Invitation in Loneliness

June was rough. I found myself spiraling into self-preservation and feeling less and less hopeful about the state of our country. I know I wasn’t alone in this feeling and yet not having the usual places and unstructured time with friends meant I was trying to process everything alone. I was also taking two summer classes and still working.

Gratefully I know more or less what I need to do when these feelings start. Eat good food, rest, exercise, play, and make more space for reflection and meditation. In these practices, I quickly realized that a big piece of my emotional state was our collective growing acceptance that the pandemic was nowhere near done. Many of the short term adjustments we made needed to be reevaluated for their sustainability. I did not want to live the next 12 months in the same ways I had lived in the previous 4. I wasn’t sure what I needed to do, but just slowing down to hear this assessment was the first step.

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On a long bike ride, I realized that I was being invited to reconsider two ways of being. First, how I was connecting with others and second, how I was connecting with myself and God.

Henri Nouwen breaks down loneliness into these same two parts (The Return of the Prodigal Son). He calls to mind that when most of us feel those emotions of loneliness emerge we frequently say we need to be around more people. Sometimes we know it’s not just any people, it’s people who we feel our full selves around. If you’re able to meet this first wave often the bulk of loneliness will lift.

However, Nouwen invites readers to consider that perhaps we feel this sense of disconnection and loneliness also as a disconnection from ourselves. We miss that sometimes, that deep persistent loneliness is a reflection that we have stopped listening to our own souls, and for Christians to God’s quiet nudges. Maybe because of sudden traumatic upheaval, or a slow drifting away, we find ourselves in unfamiliar feelings and experiences without the support we need.

I know I missed my friends. I missed the fun we would have, the easy time talking about nothing in particular, that gave space to talk about the meaningful pieces of our lives. When I’m feeling down I tend to retreat inwards and so I needed to respond to that tendency to make intentional effort to talk (in real-time) with someone every day.

Second, I also realized that the first 4 months were extra crazy because there were shock waves of uncertainty, mistrust, anger over inequity, and lack of leadership. Mixed in with the Pandemic and racial justice demonstrations the first 4 months of the year (Jan-April) I was recovering from my own emotional breakdown after the church case. Reflecting on my own healing from emotional burnout, all that was happening in my family, circle of friends, and our country helped me place my problems in their true perspective.

I’m still reorienting from all that the first 6 months of the year upended and now heeding the call to deepen the ways I connect with my friends and family, with my breath and with prayer. Praying for wisdom (in the Serenity prayer) and for daily bread (in the Lord’s Prayer) reminds me to ask God for just enough light, just enough sustenance, just enough visions of goodness, and love to make it to the next day. I’m asking God to remind me that I have so much to share and to give as well. To direct my feet and my time towards justice, mercy, and healing.

With the practice of connecting more intentionally with friends and family AND with myself and God I’m feeling more ease, less anxious, and more connected. Every day brings its own uncertainties and each day I can remember my breath and my hope to live into God’s love.

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