beautiful job.

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  28. I shared your link to this post and quoted you on my blog. I know I have friends who could benefit from this. I certainly did. I always appreciate your wisdom!

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  29. OH. MY. WORD.

    Are you following me? I'm buried under the heaviest case of loneliness I've ever felt in my whole life. These words.....are like a soothing swab of love.

    Thank you!

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  30. If I ever (please, God, no!) have to stop reading all blogs but one, I'm pretty sure I'll still be checking in on what you're up to. I mean everything from a New Girl obsession, to why you choose to support public schools, to this post, you really have spoken my heart several times since I started reading. I appreciate you so much.

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  31. sigh. was sitting with the anger slowly morphing into the self pity. trying to climb out but getting nowhere. these words, nailed it. got to the root of things. which made it possible to stop the nose dive and ascend.

    thanks.

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  32. The part of this that was the most powerful for me is when you describe Jesus, waiting for us with open arms, basically saying, "I'm here. I'm always here. hey you, over here. Remember me?"

    I wonder if you recognize the power of your ministry in this blog? How many you help see through another day with your words and your faith?

    Thank you.

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  33. It is satan's ploy to make us never feel lonely, never reach out to God in our loneliness. He wants us hooked up to the internet, our cellphones, our IPads, the television, in bars, at social events just so we won't hear his still, small voice. It is only in the quiet, often lonely times in our lives when we hear God the loudest. While it's sad to be lonely, it's even sadder never to be alone so that God can speak to us and we can hear Him.

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    1. When I speak of His "still, small voice" I meant to speak of God's voice. Satan's voice is always whispering in our ear and we need to avoid him at all cost.

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  34. "Alone doesn't exist in the bounds of God's love for you."

    We definitely aren't made complete by the crowds around us…some of the loneliest people I know are surrounded by mobs of people.

    What a glorious day it is when I wake up KNOWING that he is with me…always. to the very end. no matter what. those are good days. the best kind.

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  35. If you wrote a book, I would pass it out to all my friends. Thank you for being so on point about so many different things. Thank you for sharing.

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  36. I agree with all these before me. Beautiful description of what it is like to feel loneliness. And for me, its kind of funny (not lol but strange) that I can feel that loneliness while being busy. But thank you for expressing it in the way you do. I love your blog!!

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  37. Shannan, I have been a fan for years, but as a more spiritual person I have veered away. I still see and appreciate you but I am religious at all and the blog has become too preachy for my tastes...I wish you well and still love the recipe posts and pots about every day life! I just need to take a step back since I am not a religious person. hugs! it is all good!

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  38. You have such a gift. Thank you for sharing for those of us who cannot find the words.

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  39. reading your blog from my little corner brings me so much joy to see faith alive! Thanks for wearing it for all to see.

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  40. reading your blog from my little corner brings me so much joy to see faith alive! Thanks for wearing it for all to see.

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  41. I feel like you took this straight from my heart.

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  42. From the number of responses it is evident that many of us feel lonely. As someone who values my independence (maybe too much) I often confuse alone time with loneliness until I am in the pit with it. It's all confusing to me; I love people and I enjoy being around people but I definitely need a considerable amount of down time. Just not this much. I have kept children in my home so I could be home for the one still in grade school and bring in some income to support our two in college. It's been a blessing but I have been by myself most days for 5 years!!! Yes, I take the little ones out (when I don't have a whole brood that has to go into car seats) and I go to the park, etc. But on the day to day, I am alone with children two and under. And by the time they leave, I am in the throws of homework and church and practices with my own child. I am rarely in the community of believers and the isolation has taken its' toll. I did not realize how lonely I was until I was a really good partner to it. I think what shocked me so was how inward focused I had become. All of the sudden I was focused on the inequity of my life to those around me. Are you kidding me??? (As you said, I had become double bonded to myself.) I know without a doubt, that was moment was used by God as if to say, "enough here, let's move on." You are so right that Satan takes our loneliness and twist into the pit we walk right into. He dresses it up as independence, Me-time, whatever you want to call it. And none of those things are bad until we lose our focus and become me-focused and not God focused. I lost sight of His plan for my life, the beauty of the everyday He had put all around me, and my purpose (which in this time of life was to serve the littles and the young parents of them). I am excited about the days ahead now. I can be my own introverted self and yet, not be alone. I am learning to partner with God in a new way and the reassurance that He never lets go of us has stopped this free fall. I pray now that my eyes are opened to others who are lonely and I can help point them to the One who and has the best plans for them. wonderful post!

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