I married Steve when I was 19, having lived with my sister before that and a bunch of college women before that and my parents before that. I was steeped in the tea of togetherness for as long as I could remember. If there was one thing I really craved for most of my life, it wasn’t more people but more solitude.
When Steve got sick in 2011 and then died in 2015, I was worried about a lot of things, like finances and kids and decisions about our house – but I wasn’t overly worried about being lonely. I knew I would miss him, but I really felt that I was the kind of person who could handle long stretches of aloneness. Other than a specific, recurring nightmare that I had to spend Christmas alone (I know – it’s weird what our brain conjures up, isn’t it?) I felt like I was well equipped and prepared to face my new life without a spouse. And it went pretty well for the first year. I don’t have much more to say about it than that – maybe I didn’t have time to focus on it while trying to rebuild a life for my family, but I don’t remember it being a pressing issue.
Recently, though, especially since returning from Italy, I have discovered the dark, quiet of a lonely life in ways I had never imagined before. I can’t say exactly why it’s happening or why it’s so hard now, I can only say with certainty that it is. And yeah, I have kids living here (though they aren’t here much) and I have a great man just three hours away and friends and family who love me. Yet, often when I wander through my empty house, the silence and solitude feel crushing, suffocating. I run into it in the wee hours, when I wake up alone in my bed, alone in my room – and I gasp to get air, to get hope into my lungs and I clutch the covers tightly and try to hang on until morning. Sometimes I decide that 4:00 a.m. is close enough to morning and I get up, make coffee and run to the refuge of my couch, waiting for the sun to shine beams through the window and remind me that a new day = new mercy.
Let me be clear: this is not a desperate cry for help. My friends and family care for me SO well. My kids are unfailingly kind and thoughtful. My boyfriend works hard to make sure we connect every day and to be available when I need him. I am the luckiest girl in all the land to have such amazing people in my life.
And yet, there’s something about being single that is weary and wearing. Coming home to an empty house often, going to bed alone every night, facing each day on my own, even just sitting down to pay the bills alone…these things create the ethos of my existence. They are unchanging and sometimes unrelenting in their gnawing, empty consistency. Is Jesus in this season? Without a doubt – I feel Him more present than ever before. Is He precious and good and true to His word? Absolutely. But sometimes my heart still feels overwhelmed by all this quiet.
So, what to do with loneliness? I think my best and worst answer is: I don’t know yet. I thought I knew a year ago, but turns out it just wasn’t really an issue then. And I know what I should say: Read your Bible, play worship music, lean into Jesus – fine ideas, all. But they ring a bit hollow for those who are longing to feel the warmth and camaraderie of a skin-and-bones human, or ache to feel circled by the kind of always-available friendship you don’t have to work up or work for.
Here’s where I want to give you a principle or three. I want to wrap it all up in hope and five steps to happiness. But the only hope I have to give the lonely today is this: I’m here, too. Lots of us live right here in the quiet wild. Just because you love Him, doesn’t mean you don’t feel it and just because you feel it, doesn’t mean you’re doing life wrong. It just means you’re doing life. And I’m proud of you and cheering you on from the cheap seats. Please know it. (And leave a comment if you’ve got a great idea for the rest of us!)
Edie - Well said as always Bo. I’ve never experienced this, so I have zero words of wisdom for you. But, I’m certain that you’ve expressed what many of your readers wished they had the words to say. And in doing so, you give them comfort and hope. Keep on sharing, we need you.
Christina Chamberlin - Bo, I so enjoy your writings. I didn’t really think about being alone vs being lonely. I guess it is all in how you define it. So very well said. I was both alone and lonely when my son was killed. Then not sure how I felt after divorce. If I had to speak now, I guess it would be relief and devastation.
Now I am going through life alone. I will be stronger!
Debra - Oh my goodness!!! Yes! I so agree with this. Thank you for saying what probably many feel.
