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!)