Friday, January 10, 2014

Bittersweet Loneliness

            I’ll admit something here.  I have always been a lonely person.  I have prayed for deeper friendships, and I have sought to establish strong relationships with others at various times.  But many of these efforts didn’t work, and I still found myself lonely.  And I lamented this for years, feeling like something was wrong with me and like it had to be different for me to be happy.  And this is one big “should” that I have had to face, to give over to the Lord. 

            I come from a very broken home.  My mom and I have never had the close kind of relationship that other mothers and daughters do.  (To be fair, it’s as good as it can be right now.  But we've come a long way, through many messy years.)  And my biological father doesn’t really have anything to do with me.  And it always seems that no matter how hard I try to develop lasting friendship, no one else needs me the way I need them.  And this has been a source of extreme sadness and ache for me.  I just don’t feel like I have people who I can lean on and who really want to know me.  (Expect my husband and kids, my old college roommate, and one or two more friends-in-the-making.  But even then, I only talk to a friend about once a week because we are all so busy and I don’t have a car to get out and visit with people.)
            I’ve always felt like people “should” have deep friendships.  “Should” need each other.  “Should” have a family-of-origin that is their strongest, most lasting support system.  “Should” visit regularly over coffee and share prayer requests with each other.  But what do you do when your dream doesn’t match reality?  When you never had a real friendship with members of your own family-of-origin?  When people you thought were friends let you down?  When you can’t find someone to share the journey with?
            I struggled with this for years, until I realized that loneliness is not a terminal condition, but it is a choice, in a way.  A state of mind.  We may not have much control over being alone, but we do have a choice about if we will let it get us down or not.
            God helped me get over me discouragement of being lonely by challenging me to see my situation in a different light.  One day while I was talking this over with God and myself, the thought hit me that if I lived on a prairie somewhere centuries ago, I would be in the middle of nowhere, with very few people around me.  And this is not too different from how I feel now.  And then I asked myself, Would I be able to handle this loneliness if I were on a prairie?
            And I decided that I would be able to graciously accept it because that’s the way it would be on a prairie; I wouldn’t have any expectations that things should be different.  And it dawned on me that if I could be content about loneliness under prairie conditions, then contentment really is a choice.  It was my expectations about how things “should” be that caused my discontentment.
            But if I could be content then, I could be content now.  And so I chose to be content with the loneliness.  I chose to accept it.  And I stopped asking God to bring me more friendships, and I started asking Him to help me bear the loneliness better.
            “Lord, if I am always going to be a lonely person, help me be the best, most God-glorifying lonely person I can be.  Use my loneliness to open my eyes to the pain and needs of others, so that I can touch their lives and bring a little of Your light to them.”
            It’s a great blessing to get what we ask for, but it’s a greater, more eternal blessing to learn to be content without.  I can’t necessarily change my circumstances (trust me, I’ve tried), but I can change how I live in them.  And this was a huge key in helping me shift my focus from my despair to how I could glorify God anyway and be a blessing to others, even in the loneliness.
            While I wish that things could have been different, I am learning to be content (most of the time) with things not being what they “should” be.  One of the greatest blessings of learning contentment has been learning to find God everywhere, to see touches of His goodness and grace and love and mercy in everything.  Even in places where I never thought to look for Him before.  In the unfulfilled dreams and longings.  In the past hurts and present losses.  In the “give” and the “take away.”  In the loneliness and the aching heart.  In the mundane, daily tasks of living, as I serve the Lord by doing my best to serve my family or as I talk with Him while washing dishes, soap up to my elbows.  And in my favorite place - in the solitude of my own backyard - as I experience His friendship in the colorful roses and the curious chickadees, the industrious bees and the marvelously different patterns on dried beans.  God’s goodness is everywhere!
            I don’t need to strive to make things different than what they are; I just need to learn to sit back and find God where He has placed me today.  Because if I can find Him anywhere, in everything, I’ll never really be lonely again.
            As I said before, over the years, I have learned to be thankful for the hard lessons.  It’s not the way that I would have wanted to learn them, but it’s the way they happened.  And that’s just life.  I just thank God so much that eventually all things will be made right.  That in eternity, relationships will be what they are supposed to be and I’ll have the closeness and depth that I crave.  But until then, my focus should not be on what I don’t have, but on what I do have and on how God can use it to be a blessing to others.  For His kingdom and for His glory.  Amen!