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Following Jesus

Loneliness and Love in an Age of Isolation, Part II

September 24, 2019 by

This is part 2 of a series. Read the first post here.

What can catapult us out of our isolation? This is the question I asked in my previous blog post. Most of us sense that being wired together in virtual “connectivity” isn’t cutting it. Our sense of loneliness persists, despite our nifty means of communication. What are we to do?

First, we must recognize that only God can truly fill the black hole we feel inside ourselves. Filling our lives with people and activity cannot satisfy us deep down. Ours is a God-shaped vacuum. In the words of Blaise Pascal:

What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in us a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This we try in vain to fill with everything around us, seeking in things that are not there the help we cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself.” (Pensées VII, 425)

Second, we can realize that loneliness is not the same as being alone. Rather, it is an unmet craving to love and be loved. This means relationships can never be ends in and of themselves. Healthy relationships foster and nurture communion with one another. That communion, however, arises from our being mutually connected to God – which Soren Kierkegaard refers to as the “Third One.”

Worldly wisdom thinks that love is a relationship between one person and another. Christ’s life teaches that love is a relationship between three: person-God-person. However beautiful a love-relationship is between two or more people, however complete all their enjoyment and all their bliss in mutual devotion and affection is for them, even if all people praise this relationship – if God and the relationship to God is left out, then this is not love but a mutual and enchanting illusion. For only in love for God can one love oneself in truth. To help another human being to love God is to love another person. And to be helped by another human being to love God is to be loved. (Provocations, Plough, 2002, p. 100)

Third, we must understand that loneliness is only overcome when we no longer need the world to revolve around ourselves. “For the entire law,” writes the apostle Paul, is summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Gal. 5:14). In short, if I am hurting inside and yearn to be listened to, then I should listen to others. If I can’t manage right now, and wish for help, then I need to lend a hand to someone who needs it. If I keep succumbing to sin and destructive behaviors, then in solidarity and humility I should reach out and bear another’s burdens. If I feel terrible about myself, then I should go out of my way to affirm someone else who feels the same.

people of all ages hanging out together at the Bruderhof

The prayer attributed to Saint Francis, as familiar as it is, still holds liberating power, if only we would give ourselves to it.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

Finally – going back to my first blog post – we need to humble ourselves. If we feel relationally starved and disconnected, it is very likely because we have failed and let others down in some way. This is why we need forgiveness so badly – both to forgive and to be forgiven. Without forgiveness we only spread our pain, and thereby exacerbate the cycle of isolation.

Loneliness is an invitation to love, an invitation we must accept every day.

When I finally asked my father to forgive me for not being the son he needed (despite his failure); when I finally told my wife, after one too many arguments, that she was right about the shaming “demon” I unleashed on her; when I could openly admit to my students, on whom I’d loaded far too much homework, how haunted I too was by always having to measure up – only then did my sense of estrangement, within myself and from others, begin to dissipate.

Loneliness will never disappear, at least not until God makes all things new. Nevertheless, loneliness need not dominate or define or depress our existence. “We shall see face to face,” Paul writes; “then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (1 Cor. 13:12). This is a promise we can hold onto.

In this light, and despite our age of isolation, loneliness is an invitation to love – the invitation we must accept every day, if we are ever going to find it.


 
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About the author

Charles E. Moore

Charles E. Moore

Charles E. Moore resides with his wife and daughter in Esopus, New York where he teaches Bible and Christian Thought at The...

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  • Charles, good stuff! loneliness sucks. thanks for the writing, my friend. Ivan (I'm Will Barrons Dad)

    Ivan Barron
  • Dear Sebastian, Thank you ever so much for sharing your thoughts and feelings in response to my blog. I can only agree with you. “Doing” alone is never an answer to anything. “Being” is always very important. In fact, “doing” can often be an escape. For anyone in crisis, the best help is to feel the presence of others. This, however, is often the problem. We are often not surrounded by others who can genuinely care and uphold us. Although God is always there for us, he has designed us in such a way that he wants to make his presence known through people. So again, this can be a dilemma, especially if one is or feels all alone. For me, this is why prayer is so important. God is, sometimes, our only lifeline. And yet, paradoxically, I have personally found that when God alone becomes my lifeline he somehow leads me to others or others to me. Loneliness and isolation, therefore, can never be overcome by sheer force of will or activity. The “doing” of faith must somehow grow out of something deeper—ultimately God’s love. Much courage and strength and peace to you! Charles

    Charles Moore
  • Dear Charles, I frequently read an appreciate your posts on the website very much and basically I also agree with this one. But this time I found something I dislike: The slight emphasis on "If you need something, first do something". I think I understand where you are coming from, but for somebody who is in a personal crisis and really needs compassion and help an advise like this can be very frustrating or depressing. Not to say that it has a touch of legalism. In order to be able to reach out to others in a sincere and genuine way, I first need to find Gods peace. And for this I first of all need help from others. This does not mean that I never feel lonely or the like afterwards, but I have a totally different foundation for acting differently and not based on my emotions. If I don't have that foundation an advise like that or similar to the prayer of Francis is purest cynicism. I love the Bruderhof very much, yet one of my observations during my time there was, that there is often more an emphasis on "doing" something right instead of "being" right before God. In a few cases I could notice, how Brothers (members) who obviously didn't have peace of heart were very eager to "do" things right and meet expectations, but not so much to fundamentally work on their relationship with God. I don't want to be negative, but your posts brought back to my mind some notions and experiences on the community. And its a great community. Dear Greetings Sebastian

    Sebastian