Loneliness…..the result of a gift from God?

Loneliness. It gets a bad rap. One reason for that is, I think, that when we feel it, if we have not learned to identify why we feel it and what to do with it, it can throw us back into an emotional state that we likely experienced early in life – for some in childhood, for some in adolescence, for others at some point of trial later in life. It is a universal emotion. And what we experience when it occurs is sort of a PTSD reaction, triggering a response to something very deep and primeval in us that has traumatized us in the past. Psychological theorists have all kinds of thoughts on loneliness- that it is related to our search for identity, that it represents a dysfunction in how we approach our human need for intimate attachment or connection to others, that is arises because we lack the proper boundaries to know how to self-disclose appropriately and in that improper self-disclosure (which can be experienced as “neediness”, “weirdness” , or “aggressiveness” by others) we find ourselves rejected by others. There are, I’m sure numerous other theories about loneliness’ cause, role in belief systems or behaviors, and contribution to depression and even suicide. But I want to offer another view of loneliness. I think it is a condition that may occur as we develop the cognitive ability as children to begin to be aware of something that is, in fact, put in us by God. In Jeremiah 24:7, the prophet Jeremiah tells us that God has placed within our hearts a desire to know God, that He is our Lord and that we are His people and we will return to Him. I discovered years ago that the most important thing for us, as human beings, from God’s own perspective was for us to “know Him.” How He revealed that to me has been the subject of a number of conversations and reflections in my weblog. And He has created us with that capacity to do exactly that….know Him. In our developing minds, as that desire begins to stir, it is often filled with imaginary “friends” or best friends of the flesh kind, or attachments to a parent who, for small children, often represent the nearest thing to “god” that we can imagine until our brains begin to grow into the capacity for less concrete ways of thinking. If our early environment is meager in terms of warm, loving, accepting, steadfastly present-with-us nurturing people who can be our first benchmark for knowing what “god” is like, then we may be handicapped in our ability to attach to God and to others as genuinely and securely and intimately as was intended by God (another consequence of the falleness of humanity as a result of sin) . To “know” someone beyond our selves and to “be known”, intimately, in return, is a longing of the heart. In puberty and adolescence, that yearning to “know and be known” intimately begins to stir attachment desires, too, but at that point, self-identity and peer relationship issues dominate the scene and quickly it evolves into sexual identity issues and romantic relationship attachment needs. Fears arise that one may not find “The ONE” and being alone or being alone AND misunderstood drives behavior, mostly to avoid that which we fear and not necessarily to find that for which we were created. The longing in our deepest personhood that was put there by God to know Him gets derailed for the time being….but, not to worry…..God has multiple routes back to Himself as “The ONE” for which our hearts long! And He will bring opportunity after opportunity for us to discover the REAL purpose of that longing. I was in my early 40’s before I recognized the relationship between loneliness (which I first recall experiencing seriously as an 11 year old after two family moves disrupted friendships and my sense of having a “place” to call home.) and God’s wooing me into intimacy with Himself through it, using it as a homing beacon for the real “home” I longed for, at rest in Him. But after every failed friendship or failed romantic relationship, or disappointed expectation, or challenge to one’s sense of self arising from any source….we can experience the PTSD-like emotional trigger of the recognition that we’ve been here before, in a profound sense of loneliness, of missing out on “knowing and being known” authentically. It may, over time and with repetition lead to despair, contributing to depression or the consideration of suicide. Some of us are more resilient than others and can shake it off and move on, find another purpose, person, or “place” on which to hang our existential hat, who we feel we are and what gives life meaning. But eventually, even our own resilience, if it rooted in hanging our identity on appearance, intelligence, strength, social position, security found in financial status, connectedness to another individual or other transient things, will be worn down and we’ll find ourselves having to face the loneliness question again…why is it here and what do I do with it? If a journey toward spiritual maturity has not been being accomplished along the way through association with others who are on the journey, then this is the moment that it may become a real possibility for one to consider. After all, like King Solomon (see Ecclesiastes in the Bible), we’ve tried everything else and found it all like chasing the wind, merely “vanity”. If we turn to God at that point and say, “if you’re there……”, we find that He has indeed been there all along and simply waiting for us to make the connection between the longing in our heart and His unique Being which was intended to fulfill that longing all along……”the God shaped hole” that suddenly seems to be something to fill the void when nothing else did. For Christians, as our answers to the “why and what now” questions of loneliness begin to be answered by the growing personal relationship with Christ, our identity in Him grows and we come to trust, hopefully more and more steadfastly and undoubtingly, in His love and care for us. If our spiritual journeying is determined and consistent, following hard and fast after Him, our “God attachment” becomes secure and we will never experience the loneliness again as being completely alone…He is there. There will still be loneliness…transitions happen, security is challenged, people die or leave…our secondary identities will continue to change from time to time, but our primary identity Anchor holds and keeps us moored through such storms of life. Also, we find that human relationships become easier to enter into intimately and authentically after coming to know Christ because now we are no longer putting all of the demands for meeting our emotional need for “knowing and being known” on any single person and other people can remain present with us and not be pulled under in our formerly dysfunctional way of grasping and clinging to whatever person or thing (read “idol”) was close when we felt the water get rough. So, loneliness serves a purpose….to draw us back to the heart, in its woundedness, and to discover there the ability placed there by God to know Him . I think it is telling that the Scripture says that people “will return to God with their whole heart.” After we chase the idols, after we feel the longing , after we have experienced the pain of loneliness enough to know it is rooted deep within us, and someone helps us see the truth, we do return to that which God has been re-presenting to us again and again for all of our lives….God is with us, incarnate. We are not alone.