“However most of us our reluctant to admit our loneliness even to ourselves. All of us tend to have a congenital need to deny that we experience loneliness and that it is, in some way, responsible for many of our feelings, actions, and pursuits… We admit that we are lonely only with feelings of shame and weakness. Also, most of us feel that loneliness is not something that should affect normal, healthy persons… Unfortunately, too, the cost of our self deception is high. We pay a heavy price for not admitting our loneliness, facing it squarely, and grappling with it honestly.” -Ronald Rolheiser
This quote comes from the book “The Restless Heart” by Ronald Rolheiser. This is easily one of the best books I’ve ever read and one that I’ve read more times than I can count. I love Rolheiser’s nuanced, thoughtful perspective on loneliness. He identifies many types of loneliness. Some examples are…
… the loneliness that comes from being alienated from others (what we normally think of when we hear the word “loneliness”).
… the loneliness of being in relationship with others, but not being fully known.
…the loneliness that comes from our culture’s mobility. People, places, and organizations are constantly changing or moving away.
…the loneliness of rootlessness. With our culture’s breakdown of the nuclear family, people are losing their sense of belonging.
…the loneliness that comes from losing touch with our spiritual heritage and history.
…the loneliness caused by media and advertising. The media constantly presents us with ideal people, relationships, and things that we can never quite attain.
…the loneliness of living “as in a glass darkly”. Until we reach heaven, our relationships with God and with others are imperfect and only partially satisfying.
I’m realizing that loneliness is a universal human experience. Even the most social, extroverted people probably experience feelings of loneliness from time to time. I also find it interesting that we tend to be so private about this completely normal human experience. I wonder how much more fulfilling our relationships with others could be if we felt the freedom to admit our loneliness rather than hiding it from others.
In “The Restless Heart”, Rolheiser quotes psychologist Carl Rogers. The quote reads as follows:
“I have most invariably found that the very feeling which has seemed to me most private, most personal, and hence, most incomprehensible by others, has turned out to be an expression for which there is a resonance in many people. It has led me to believe that what is most personal and unique in each of us is probably the very element which would, if it were shared and expressed, speak most deeply to others.”
I have found this to be true in my own life. The seasons of loneliness that I have experienced have actually resulted in some unexpected gifts. I think that sometimes God allows us to go through times of loneliness because it increases our sensitivity and empathy for others. Only by being lonely ourselves, do we understand the loneliness that others experience. I also think that seasons of loneliness cause us to be more thankful for deep and meaningful relationships when we do experience them. Most importantly, though, I’ve found that loneliness has the potential to draw us closer to the Lord and the intimacy that he offers.
And that is by far the greatest gift.