Karla - Wow! This one hit home! I was alone for the first time, after my divorce. I would carry my Bible around my apartment for comfort and it worked pretty well. Then I remarried and it was glorious! However, I married someone who works away from home during the week. I come home to my 2 pals, Ruffus and Libby, but there’s still the echo of no other voice in the house. No warmth on the other side of the bed. No one to talk to during dinner. I will pray for you during this time, Bo. I haven’t quite got it figured out, but reading God’s word and sometimes watching kind, good shows like Fixer Upper fill the space until sleep. Skyping with grandkids in Dallas is another warmth until sleep. Love you and feel for you… Michigan cousin
Jane Lellman - There is just something about being on a path with your beloved, then being on that path alone that is unbalancing in a way I never imagined. Even when you build new paths with others, or add new things to the path. Still, there is that empty spot, that empty togetherness. I am surely grateful to the bone that God blessed me with walking that path.
kathy halley - I know this place to well. For many years. If it was not for our savior, our Father, and my good close councler, teacher, comforter and so much more Holy Spirit. It would be much harder. And i have great loving christian family and it kepts growing. And i have my grown children as well. You touched my heart Sunday Bo. You amaze me. I love you. “We are not alone”. And it is such a great comfort to know that.
Cynthia - Again, I am so THANK FL for your honesty. We have such cliche comments for people who walk through times that are hard. Do this, that and one more thing and you will feel better…when the truth is just as you say…that feeling still exists. Job was in that place…you don’t understand, and yet your faith is not broken. Job had the greatest confidence that God was good and great and worthy of praise…and yet he was honest with the paradox before him. He was faithful.
Your article makes me think of others around us. The ones that are going through loneliness without the hope of God’s love, without a good support system, without someone to live them. How incredibly sad and overwhelming it must be. Your writing reminds me to “look”, with open eyes, for them. A kind word, an encouraging smile, a hug…something that shows I see them.
You educate us to be more aware of those around us, and your writings expand God’s love to others. Thank you so much.
I’m sorry for this spot in your journey…and I’m so glad you are brave enough to trust God with it. You are loved.
kim - Bo…First, I must say….I love, love, love your writings! But, on this entry I think you are missing the mark about loneliness. Please don’t take this response as critical…but maybe as a friend from the South that feels compelled to give her two cents on this subject. I live and have currently lived alone for 7 years after a divorce. (I was married 23 yrs). So, I’m gonna claim a little experience in the art of living alone.
You have just returned from Italy from one of those once in a lifetime kind of trips that sounded fabulous and filled with great adventures and accompanied with visits from treasured loved ones…. I always think after much planning, waiting, and anticipation of a big trip that there is somewhat of a let down feeling when I return home. I have many times felt that kind of sinking feeling of loneliness. But, thankfully that feeling passes pretty quickly.
You also just faced a health scare. That’s a Big deal and facing that without a husband…. Well I applaud you!!(Not to take anything away from your sweetie and his support) I did the same a few years ago with a health scare and its tough!!
In addition, it’s wintertime and I know many of us suffer from the winter blues. Lack of sunlight and short days are enough to cause a little sadness in the soul. I live completely alone…no children. So I understand the alone feelings that you have so described. But, there were times even with a spouse that I felt alone at moments…… I just wonder if you are truly looking at loneliness in the right perspective?
It sounds like you live a life surrounded by a wonderful army of people and you are blessed to love and be loved by these special people and you love Jesus and you know that he is with you in this season and always. I am also blessed with a army of my own and I’m so thankful for each and every one of them.
So my question is… In the middle of the night are you really lonely or do you just miss the life that once existed in the walls of that home?? The youth of your children and there constant needs and the warmth and support of your husband?? It sounds to me that you miss the life that once existed there. That you are not really lonely but you just miss the people and the life that once abounded there….
Well, then you are Not Alone Sister!! Welcome to the club!!! There are millions and millions of us that mourn a life and a story that no longer exist. I think people from the elderly, widowers, empty nesters, divorcees, children that lose parents, parents that lose children and the list goes on and on…. people struggling daily with a chapter that closed and life that no longer looks or feels anything like the life that they once lived . But, the good news… is that God has your life and each of us that allow him in his hands. I don’t have to tell you that!
