Somewhere between Sunday School and youth group, I picked up the idea that if I were in a right relationship with God, I would always feel fulfilled. The persistent loneliness I felt didn’t fit into that picture, so I prayed and read my Bible like I was told I should, to be close to God.
I made good friends, and sometimes there were moments (I can almost pinpoint them) when I didn’t feel even a little bit alone. Certain sunlit moments with certain people when I knew I was fully seen, heard, and loved. These, I think, are some of the best moments in life.
But the loneliness always comes back, and sometimes it isn’t even for lack of company. I’ve found that sometimes I feel it the heaviest when I’m leaving a small group meeting, or after “putting myself out there” at some social event.
Sometimes, I feel it sharply when I try to smile and make conversation at church, and it can be like choking in a crowd. And as far as I can tell, there seems to be no relationship between the emptiness of loneliness and the fullness of my relationship with my Creator. No matter how close I feel to Him, it seems, the loneliness can still get its claws into me.
The human design
I’ve come to the conclusion that human beings were not created to be fully fulfilled in a relationship with God alone. Adam in the garden – in perfect relationship with God – was lonely. God’s response was not to tell Adam to work on their relationship. Instead, God said “it is not good for man to be alone,” and made a human companion for him.
Even in a perfect environment, in a perfect relationship with God, Adam was designed to be in relationship with other human beings. And he felt the pull of that design.
There are now 7.5 billion people on earth. Unlike Adam, it is not hard for us to find other human beings to relate to. So if other human beings are thick on the ground, and a relationship with God is accessible through Jesus, why loneliness?
Alone in a crowd
Clearly it isn’t enough just to live among 7.5 billion people. The nakedness of Adam and Eve in the garden wasn’t only a lack of clothing, but symbolic of their relationship with each other. They hid nothing because they had nothing to hide; they had never been hurt, never known a harsh word or a moment of rejection.
They approached each other without fear, fully expecting to be accepted, and fully accepting one another. In this way, they experienced and participated in God’s love – both in a direct relationship with Him, and in their relationship with each other.
When suffering became a part of the human experience, we saw division between people for the first time. As humanity hid themselves and their shame from God, they hid from one another too. Where once there was acceptance, suddenly there was blame and fear as Adam and Eve turned inward, protecting themselves where once they had exposed their souls happily to one another.
And I think that is how we still are; longing to be together as our design demands, but when we draw close, the broken edges – fears, insecurities, pride – catch at each other. Even as Christians, while our relationship with God has been (and continues to be) restored, our relationships with other people are rarely what they were created to be.
So, of course we are lonely. How could we not be in this circumstance? We are unable to live in relationship with each other the way we were designed to. We stand in proximity to each other and feel alone, because we were meant to be fully seen, heard and loved by each other, but instead we hide ourselves in shame of the darker aspects of our humanity, and in fear of being rejected. It’s like we stand behind glass walls, looking at each other but unable to really be with each other.
What do we do now?
I’ve learned to change the way I pray about loneliness. In a world of broken relationships, it takes a monumental courage to continue being open to other people, and for that I think I can ask God: the courage to keep loving and hoping and reaching for other people in search of those genuine, sunlit moments of connection. But I don’t expect this to fix the problem of loneliness.
Loneliness, like every other suffering we experience, is not something that a relationship with God delivers us from. Instead, it is something we can expect to experience in a world that is not all that it was created to be. So I take comfort in the paradox that even in my loneliest moments, I’m not alone.
There will be no full end to loneliness this side of eternity, but our God has entered into and lived in the darkest places of the human experience. There is no deeper loneliness than what Jesus experienced among us, and even though he cannot (or maybe will not) break the pattern of our design to relieve us of our nagging sense of alienation, he will stand in the dark with us and whisper promises about the dawn, when everything will be restored to what it was meant to be.
And that is enough for me.
Christina Jones is recuperating from graduate school by watching far too much TV and ignoring the many very good books waiting to be read and re-read on her shelf. She recently moved to Spokane, Washington where she works for a non-profit that prepares for and responds to natural disasters. She is usually running late and has a background in international relief work, and has become very good at sprinting through airports. When not watching TV, working or running through airports, Christina enjoys Latin dancing, solitary evening jogs, old buildings, too much ice cream and long conversations with good friends.
Christina Jones’ previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/christina-jones.html