Saturday, August 27, 2011

Only the Lonely

I believe that loneliness is something essential to human nature; it can only be covered over, it can never actually go away. Loneliness is part of being human, because there is nothing in existence that can completely fulfill the needs of the human heart.

Sometimes it seems as if we do everything possible to avoid the painful confrontation with our basic human loneliness, and allow ourselves to be trapped by false gods promising immediate satisfaction and quick relief. But perhaps the painful awareness of loneliness is an invitation to transcend our limitations and look beyond the boundaries of our existence. The awareness of loneliness might be a gift we must protect and guard, because our loneliness reveals to us an inner emptiness that can be destructive when misunderstood, but filled with promise for him who can tolerate its sweet pain.

~Jean Vanier, Becoming Human

We have a "no cell phones" policy at the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) Clinic where I work. We don't strictly enforce it, but the signs are posted in the hopes that when a client is called for her turn with the intake clerk, health screener or nutritionist, she'll be ready to give the WIC employee her full attention so the visit will move along quickly in respect to those whose appointments come after.

On a recent day as I was walking past the waiting room, I overheard a client carrying on a phone conversation that was peppered with vulgarities. The other clients in the waiting room were clearly disturbed by the foul language, especially since there are so many small children nearby. I stopped and reminded the client of the "no cell phones" policy and asked her to end her call.

Later that same day another client came into my office with her cell phone tucked between her ear and her shoulder while she juggled the baby in the her arms and the toddler by her side. She was telling her boyfriend that she needed to hang up because it was time for her appointment and then she began to beg him to call her back later. Her voice was a polite pleading strain that was rife with loneliness. I didn't have the heart to ask her to end her call and I waited while she completed her conversation. Listening to her speaking on the phone reminded me of my own loneliness.

I vividly remember those achingly lonely days at home when my children were babies and toddlers and I longed for some adult conversation. My favorite time of the day was 3:00 PM when Paul would walk in the door after a long day at work. Then, at last, I felt as if I had come to life, as if my day's purpose had finally been revealed to me in the person of my husband. Yet even with my husband by my side, my heart continued to feel lonely, my desires unfulfilled, my longing unquenchable. Little by little that longing turned to depression, a self-pity for something that I lacked although I had no idea what it could possibly be.

And now, even though I'm at work all day at a job I love, and my children are in school and my family arrives home before I do and are waiting there to greet me with smiles and warm embraces when I finally walk in the door, my days are still filled with longing and loneliness. No matter how busy and preoccupied I am with the tasks of life and the people with whom God has blessed me, it never seems to be enough, something is always missing.

Even with the wonderful blessings of a loving family, a meaningful job and a deep and rich faith, I can't help but carry a heaviness in my heart. I often stress and fret over what might be wrong and wonder about how I can ever find a lasting happiness in my life. My husband and children closely watch my face for signs of depression-any gloomy overcast appearance or the beginning of tears welling within my eyes and they are quick to worry and ask me what's wrong. Friends, too, ask me if I'm happy and I never quite know how to answer that question, I'm not quite sure what happiness feels like or if I've ever known it at all. There have been moments of joyfulness in life, most certainly, but underneath the joy there forever lurks a desperate want that can never seem to be satisfied.

But in reality, nothing is wrong and I am as happy as God has meant me to be. We are all lonely in this life and we deal with our loneliness through varied emotions-either with sorrow, giddiness or anger, or we hide it behind busy activities. God has placed a deep desire within each of our souls that can never be satisfied in this world. We are all working toward that glorious day of eternal union with Him and until that moment arrives, we can't help but hold an empty place in our hearts that only He can fill.

So I think back to the woman who had been swearing on the cell phone in the waiting room. Her behavior didn't draw out my pity; only my disdain. But perhaps I was wrong. Maybe what she really deserved was my compassion and patience, for her heart appeared to have been hardened by anger. Somewhere deep within her soul, there surely resides a loneliness, a longing for God, an emptiness that will not be filled by anyone or anything on earth, and she had buried it under a facade of bitterness and harsh words in the same way that I often mask my loneliness under the tears of depression, instead of peacefully accepting the natural longings of my human heart for my Creator. Perhaps when she finally escapes from the anger that controls her life, she will come to understand that she is simply lonely for God and she will understand that her loneliness will remain with her through every moment of each day in a restless desire for the only One who can satisfy.

"You have made us for Yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You."
~St. Augustine


  1. Anne - I think you nailed it when you said that God has placed a desire in all of us that cannot be filled in this world. And ironically, the closer we are to God the less fulfilled we probably are here on Earth!

    You have a wonderful family and a blessed relationship with God. I think that is pretty good for this world!

    My prayers are with you - God Bless.

  2. A priest once told me that the loneliness I felt was the absence of God, and that I could only expect to be reasonably happy in this world. I understand that now, at first it just kind of hit me though. As I think about things, I see that no matter how blessed I have been by the Almighty, that my true happiness is when I am with Him and Him alone.

    Wonderful post Anne, God bless you!

  3. PS.. I love the picture you have use here. It says so much.

  4. Thank you for this post, Anne....Here I thought I was the only one that felt this way. And through amazing grace, you put it into words so perfectly, together with that beautiful reflection in the beginning. It seems that this loneliness grows as we draw closer to God and realize there is no one human that understands our journey. It is comforting to realize that it is the human condition and makes sense that it will never be satisfied until we are home, safe in the arms of Jesus. Until then, the loneliness demands greater dependence on the Sacred Heart that we long to connect with, hence preparing us for that home. It feels like we can only get so close but just can't find that 100% peace. I suppose this must be part of the purifying and chiseling that God is doing. This makes me thankful that He loves me enough to keep working on and with me...He must know that I need it!

  5. I can relate to all you've said here - your words have really helped me today.
    Thank you!
    grace and peace..Trish

  6. Anne,
    Your post reminds me of something that happened to me last year. I felt very depressed and went to visit my mom. I told her how terribly I hurt inside and she just quietly listened. Somehow the subject turned to God. Ten minutes later my mom said, "Mary, your face is shining with joy. You're not depressed right now...the minute we started talking about God your face lit up." She was right, Anne. Part of my pain is because I believe that God is everything in a world that (for the most part) believes He is nothing. Your story made me think of this. Don't get me wrong, my mom wasn't pointing out that I am never depressed but simply that all someone has to do is start talking about Him and I feel better :) Weird, huh? This even happens in my own house - I can't figure out why everyone else doesn't find God as fascinating as I do.

  7. Anne, beautiful. You captured some of my feelings at times. God really does make all the difference.
    I hope I can recognize the loneliness in others too as you did.
    And that quote for Jean Vanier was beautiful too.
    You write so beautifully. Thanks. God bless.