But, life just like your trip to Italy which has ended is going to be filled will many more brilliant and exciting trips to plan. And if loneliness creeps in your soul in the middle of the night….shake that off quickly and know you are the farthest thing from being alone or lonely!! My mother has always said humans are creatures of habit. And many of us really struggle with change. Change can wonderful but it can also be tough and down right heart breaking! You are in a new chapter of your book and you are turning the pages daily which comes with its own struggles and joys along the way and of course… many changes. But, as each night passes and each day brings into view a better perspective of this new life that God has planned for you, me , and everyone else that finds the courage to press on into another new day we are blessed to see this beautiful journey continue…..
Love and blessings! Kim
bo - Hi Kim, Thanks for the comment! As to your question, “Are you really lonely or do you just miss the life you once had?” my answer is :Yes. I do miss the life I once had (but love the life I have now) AND I am often very lonely. I’m not sure how that idea misses the mark on loneliness, but those are my true feelings and I’m learning to acknowledge them and trust God with them, knowing that His constant presence is a great gift, yes, but doesn’t eliminate my internal longing to be near people as well, or the ache that occurs when I feel alone for too long.
Kim - Bo, You hit the nail right on the head. It’s been 2 1/2 years since my Dad passed from ALS and 1 1/2 years since my mom passed from Pancreatic Cancer. Once again I feel that we are experiencing similar life challenges! I have felt so lonely the last few months. I have a great family and friends support team but there’s just some things you can’t duplicate. I felt guilty for awhile because I know very well that God has not left my side! Yet, I am so lonely. I try to read the Word and it
I just find my eyes reading but my brain isn’t comprehending. I pray and try to talk to God but I don’t hear Him. It’s so frustrating! No words of wisdom here except to tell you, I’m with you and I too am just doing life. Hoping that this fog will lift and I will find some sort of breakthrough… SOON!
Nicole Provo - I love your words and honesty Bo, and as I read 1 Peter 4:12-13 in The Message just now, I think your heart aligns beautifully with the Truth of His Word: “Friends, when life gets really difficult, don’t jump to the conclusion that God isn’t on the job. Instead, be glad that you are in the very thick of what Christ experienced. This is a spiritual refining process, with glory just around the corner.”
Peter acknowledges that life WILL get really difficult (he says “when”, not “if”!) and yet, like you, he reminds us to cling to the truth that although it is tough, we are IN PROCESS… and glory is “just around the corner”! Phew!
I’ve got my own difficulties today, maybe not as much loneliness as other battles, but I’m grateful not to be the only one who feels the challenges deeply… (darn 4am!) Nonetheless, I too choose to feel deeply, and surrender fully, knowing that His Truth will guide my emotions, and His plan has me in the middle of this crazy refining process we call LIFE.
Thank you for sharing!
Miss Marie - Hi Sweet Friend…. Your long-time reader, first-time commenter :)! You know that I simply adore you. Allow me to respond to this post b/c I often feel compelled with a bit of gruff when I read of loneliness from those who have had full fellowship. Nothing personal against you of course … of course… but sometimes, when I read of those who have experienced deep daily relationship, I too ask, as Kim above, do folks feel lonelier because of loss, than I who never had? I wrote quite an extensive manuscript about alone vs loneliness years ago, but it would do more harm than good for me to revisit those pages. In all honesty, not to one-up anyone on “loneliness” but sometimes I do feel that I’ve got the corner on this issue.
I’ve lived alone my entire adult life, now in my 40s, never married, no kids, no pets, never dated anyone seriously for more than a month. ( and yes, I’ve tried all kinds of dating, but some kind of God-ordained red flag puts the kibosh on even the best of beginnings, oy!) And up until recently, I worked from home, alone, for more than a decade. Moved cross country and lived in 5 major cities, alone. Visited more than 20 countries, alone. Movies, alone. Concerts, alone. Lots of friends and caring family, but I’ve never enjoyed dreaming with someone nor even sharing anything with someone where there was a mutual stake in my decisions. Never once have I consistently shared my day with someone. And let’s face it, there’s quite a difference of having enjoyed living in the same space, knowing others and being known in 3-day old pj’s, unwashed dishes, headaches, neg bank balance, drank-too-much, or drank-too-little kind of way. :).
