Thoughts on loneliness

Jun 11, 2018

In order for loneliness—as real as it is—to deplete us, we must feed it.

Loneliness is the perfect setup for self-pity. No one comes to see me; pity me. No one asks how I’m doing; pity me. No one invites me out; pity me. But that’s only the beginning of the problem. Not only do others not see the problem or do anything to address it, but I don’t do anything for me either.

We simply withdraw within ourselves to confirm our misery. Withdrawal itself becomes our only response to an already barren environment. Now there is nothing but emptiness outside and emptiness of our own making inside, as well. There is nowhere to go but further down, both psychologically and spiritually.

But loneliness is another kind of call to go on growing in ways that take us beyond dependency on others to the creation of life’s most important resources within ourselves.

Loneliness is a sign that there are whole parts of us that cry out for development. After all, we are meant to be more than our social lives. We are meant to have inner lives that are themselves rich and satisfying. It is a matter of learning how to become good company for ourselves. We are not meant to lie awake at night wondering if someone, anyone, will come to our rescue. We are meant to be our own best friends.

And at that point, I am the only one who can rescue me. The others can accompany me. They can look out for me. They can offer me support and understanding and care. But if there is something missing in my life, I’m the only one who really knows what it is. I am the only one who can put it there.

But loneliness is about more than simply figuring out how to use time while we try to forget the pain that comes when we’re at loose ends. It is also a call to make other people’s needs our own. What we learn in loneliness is that everybody needs someone. The question at a time like this, then, is, Who needs something I can do for them? It’s time to get involved with someone else’s emotional support in addition to my own.

Loneliness is not the end of anything. It is the starting point at which we are able, this time, to choose fresh ways of being alive. Most of all, loneliness is not a call for other people to take care of us. Loneliness is the call to ourselves, now that we have acquired a better understanding of it so well, to do something to alleviate the loneliness and needs of others. Dag Hammarskjöld had a keen understanding of an affliction of the soul that easily keeps us awake at night and feeling hollow during the day. “Pray that your loneliness,” he said, “may spur you into finding something to live for, great enough to die for.”

—from Between the Dark and the Daylight: Embracing the Contradictions of Life by Joan Chittister (Image)

Between the Dark and the Daylight by Joan Chittister

Between the Dark and the Daylight by Joan Chittister

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