Monday, February 2, 2015

Living in Loneliness

It’s been a few years now since I last wrote about my struggles with loneliness. While much has changed in my life since then, I remain single and lonely. However, much has changed in my perspective on my singleness and loneliness, and thus the motivation for writing this post.

I owe a huge debt to Rich Mullins. As many of you who know me best already know, Rich is undoubtedly the most influential person on my life who I never met and who isn’t also the Son of God. Much of my way of understanding God’s love and grace comes from the example of his life and the authenticity of his music. Even when I went through a period of significant doubt, I would listen to his music and know that there was something real and substantial that couldn’t be dismissed with the same skepticism I held for much of “churchianity.” In the years since, I have continued to be impacted by his life. Perhaps the fact that he was a single man until his death at age 41 plays a role in why I can relate to him so well. Recently, I re-read the book “An Arrow Pointing to Heaven,” which recounts Rich’s perspective on the 10 main themes of his life and music. In the chapter entitled “Bound to come some trouble,” his words on loneliness deeply resonated with me.

“I think that part of being human is being alone. And being lonely. I think one of the stresses on a lot of our friendships is that we require the people we love to take away that loneliness. And they really can’t. And so, when we still feel lonely, even in the company of people we love, we become angry with them because they don’t do what we think they’re supposed to. Which is something that they really can’t do for us.”

Rich recognized that loneliness is a fact of life. There is no escaping it. One of his closest friends is quoted in the book, “I learned from him that there is within us all, if we have the guts to admit it, a terrible void created by our loneliness for God that can never be fully satisfied in this life.” Rich saw the reality of loneliness. It is that which calls us to a relationship with our Creator, and since we only know in part what we will one day know in full, will not be fully satisfied this side of eternity.

I share all of this not to discourage those of you who are struggling with loneliness (I assume all of you). I actually find it quite encouraging. If we can learn to accept loneliness as a part of life and let go of our expectations that any person can fix our loneliness problem, we can begin to find freedom in the struggle. I’ve thought a lot about how this applies to my singleness. For so long, I looked at my singleness as a curse of loneliness, and that if I found just the right person, I could be cured. Many of you likely remember the movie “Jerry Maguire” and the famous line, “you complete me.” This works well in Hollywood romance, but it is far from reality. I’ve come to realize just how unfair it is to put that kind of expectation on someone. I’ve also come to realize that maybe being single isn’t such a bad thing because my loneliness can motivate me to find other avenues to connect with people. While I don’t expect any person or group of people to fill the void, having community is very helpful. Finding groups of people who are in similar places in life has certainly been a blessing to me, as well as being part of groups that are quite different from me. Being single has its advantages because I can join any group or take part in any activity that fits within my schedule. I don’t need the approval of another person to do what I feel like God is calling me to do. I am free to serve or minister in any capacity. Ultimately, this life is not about me and having my needs met, which is impossible, so I might as well let go of that vain pursuit and focus on giving to others.

All of that being said, I don’t make the most of my singleness. In fact, I often waste much of my time on selfish endeavors. This is why I need community. I need people to be around me, and I need to take the initiative to be around other people. I tend to shelter myself from the world, and that’s the beginning of trouble. Absolutely central to the idea of being like Christ is to be in the fellowship of others. Sure, Jesus had His time alone with God, but He modeled community in the fellowship of His disciples. It is also worth noting that our God exists in Himself as a community. Before the foundation of the world He was the model of love within His triune nature. This relationship of the Trinity is how we know that God is love, as visibly demonstrated by the Son in His obedience to the Father, through the selfless act of death on the cross on our behalf. The greatest commandment is “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind (Matthew 22:37),” and the second, which Jesus says is like the first, is “Love your neighbor as yourself.” To love God is to love others. You cannot truly do one without the other. There is no going it alone when it comes to being a Christian. It may seem like a contradiction, but we need each other more than we need a person. We cannot put on one person what we need from God, and individual people will always disappoint us. It is a burden too great for one to bear. A friend will always fail, yet we need friends. A wife or a husband will fail, but we need relationships.

The loneliest period of my life was when I was married. I didn’t need my wife to fill a void in my life, and I couldn’t fill the void in her’s. I needed the fellowship of believers. I needed people to provide support, that I could share my struggles openly, who would pray with me and I with them. I needed to experience the love of God as demonstrated through the Body of Christ. If I ever do marry again I know I will do this differently. I will not look at my wife as some kind of Messiah, the one who cures my ills. She will instead be the one who I choose to love and live with because God has spoken clearly to do so. She will be the one who He makes it known that it is better to marry than to remain single. She will be the one who draws me closer to Christ than I would be without her as my wife. It will not be about meeting my need to not be lonely, or satisfying my physical desires, it will be about answering God’s call to serve. It may be that God can use me better if I remain single. I am coming to a place of accepting that possibility. It’s quite freeing. The moment you take the pressure off of yourself that you have to find someone to marry, it is a great burden lifted off your shoulders. I do not need a wife specifically, but I do need other people in general. Whether or not I’m provided the former, I will take the initiative to seek the latter. And I will be lonely. But that’s OK. It just means that I still need God. And that’s a good thing!

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