I do get that one can be lonely in a crowd or surrounded by loved ones, but as we’ve discussed privately, and I will share here, I often question now even if I am even *capable* of sharing myself… not that I fear it, it’s just that I wonder if I even the constitution to live in the silence of shared space. (Please don’t cue the violins, the overall trend-line is one of joy in my solitude.) I often soul search and ask myself if subconsciously, I’ve created my own cocoon that, at best, does not attract, or at worst, repels, opportunities for deep, daily, life-sharing. Lately, it seems like Sunday afternoons/evenings are the loneliest days of the year. Not that I don’t have social opportunities, but even then, I just rather say no and resign to the ritual my own company. A 94 yr old friend passed away this Christmas, and while not lucid, he was surrounded by family and friends, one of whom he’s known since 3rd grade. It made me sad to think that b/c I am introverted and can go weeks w/o really connecting with others, I may die alone w/o anyone knowing. “Have I created my own prison of solitude?” I now ask myself.
Now, it’s not depression, but just wistfulness, I guess. I could on and on about the eternity of years it seems that I’ve dealt with loneliness. To be honest, I think that the fact that I’m less “emotional/sentimental/ maternal,” than many of my peers is the only reason, I’ve not lost my mind, or all hope (as ref above regarding my internal constitution). I do find that my interests keep me very busy and allow me to shut out the echoes of loneliness. But it seems to me, while earthed on this planet, that there’s really no cure, other than to face it and deal with it, as you have indicated — waiting for a new day, new grace, new mercy…. LOVE that!
And not gonna lie, sometimes my “dealing” with includes my fav adult beverage and netflix … and when I have cash, a new travel adventure! There’s a song that soothes me on ‘those’ days… it’s called Tomorrow Morning. Lyrics are:
“This may not last until tomorrow. So look at all the love you borrow.
And time will tell us all. We could be laughing. We could be married.
And love alone won’t be your savior. And pretty soon you’ll find it’s over.
And time has left you there.
We could be singing. Could be together.
All said, I grieve with you in the loneliness. Knowing from experience that it comes in waves, sometimes rushing, sometimes gentle, sometimes low, sometimes high. But, and here’s the Big But… I, moreover, rejoice with you in the private reflection, gratitude, and celebration that can only come from loneliness. Those times when it’s only you, and you, and you. And Him who knows and enjoys every inch your beautiful soul.
bo - Dear Marie – I adore you as well…and your words are beautiful and painful and honest and brave. Please let’s share an adult beverage soon (or, if we must, another cappuccino in Piazza della Signoria.) I love you.
Debbie - Just lost my husband, Steve, to ALS (diagnosed 2011) three weeks ago. Admittedly, fearful of the “lonely”. I’ve appreciated your writings when I was on the “other side” of this journey…think I will now even more as you are just steps ahead of me. Lead on.
Vickie - Bo – Thank you for your honesty in your feelings. My husband passed away Dec. 2016 after a battle with cancer. I too married young and we raised 4 children. Our life was always full and busy with lots of activity. 14 months into this new life of mine, I suddenly have had difficulty with the loneliness that seems to creep in on a consistent basis. It is comforting to know that I am not the only one who experiences this. I have a wonderful support group of friends and family. But I am still lonely, I wonder if it will ever subside.
Michael Nyberg - No magic words from me, Just a Thanks for being honest so others know their struggles are real (and ok) and our faith and trust in Jesus is enough.
Donna - I am so grateful for your honesty and authenticity! As my husband continues to struggle with ALS, and my youngest child is in the midst of choosing a university (potentially away from home), “empty nest” has a whole new meaning. Thank you for discussing loneliness as I fear this will be something I will encounter in the not too distant future. Lead on, Bo, I am reading with hope in Jesus.
