For as long as I can remember, I’ve had two constant companions-along-the-way…God and loneliness. My earliest memory is from when I was 3 years old, sitting on Mrs. Brownridge’s lap in the rocking chair listening to her “read” me stories out of the Bible. It would be years later before I realized that although she had her Bible open, she was actually telling these stories in a way that a young child could understand. She made the characters come to life and over time, many of these characters became best friends…Daniel in the lion’s den, the Good Samaritan, Joseph, Jonah, Noah, and most of all, Jesus. How I loved to hear these stories. And I loved the wonderful songs that I learned in Sunday School – Jesus Loves Me, Jesus Wants Me For A Sunbeam, Can a Little Child Like Me – all were beloved treasures in my early childhood repertoire. So God was very much a part of my life right from those earliest years. And although my life has taken many unkind twists and turns and I’ve had to wrestle with God and even walk away from Him when His silence was too much to bear, He remains my most constant companion-along-the-way.
There are still too many unanswered questions and still some hurt in me over what my heart still sees as a betrayal in allowing Gary to die, but I’ve come to peace with the silence and the unknowing…I realized somewhere along the way that my love for God is not conditional on what He can give or do for me, but just because He is, and because He has been such an intimate, intrinsic part of my life for my entire life…I just love Him. I can still feel anger and hurt and betrayal, those are human responses to painful events in my life. But underneath it all and above it all is this unshakeable (and believe me, life has tried its best to shake it out of me!) love. I know I still have a very long way to go, I still don’t REALLY “get” that I myself am loved. But we’re okay now for all that we’ve been through together. It’s been a very long road.
And it’s often been a very lonely road. For as long as I can remember, loneliness has also been a constant companion. After 57 years, I still don’t have a clear notion of the why of that constant loneliness, although I strongly suspect now that loneliness might be the shadow side of solitude. I constantly waffle between the two. Sometimes being alone is nourishing and rich…sometimes being alone is painful and sad. It’s not even that I “do” or think any differently…I can be thoroughly enjoying my solitude one moment, and then suddenly without warning it darkens into an intense loneliness.
I’ve learned over the years to find ways to manage, or escape it. When that intense loneliness threatens to suffocate me, I immediately find something different to do…gardening, playing piano or cleaning the bathroom. If I’m already doing something and the loneliness creeps in, I sit down and start writing emails to friends, or praying, or researching something interesting on the Internet – anything to keep that loneliness from becoming too deep a hole for me to get out of if I allow myself to linger long there.
We’ve tried to dig up the reasons for that constant loneliness…years of therapy have uncovered all sorts of fascinating possibilities, but one can only dig around for so long before it becomes more tiresome and problematic than the original problem. So I’ve just decided that it appears to be something I just have to learn how to co-exist with. And so I do. And I’m doing well with it, most of the time. Sometimes it hits hard, and it baffles me how and when it can hit. As cliche as this sounds, the worst loneliness of all is when I’m surrounded by people. That’s never made sense to me, and even frustrates me, because it makes no sense, especially when the people surrounding me are loved ones, family and friends.
I do find it baffling that God and loneliness have been my constant companions….it seems like an odd juxtaposition. I mean, why couldn’t it have been God and Joy, or God and Peace, or God and Contentment…any of those would have made such lovely constant companions – and I’ve tried everything to make it happen. But no, for some reason that only God Himself knows, loneliness is it. Since I’ve tried everything I know of to change it, and it still is what it is, the only thing left for me to do for now is to change my attitude about it, change the way I think about it.
So I try to embrace that loneliness, because I do trust, now, that somewhere in its murky midst lies the golden nugget of wisdom and learning that’s waiting and meant to be found. I do sort of like the adventure of figuring it out. It reminds me of how a multi-faceted prism can reflect (refract?) a single ray of light into a beautiful rainbow. Somewhere in the depths of this loneliness lies that beautiful rainbow waiting for the Light to shine its way through just the right shards and facets of my understanding.
I look forward to that day when suddenly, without warning, I discover that Joy, Peace and Contentment have quietly and without any fanfare or grandiose triumphalism, become my new constant companions.
“But the more I think about loneliness, the more I think that the wound of loneliness is like the Grand Canyon – a deep incision in the surface of our existence which has become an inexhaustible source of beauty and self-understanding.. The Christian way of life does not take away our loneliness; it protects and cherishes it as a precious gift.” (Henri Nouwen)