The good kind of lonely
When I asked the Lord to prepare my heart for this season of Advent, I expected to feel joy and a sweet longing for His return. There’s been that in small doses, but the overwhelming sense (gift?) has been one of loneliness, the kind that goes beyond wishing for a fuller social calendar. I am craving intimacy, the knitting together of souls, knowing and being known. Perhaps this is not a cheerful thought for Advent. But then, this is a season of waiting, of longing, of quiet, of anticipation. Maybe lonely is exactly the right word. And maybe that’s a good thing.
In their book, “Boundaries in Dating: How Healthy Choices Grow Healthy Relationships,” Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend unpack the novel idea that maybe loneliness is not an altogether bad thing.
Loneliness is not the enemy here, however. When we are lonely, it is a signal that we are alive. God created us with the drive to connect and be attached to himself and others. It is a good thing, because loneliness ultimately leads us to relationship, and that is where God wants all of us. We are all members of one body (Ephesians 4:25). Relationship cures loneliness. (p. 165)
Romantic relationships aren’t the only place to make this kind of connection. In a recent blog post, Scott Sauls identifies not just marriage but also friendship as the iron that sharpens us to maturity:
For Christians, the point and trajectory of marriage and friendship is the everlasting union between Christ and the Church. Our goal whether single or married is to prepare ourselves, and also each other, for that union.
… why would we not welcome a significant other—be it a spouse or a friend or a small group or a mentor—to be a faithful partner for the healing of every part of us?
Yes, we need Jesus, but He’s also designed us to need each other and when we don’t have each other — when our souls are not knit together — we are not fully ourselves. The times in my life when I feel most “spiritual” and close to God have been when loneliness is at hand, and that can be a sweet and blessed thing. But that kind of loneliness also spurs me to examine what Scripture says about relationships. I’m convinced that when God adopted us, He brought us to Himself, but also into a Family. We belong to Him, and we belong to each other.
The Knitting of Souls
And here’s the rub. If we are going to wade into deeper waters with each other, if we are going to follow the beam of loneliness back to our need for God and each other, then we are going to have to do the hard and inconvenient things. We are not excused from each other or from the body of Christ because we are married, or single, or have a disability, or a full schedule, or a free Saturday.
So how do we practice this, the art of soul-knitting? I have some ideas. I am terrible at all of them! But they are worth working on.
1. Pray. And pray and pray. For opportunities to connect, for the right mindset, for a right understanding of marriage and friendship and small groups and mentoring. To be placed in the path of the right people, and vice-versa. For a heart that genuinely cares for others at least as much as it cares for itself. For open eyes to see it when God builds friendships. So often, I’m looking for a friendship to be a certain way that I can totally miss out on something new that God’s doing. And almost always, I have to pray for BRAVERY, because insecurity and the fear of rejection can be as real in friendship as it is in dating.
2. Go first. God has always been in the business of making the first move with us. He extended a hand in friendship long before we even knew who He was. So be a good imitator of your Dad, and go first. Don’t wait to be invited; make the first move yourself. Initiate the conversation. Invite someone (or a whole family) over for dinner or out for lunch. Ask someone how their day was but also ask how their heart is. That connection we’re craving can’t be filled with chatter about the weather. Whatever you do, do it first and make a safe space for the other person to respond.
3. Embrace the awkward. Maybe this is just me. I’m 50 Shades of Awkward. I blurt things out without thinking them through. I answer the question I understood, not the question that was actually asked. As a single lady, I’m still not sure what to do with myself when I’m socializing with a family. I’m great with babies, but I have no idea what to talk to a 5th-grader about. Sometimes I miss social cues and overstay my welcome. And I handle small talk about as gracefully as a cat in roller skates.
We all have our things.
We could choose to avoid socializing because we don’t want to make fools of ourselves, but this is what I am saying: Do the hard stuff. On the other side of awkward is that sense of belonging that we’re all craving. Don’t give up on a budding friendship or relationship because you’re afraid of your own weirdness or turned off by someone else’s. Be patient with yourself, show grace, and do the work. Power through the awkward. It’s worth it.
4. There is always something you can do. Most of my conversations about loneliness and connection often end on the same note: “It’s just that I’m so busy.” But something I preach to myself often is that there is too much one-anothering happening in Scripture for me to believe that it’s optional. If we’re not busy one-anothering, then maybe we’re too busy with the wrong things. Generally speaking, and barring grave illnesses or other extenuating circumstances, there is always something we can do.
For example, my schedule does not really sync up well with those of other women my age. Most of my peers are moms with young children. They might be free during the day, but I’m at work. I get off at 5, when they’re just gearing up for the night shift. And some friends live far away, which makes getting together harder. Are we doomed to never knowing each other? No! It just means we get creative. We go out to lunch or I join their family for Thanksgiving or I use a day off to drive an hour to spend an afternoon or they give up dinner with their spouse or family so we can take our time catching up. We email. We text. We make sacrifices. We embrace the inconvenience. Soul-knitting is just that important.
There is always something you can do. Embrace the awkward. Go first. Pray. Our souls depend on it!
(And if you ever find yourself in Lawrence on a Sunday afternoon, come over. We can have takeout or leftovers or I can throw something together that looks weird but tastes delicious because my culinary skills are all over the map. We can eat on the couch like savages. It will be GREAT.)