Kim - Bo..Thanks for taking the time to respond to my post. This post hits home for so many that have experienced loss and those like Marie that have truly livde a life alone. It’s a great topic and one that can be viewed by so many vantage points….. Bo, I pray for your journey of healing and that your feelings of loneliness will lessen in time. I stayed busy, busy, busy after my separation and constantly on the go. I know now I was just running from the hurt, pain, grief, sadness, etc. But those feelings moved quicker than me and they found me in a split second . I surrendered knowing I would have to feel my way through the pain. I guess for me… I never truly experienced loneliness, I mainly experienced grief, sadness, and emptiness for a marriage and a life that no longer existed. No matter how many warm loving friends or family that I ran to visit it just couldn’t quite fill that void completely. Maybe, we can all agree…. that each of us are made so uniquely and how we feel and process grief, loss, pain, emptiness, loneliness, and heart break is so different. And for me, my healing took time and some more time. It took 6 years to really feel complete again. And, I still have my moments…but I find that they pass pretty quickly. It has been a tough,tough journey one that I found horribly strange, painful, exhausting, and still filled with happiness, hope, joy, and love from those that encouraged me along the way. Maybe, we are all just wounded warriors by life’s events and unfortunately, we add new members daily. So, for the ones of us that have patched our wounds.. we must return to the battle as soon as possible to help others that are hit and wounded by life’s tragic events with love, kindness, and compassion. It’s exactly why God placed us in community with each other… And that’s the real blessing!!
love and blessings… Kim
Kay - Bo, as always you write what I need to read. I’ve been reading your emails & blog for years now. My husband died in late September after a short, hard battle with cancer. It was a long marriage (almost 38 years) but not without difficulties. More than I’ll go into here, but the point is his choices made that time harder than it already would have been. I’d been lonely a long time before his death but it is a different loneliness now.
I’m so very thankful for the Lord’s constant faithfulness and care, I know it is how I’ve endured everything and am still somewhat sane 😉 I also know without Him I don’t know what I’d have done. He truly has carried me when I couldn’t carry myself through these hard months.
I tend to be a person who enjoys solitude also, and I think that has been helpful but I agree there are times it’s just hard no matter that there is family, friends and always the Lord.
My husband wasn’t the best companion, but he was here some of the time and while I’m so thankful for the peace & calm in my home rather than the chaos that was always around him, it still at times is hard. I was hit hard with the flu right after Christmas (2 weeks in bed & I don’t go to bed for much other than multiple surgeries,) and it was so difficult being on my own, having to drag out of bed & take my dog out no matter how sick I was> I guess that’s when it really hit me how ‘on my own’ I am in some ways.
Thanks for the encouragement today and for your wise words always. Hugs.
Julia Heasley - This post was sent to me by a friend. I can relate to everything but the boyfriend! Perhaps he just had t found me yet! I also find singleness to be wearying and wearing.
My hubby of 48 yrs died in 2014 after 4 years of heart failure. My first year as a widow was filled with learning new skills, finding helpful people and fear of doing something wrong or forgetting to do something. Also unpredictable times of tears and sorrow. I felt invisible much of the time and badly off balance!
The second year was when the loneliness you speak of moved in. Too much quiet. No one to share meals with. No one to go to a movie or concert with. Daily solitary walks when I talk to God and rejoice in my strong body.
The third year felt more balanced. I took a trip with Walking Adventures Intl to Northern France with another widow! It was wonderful! This is the bright side of single: flexibility!
I too have great kids and a good church, but there are still lonely times when everyone else has a mate… but that is in Gods hands. I joined a walking group, have a great Bible study and little by little I am finding my feet! In May I will travel with a tour to Israel. My roommate is also single. I am excited to see how God leads me this year! Thanks for your encouragement! Julia Heasley
Jewl Westphalen - Lonliness. It’s real. Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, who never married until age 57 wrote, “Anything that makes me need God is ultimately a blessing.” Lonliness feels like being alone in a deep well. And in that sorrow comes an opportunity to accept Jesus pulling each of us harder to Himself. Yes, He’s invisible, but He’s soo much sweeter than the many other things and people I look to to satisfy.