Sunday, April 5, 2009

Spiritual Loneliness

Ever since Eden, mortals have suffered from alienations: from themselves and from others. This estrangement from the good, from benevolent relationships, traces back to our first parent's rebellion against God. Instead of resting in perfect love, they sought out more than enough. The result was banishment from the garden and the immiseration of women and men, boys and girls down through the millennia.

We are, thus, lonely--among other ills. What is the ontology of loneliness, it being and essence? Perhaps loneliness is the mode of being inadequately alone, of being apart when we should be together, of incompleteness aware of its state. We are separated from needful company and harmony. We are poor in ourselves and can find no one outside of ourselves take away our misery.

The chronically ill and their partners often suffer from an acute and aching kind of loneliness. It is both physical and spiritual in nature. Physically, those weighed down and laid out by one or more chronic maladies simply cannot have much fellowship outside of medical and physical necessities. You may visit a doctor (or three) this week, but you will not attend a play, see a film, or have a leisurely dinner with your husband. There is no time, no energy, and too much pain--or too high a cost to any outing. You may make it through, but you will pay for it for days or weeks. When I first met Sherri Connell (of The Invisible Disabilities Advocate ministry) it was outside and in the sun in downtown Denver. We talked for only about twenty minutes. She was pleasant and not bitter, but she said, "I'll pay for this for weeks." Sadly, I knew what she meant.

The partners of the chronically ill face their own separations. They are alienated from normal life, from vacations, from expected forms of life. They stay home when home is not where one may want to stay. They feel guilty leaving home alone, their loved one left behind. Yet they must do so from time to time. But even then, they are alone, for their loved one is not by their side. And even if he or she was there, this could bring its own frustrations: fatigue, sensitivities, arguments, curtailed expectations...

Lonely, lonely, lonely
Loneliness is such a drag!

So said a celebrity in his mid-twenties in the midst of a meteoric rise to fame in which he redefined rock music and the vistas of guitar playing. A man who was nearly worshipped by the masses, who had as many women as he wanted, who was the envy of guitarists worldwide, wrote that lyric. Jimi Hendrix, who would die from a drug and alcohol overdose not long after (1970) also said, "Everyone thinks I'm free; but I'm just running."

Running from loneliness often generates more of the same, just experienced at a faster pace. The wind may be in your face, but the ache remains in your heart. But I am not concerned about celebrities in this post, but those wounded by chronic illness. How can loneliness be met with grace and courage for us?

I really do not know. Some benefit from support groups of those facing similar problems. Others hate that. Why be around people with just my kind of problem? How depressing! Moreover, they do not find much within to offer others. Yes, thank God for friends who will offer sympathy and even empathy--listening to your woes although they have not experienced them and praying for you in ways that others cannot because they have never listened.

I do take heart that God himself understands. Jesus was utterly alone on his Cross, forsaken by both God and man. "My God, my God. Why have you forsaken me?" He was more alone, more afflicted than anyone else ever has been or will be. This Jesus endured this for us. He knows from the absolute inside what loneliness is--utter separation of all that is good and life-giving. He died that way.

Yet Christ every lives for those who caste themselves on his matchless mercy. "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted." We must bank on that promise, no matter how lonely we may be or stay. The one forsaken and alone is now with us--now and forever.


  1. I liked this post. Every paragraph hit home.

    I can particularly empathize with the difficulty in not being able to go out and do anything even for just 20 minutes--or else we'll pay for it for several days afterwards.

    It also seems that our friends really only have very limited understanding of all we're going through. It becomes more and more difficult to relate to them.

    Interestingly enough, you mentioned going to the doctor. My trips to the doctor (who is 2.5 hours away) have actually started to become enjoyable. It's the only time when I can really get "out".

    And I have often felt I have a unique perspective on Christ's sufferings (although based on your post, I am not the only one). I feel I have come closer to experiencing what he did in the Garden and on his way to the Cross, than many.

    And I'm not saying that in a "woe is me" kind of way, but in almost a grateful kind of way.

  2. Doug,

    I wish that I had the right words to say that could help you and Rebbeca with your challenges in this life but, if they exist, I can not seem to find them. Caring may be one of the most difficult things to communicate. The feeling is there, but the words to express it do not seem to come easily. I want to be able send you some kind of support and hope that it some way this little note does.

  3. Steve:

    Thank you. I do hope you will ponder what I said about the reality of Jesus' on the Cross, what he did and what it means. This is Holy Week, wherein we remember the events leading up to the crucifixion and resurrection. May you enter deeply into these realities.

  4. Deron:

    Thank you for the thoughtful response. Doctor visits can be redeeming, in more ways that helping us get better physically. We can come to appreciate the doctors and nurses. We also need to put on the full armor of God for these excursions, since the enemy and his minions like disease, death, and fear--things that are common in hospitals and doctors offices. See Ephesians 6:10-18; Colossians 2:14-15.

  5. Instead of resting in perfect love, they sought out more than enough.(Chronic)

    It begs the question, "How perfect was that love if the need for more than enough crept in?"

  6. TfT:

    That is "the mystery of iniquity" in the language of the King James Bible. The creature was given the ability to chose against the Creator, and did so. The evidence of history and our own souls bear witness to it. Pascal says that without this mystery (which is not an absurdity) we remain hopeless mysteries to ourselves. I wrote a chapter on this basic idea in my book, On Pascal. I'd be happy to send you the chapter for free over email if you'd like. Just give me your email address.