As we cycle, again, through the Church season of Lent and now enjoy 50 days of Easter celebration, I reflect on the ways that God is always offering us resurrection in our lives. Indeed, counseling itself is of little value unless we believe, at core, in the hope that resurrection can give us -- a vision of real transformation, healing, and new life.
Sure, it sometimes takes another human being to remind us of this hope (and many counselors joyfully hold this for us in moments our own hope has failed us). But, God challenges each of us to envision the more that is available to us, even if there are seemingly some contradictions in our present circumstances.
In my own life, during this past Lenten season, I was challenged to sacrifice not just some temporal pleasures, but also to offer up more places in my heart that I settle or resign myself to less. In these areas I have to be vigilant, lest I lose hope for the fullness of resurrection life.
For me this came back to transparently offering to the Lord (and to my church community, friends and colleagues) the unique challenges of walking through life as a "single" soul, that is not currently married or in a serious dating relationship. The contradiction of good and true desires for intimate human fellowship with the reality of moments of loneliness can be an area of frustration and confusion. And it is one I can tend to white knuckle through, not acknowledging the real challenges or vulnerabilities it brings.
In my counseling office I am often struck by the ways that single souls navigate the feelings of loneliness and struggle to hold out hope for true resurrection and abundant living.
I see the real pull of a virtually projected self that invites people to "swipe left" or "like" a digital profile. I see the temptation to a hookup culture that offers quick physical gratification in spontaneous sex-with-strangers and the rush of lust and emotional infatuation. I see individuals who are married to strangers who seem to no longer see or know them and are tempted to pull the plug and find someone else altogether. I see some amazing men and women who are absolutely great gifts suffering losses and rejections from others who aren't acknowledging the real treasures in front of them.
I am blessed to walk with a lot of people suffering deep feelings of aloneness in this life. And in these beautiful stories and souls, I see firsthand the significant ways that loneliness impacts a human soul. It can tempt us to settle, compromise convictions, grow weary or bitter, doubt God, criticize the goodness of oneself, comfort ourselves with addictions or become so busy that the feeling is pushed to a back corner of the soul.
Truth is, what God said in the garden is still true today: "It is not good for man to be alone" (Genesis 2:18). We are communal beings at our core, and from our earliest days our bonding, relationships, and security in our relational environments remind us of our need for others, no matter our relational state.
Attachment theory has brought to light many of the ways that connection impacts us, even from infancy. If we have healthy enough early foundations, we grow through the eye contact of mothers, the presence and attunement of parents and good caregivers, and the affirmation of fathers who see and bless our value and potential. If we move forward well, we find some security in our peer relationships, people who tell us that we are good-in-community, worthy of being in relationship and a blessing to it. With good foundations we advance into the formation of a secure identity, enjoying the gift of being man or woman, offering that gift in intimate relationships, and our vocational/ professional worlds.
But what if we have breaches in early areas or prolonged years of aloneness in areas where we desire intimacy? What of seasons where we desire more connection and deeper relationship but cannot find it?
For me this Lent, God invited me to bring this struggle more fully to the light before people and in circumstances that stretched me. I found myself sharing in front of my church, in the midst of small group, and in ongoing ways before those I trust most deeply. This sharing, an area that I can tend to white knuckle through or feel shame and unmet longing in, is becoming, in itself, an opportunity for communion and connection.
Ironic, isn't it?
If you, today, are struggling with places of loneliness in your soul-- whether due to your relational state or other feelings of being missed, rejected, or misunderstood-- can I invite you to press into that a little more deeply? As we continue in 50 days of Easter, can I challenge you to bring this area forward in a way that invites resurrection life to enter into your driest and empties places?
As you do this, my hope is that you will take some new ground and perhaps you can engage some truth and see if it can settle more deeply into your soul. Consider reading these statements aloud over the next 50 days and see what happens:
- I can release the shame of loneliness, believing that my desire for connection is God-given and good.
- I can seek out community (church, counselor, friends, etc) who will let me speak honestly with them about my needs, struggles, hopes, and desires.
- I don't have to settle for connections that are "exploitive" in nature.
- I can create boundaries with people who offer me "surface" connection, but in the end take more from me than is healthy for me to give them.
- My longings for intimacy are an opportunity for me to connect with my own humanity and a way that I can understand and empathize with others.
- I can be vulnerable without fear or shame.
- I can believe that my relationship status is not an indicator of my ultimate value or worth as a man or woman.
- I choose to pursue abundant life in my current state believing that God has more life, peace and joy for me, whether I am living in abundance or lack or feelings of loneliness.
I love the promise of Isaiah 43:19, which says "See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? ...I provide water in the midst of the wilderness and streams in the wasteland, to give to my people, my chosen..."
If loneliness can feel like a wasteland, let us together seek water from the One who desires to refresh and connect us with His new life! springing up, life!
Abigail Foard MA, LPC, NCC