I don’t presume to grasp fully this feeling, but I’ve had my encounters with it. It is what brought me to my knees, as a figure of speech as well as literally, over two decades ago.
This year I’ve read a handful of books, mainly on parenting to help me to better tackle this role, but everything I’ve read has helped me better understand myself, my childhood and human behaviors in general.
It is said that the teenage stage is a rough patch because it is a season of spiritual awakening, and it is a hard labour, no matter who you are, your background, your circumstances. Some are lucky to have a more spiritually awake community that helps the teenagers progress through this maturing stage, namely certain tribes and the community focused cultures.
My story with loneliness is pretty common I think. I hadn’t quite hit puberty. I was just entering adolescence. I was twelve and I had returned from Vatra Dornei, a youth camp where I was one of the youngest attendees. I was starstruck with studying of book of Jonah, the singing, and simply the community. My 16 year old brother was there. It was because of him that my parents allowed me to go. We didn’t spent time together at all, but I didn’t care. I was plugged and hooked.
As I returned home, the home I remember so fondly always, and my parents were there, busy with Christmas and post Christmas work, my brother traveled to Cluj, and I, all of a sudden, felt lonely. A loneliness that was crushing, it caused me physical pain. I remember how cold and strange my own home felt. It was soppy the absence of community. Since then, I recognize this after-any-camp-or-holiday-feeling-of-loneliness, “post social blues”. Which eventually goes away, obviously, but for me back then it was a catalyst. I used it as my soul searching catapult. I dived deeply into it. I asked this sadness where it come from and what it wants from me. In all honesty, I wasn’t so articulate, I think. I only knew I felt lonely and I decided I couldn’t do life on my own, that I needed God desperately. So I asked Him into my life. With such intensity and sincerity, I asked Him to make me worthy of His dwelling in me, and forgive my sins. Oh, I was quite aware of my shortcomings as a twelve year old. And I cried with passion and abandonment. The feeling of light and lightness that surrounded me soon after, it was out of this world. It ls like the Light that Steinhardt describes in his Journal of Happiness. I was basically high on the Spirit. I grew up learning about God, reading the Bible, studying, and all that knowledge was a great foundation, but it was not enough to bring me joy. That moment was a turning point in my life, and I have embraced loneliness fully. I started enjoying retreating to the other room to read, to study, when everyone would watch TV. I delighted in my times with my own thoughts, whenever: riding the train, the bus, the plane. Being home alone. Choosing alone time is empowering.
Learning to guide my train of thought, into prayer, was something I learned as a kid, at a camp. They said the devil doesn’t like people praying and he will try to distract you. But you diligently pull back and try to refocus on praying, talking with God. As an adult I hear about these strategies for calming and western meditation, yet this is all stuff I leaned and practiced as a little kid, learning to pray.
It is one thing to be physically lonely and be able to articulate, that this is what or how you feel. But I think it’s so much harder to fight the appearances and the stigma of loneliness as an adult. I was reading a book about exhausted pilots in the army. It turns out they felt lonely. Loneliness takes so much out of people. That sense of isolation is one of the main reasons for depression.
I think it is also painful to be surrounded by friends and family, and yet feel lonely. Loneliness is the sickness of our present times.
This holidays, we were on house arrest because Jackie got chickenpox, and the fever broke after the last day of pre-school, just before Christmas. But much like when I started dating Conrad, and I had this pleasant feeling, that I’m not supposed to be anywhere else, that nothing else beyond the present mattered, that’s how I felt this Christmas, with just our small nucleus of a family. What a gift that is! To not wonder what others are doing, not fret, not worry… But my heart aches for whoever feels lonely during the holidays. When this feeling is probably most acute.
Just as I told Conrad, and I’m not sure he tastes my otherwise serious thought connections, I tell him his anxiety is God’s voice calling. Or his loneliness… it’s another gentle nudging. To turn to Him fully, pay undivided attention. Ask Him to speak to your heart. And tell Him you want to hear whatever He has to say, even if you won’t like it. Ask Him to speak bluntly. Because after a while, of getting familiar and comfortable with His voice, His presence, it is His silence that is the most painful.
Brene Brown spoke at the beginning of this year in front of a congregation. I googled her first TedTalk just as I started reading her last books. She spoke much like she would in a TedTalk, and the one analogy she used cracked me up and rang so true. She said that if she and God were a couple and went to counseling or couples therapy, the therapist would say, after only a few minutes of talking with them that they still have that spark, after decades of sharing life together, the love is unaltered and so beautiful to Watch. On the other hand, if she and church would go to therapy, the therapist would shake his head after only a few minutes of listening to them disagree, and say: “enough already. You need to go your separate ways. You are hurting the children…” I laughed. At both of these comparisons. Because both hit so close to home.
I wonder how many feel lonely in their church, in their marriage, in their homes. Personally I value the pain of loneliness. I would not want to numb it. Related to numbing, one of the few points of tension with my parents as well as in-laws, was my aversion to medication of any kind. Not out of principle, nor do I have a terrible story to support my aversion. And yet, while I get my vaccines, and abide by my doctor’s instructions and prescriptions, I just don’t need nor want to take pills for any and all things. And especially pain medication. Conrad thinks I suffer unnecessary pain. But I believe I remain in touch with my body. And while I can bear the pain, I don’t want to numb it. Because I have developed a higher tolerance to pain, the moment I start numbing it, my tolerance built over time disappears faster than it took to build. It’s a mental resistance I guess.
So I don’t like to run away from discomfort, physical or emotional. I always gain something from staying put to own my fight.
Being emotionally illiterate is the incapacity to recognize and verbalize emotions. I think these things are best learned starting early, in kindergarten, even earlier, with the help of a healthy community and family. And yet, our society perpetuates the emotional illiteracy, from generation to generation. It’s a tendency I notice, not a fact. Our full spectrum of emotions is messy and apparently uncontrollable, because it can degenerate fast. But if we build solid layers of understanding of self and other, the construction of emotions can’t fall down at any light wind.
It takes courage to acknowledge and admit our loneliness, and it’s just the beginning. But it’s worth the trouble.