Lonelier than ever...
I am still sweaty from one of the most energetic exercise classes in Charlotte. One hundred women of all shapes, sizes, colors, backgrounds, language groups all dancing and singing and laughing and having a great time. Lots of laughter and hugging and basking in the deep and beautiful energy of women together.
But I come home and feel lonelier than ever.
My husband is one of the funniest people I know. He can make a stroll through the supermarket a reason to wet my pants with hearty giggles. When we watch television together, his commentary makes me laugh so hard that my stomach hurts.
But when we turn off the television and drift off to sleep, I feel lonelier than ever.
At this point in my life, I have more friends, true friends, soul sisters who love me dearly, who would drop everything to take my call or come rescue me or vouch for me or take care of me without question, in my life right now than at any other point. They come to my house to hang out with me. They meet me for coffee. They invite me to lunch. They invite me to visit them all over the world. I have no doubt that these women are on my side, no matter what.
But when I hang up the phone, turn off the computer, or head back home after spending time with them, I feel lonelier than ever.
I have had boy-friends and man-friends. I have cousins, aunts and uncles, brothers, brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law, nieces and nephews, pastors and priests and other spiritual mentors that I have loved and that have loved me deeply and passionately in my 44 years of life.
But relationships change. Relationships end. Many have endured for decades. Even within the relationships that are likely to last for the rest of my life, I feel lonelier than ever.
I have several shelves of journals and photo albums that chronicle the many adventures and blessings I have had in my life. I often pull them out and reminisce around the anniversary of particularly meaningful trips. And on days when I feel the call of the road, I will choose a travel journal at random and joyfully relive the journey.
But when I put the journals and albums back on the shelves, tuck my memories back into their carefully labeled cubby holes in my soul, and return to my ordinary, daily life, I feel lonelier than ever.
Don't feel sorry for me. Don't worry about me.
This is a loneliness that I am learning to embrace.
This is a loneliness that I must live.
Henri Nouwen explained it this way:
It is important to move from a "first loneliness" to a "second loneliness." The first loneliness is a kind of emotional loneliness: needing friends, family, and home. But when all those needs are more or less met, you learn there is a second loneliness. God is calling you to deep, personal intimacy, an intimacy that is wonderful and very demanding. God asks you to let go of many things that are emotionally, intellectually, and affectively very satisfying. You must grow into the trust that this deeper loneliness is not to be overcome, but lived. You must live it with trust, standing tall. You must try to say, "Yes, I am lonely, but this particular loneliness sets me on the road to intimacy with God. It does not pull me away from God or my deepest self, but brings me closer to the source of love in the depths of my being."
It's very important for us to dare to welcome the fullness of our second loneliness because it relates to the oldest mystical traditions about the spiritual journey. The "dark night of the soul" is another expression of the second loneliness.
This second loneliness is one that sets me interiorly on the road to communion with the Divine and at the same time brings me in touch with my deepest self in relationship with brothers, sisters, and good friends.
It is paradoxical but real. The more I find intimacy with the Creator of my life, the more loneliness I experience. And at the very same time this loneliness offers me a new sense of belonging to the family of Divine Love that is much greater and more intimate than any belonging that the world can offer. The world of communion with the Great Spirit that is truly experienced as a world of loneliness and the highest level of separation from my human yearning to be loved, is also revealed to me as the highest level of belonging to the Creator of the galaxies and being part of the human race.
(Quotes are taken from Home Tonight: Further Reflections on The Parable of the Prodigal Son and From Fear to Love: Lenten Reflections on the Parable of the Prodigal Son - both written by Henri Nouwen.)
Mine is a loneliness that is rich and deep and thick and heavy - all at the same time. This is a level and type of loneliness that I have felt for a while, but until I read Nouwen's words I thought I was misreading my feelings. And I have certainly been mistaken in my failed attempts to fill the lonely place in my heart and soul.
For most of my adult life, I have believed that the right words spoken or written by the right person at the right time with the right tone of voice would make me feel alright. When the right people liked me enough and told me often enough how they felt, I was okay. For a while, my attention-gaining scheme worked. The right words and emotions and feelings and attention flowed in my direction freely and often. It felt great.
But it was never enough. I always wanted more: more text messages, more emails, more phone calls, more attention, more meals together, more sex. More. More. More. Undoubtedly, I have driven some people out of my life because of my desperation for approval and affection. To them, I owe an apology for my addictive behavior.
More than that, I owe myself a thousand apologies for all the ways in which I have broken my own heart and given the pieces to people who are even lonelier than I am and whose hearts are more wounded than mine.
Finally I get it. I understand that the relationships I used to cling to for dear life are not and have never been the source of life. The affection I longed for will never touch or caress or heal the deepest wounds in me. Marriage and friendship and companionship ease the first loneliness, but have no effect on the second loneliness. None whatsoever.
This second loneliness is not going away. I cannot shop or eat or drink or dance or exercise or travel or even write it away. I have found that it is only in my times of silence and solitude, prayer and meditation, pondering not only the wonder of creation but also the Creator, reading The Word and hiding it in my heart, grasping for and basking in all the time I can be alone with The Alone, that I discover that the depth and breadth and unsurmountable nature of this second loneliness. For brief periods of time, the loneliness eases. But finally, I am finding peace with being alone with and being lonely for The One who came to give me new and abundant life. I am profoundly lonely for and with the Lover of my soul.
Today, I confess that, with all the love and friendship and laughter and joy and peace that pervades nearly every area of my life, I am lonelier than ever. And I couldn't be happier.