All the Lonely People

A mom who doesn’t feel any freedom to be honest about how difficult motherhood is […]

Charlotte Donlon / 10.17.18
  • A mom who doesn’t feel any freedom to be honest about how difficult motherhood is for her.
  • A college freshman who turns to boys and alcohol because she knows she’s too much, because she knows she’ll never be enough.
  • A man who is interviewing for a new job, hoping this will be the one that will make success a possibility.
  • A woman who has a secret she will never share.
  • A child who was told her role was to be seen and not heard.
  • A patient in an inpatient psychiatric facility who knows she needs to be there.
  • A husband and wife who live separate lives in the same house, who rarely have meaningful conversations, and who have both committed adultery. They found no satisfaction or comfort in those relationships, either; only more shame and sadness.
  • A woman sitting alone at church who hasn’t spoken to anyone in person since she passed the peace the previous Sunday.
  • A new bride who wonders why her marriage and husband haven’t satisfied her soul the way she anticipated.
  • A retired widower who misses his wife, who has no other family in town, whose main interactions are with his physicians and his pharmacist.
  • A boy whose teacher yells at his class multiple times every day. She reminds him of his mama, but his mama died of cancer three years ago. He doesn’t remember her yelling at him, although he’s sure she did on occasion. He wishes he could remember her.
  • A man who has eaten dinner alone every night for the past two weeks. He longs to be married but suffers from anxiety and depression and doesn’t believe anyone could ever love him.
  • A woman who has everything she could ever want—a loving husband and children, dear friends, a comfortable home, a fulfilling job. But she can’t shake the deep sense of loneliness that lingers.
  • A pastor of a church who is having an affair with the wife of one of his elders. He planted his church so people would have a safe place to fall apart, but he never thought it was because he needed a safe place to fall apart.

That’s just a fraction of the full list of lonely people because the full list would be impossible to create because the full list would contain all of our names. As you can see, I’ve been thinking about loneliness and I’ve been thinking about the secrecy of our loneliness.

I’ve suffered from feelings of loneliness since I was a young child, even while surrounded by friends and family, while engaging with others in meaningful ways, while enjoying fellowship with God. The huge secret that no one talks about is that we are all lonely—even those we least suspect. Some of us feel the depth of our loneliness more intensely because of our wiring or our wounds or some of both. But I’m convinced all of us know some degree of loneliness even though we don’t talk about it. Well, I’ve seen poets talk about it. Poets are great at naming what the rest of us want to avoid.

I’ve been ashamed of my loneliness ever since I was old enough to know shame. As a Christian, I used to assume my loneliness was a sign that something was wrong with me. Maybe I didn’t have enough friends or the right types of friends or a Godly marriage or the right kind of relationship with God. If I were really in communion with God and others, would I feel this lonely?

I recently stumbled across a loneliness quiz online, so of course I took it. The quiz told me I’m not lonely. My results literally stated I have nothing to worry about. I do not recommend this quiz because I do have something to worry about. I’ve come to believe everyone does.

By this point, you might be trying to track down my contact information in order to reach out to me and make sure I’m okay—to be a balm to this loneliness of which I write. I appreciate your thoughtfulness, and maybe we can hang out one day and lessen our aloneness. But unfortunately, there’s nothing you can do. While I do sometimes suffer from aloneness, the kind of loneliness I sense most deeply is what Dr. Tom Varney calls “core loneliness.” It’s not simply aloneness or feelings of rejection. He says of core loneliness, “This kind of loneliness is more basic, more fundamental to our existence as human beings, and it is seldom discussed or even acknowledged.” He describes it as the type of loneliness that lingers even while we enjoy meaningful relationships with God and others. He says it is inevitable and a result of the fall. He even says core loneliness is necessary because it makes us long for eternity when God will wipe away every tear and welcome us into perfect fellowship with Him.

Communion with God and others are good things. Healthy doses of community can diminish our feelings of aloneness because we are designed to be in relationships with God and with people, but being a Christian will never fully remove our core loneliness. On this side of Heaven, not only are we stuck with the aloneness we sometimes experience because relationships are formed between people who are selfish and pretty good at wounding and rejecting each other, but we are also stuck with this core loneliness that can make us feel isolated, different, awkward, unworthy, and out of place even while we are in relationships with God and others.

If this is how it will always be, what do we do with our aloneness and our core loneliness? If this is how it will always be, how do we respond? How do we move through life with a sense of isolation and loneliness that hums deep inside us like the refrigerator in my kitchen? How do we move through life with this sense of isolation and loneliness that will never dissolve, never disappear?

I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I’m asking God to point me in the right direction. If I apply a lesson I’ve learned from facing other types of suffering I’ve known throughout the past several years, it’s probably safe to say that even though our loneliness will remain, it will always be interrupted with glimpses of beauty, tastes of true rest, and moments of genuine connection. These gifts from God distract us from our core loneliness, if only for a brief time. When we wake early enough to give our attention to the rising sun and have an opportunity to thank God for a new day and for His new mercies; when we experience a period of deep rest in our relationship with God and are able to believe—by His grace—that we are His beloved children; when we gather with friends or loved ones or neighbors and feel that undeniable energy and spark that sometimes appears in the midst of true, authentic community; when we know this beauty, rest, and connection, we forget about our core loneliness for a bit and experience a sense of refreshment that provides a measure of comfort until the next glimpses appear.

And in-between these sweet interruptions of beauty, rest, and connection that God provides, we can compare notes—even if we have to whisper. And we can be lonely together.