My loneliness was a gift. Those are five words I never thought I’d write.
Three years ago, almost to the day, I moved. I was two weeks away from getting married and starting a new life with my almost-husband, Riley. Though I was sad to leave my community, job, and city, I was more excited to get married. I was thrilled to marry Riley. My heart existed in a bubble of lovey-dovey bliss.
It didn’t take long for that bubble to pop.
After a few months of marriage, I found myself lonely like I cannot say. We were married in late July, and by my birthday in early December, I was miserable. It was a feeling that was so profound that it made my body physically ache. I desperately grieved my old life, my old friends, my old job, my old apartment. I loved being married but hated everything else. I remember laying my head on our small kitchen table after breakfast and sobbing for hours until my eyes were red and puffy and I had a throbbing headache.
The pain of being an outsider
Loneliness is this feeling of invisibility, of not being a part of anything, of having no community, of feeling like no one close by knows you exist. Our marriage has always been loving and strong, but our relationship bowed under the weight of my exasperation. Riley didn’t know what to do and I was deeply unhappy. (Marriage will not solve your life’s problems or your loneliness–that’s a post for another day.)
We tried churches, I tried to get together with friends of friends, I looked online for meet-ups and get-togethers. The piece of this that’s difficult is that when you’re so lonely it hurts, it feels impossible to “put yourself out there.” Why? Because what if you get shut down again? What if you meet someone and “don’t click” again? What if your loneliness gets even worse? What if the pain deepens? I’ve heard it said that lonely people withdraw instead of seek community, and I know that to be true.
This went on for months and months. There were days of reprieve, but largely, I spent over two years in a season of excruciating loneliness.
The sting of no one understanding
People tried to understand, but many couldn’t. “Why don’t you just do X?” “Remember, Jesus is your best friend.” “You just need to stop thinking about not having friends and focus on other things.” “Happiness is a choice.” “Why don’t you get a real job?” “You should move.” “There’s no loneliness in marriage–just talk to your husband.”
These comments were infuriating and unhelpful. But they were spoken by people who obviously, clearly didn’t understand the feeling. People who, blessedly, hadn’t had to walk through real loneliness, and so thought their trite solutions were real answers.
If you’re reading this post because you’re deeply lonely, these words are for you: I validate that gnawing ache in your heart of loneliness. I know you’d give anything to wish it away or “choose” not to feel it. I also know that you can’t wish it away or “choose” not to feel it. If you’re a Christian, I know that feeling of wondering why Jesus doesn’t feel like enough–how can I be a lonely Christian? (To that I have much to say, but primarily that Jesus himself had 12 close friends. If God had friends, I need them too.)
I know the isolation that comes with loneliness, the way you feel invisible and like no one knows you exist. I know that it’s possible to experience loneliness even if you’re married and/or have children. I get it. Also, I want you to know that this post is my personal experience over the course of several years. You may be at a place, as I was for the greater part of 2015, 2016, and 2017 where your loneliness feels like the worst curse imaginable and nothing like a gift. I’ve been there, and you’re allowed to feel that way.
I certainly hope that you move through this difficulty and find the redemption and freedom on the other side of it. I hope you eventually get to a place where your loneliness is a scar and not a wound, and from that scar you help others heal. But if you’re not there, or anywhere close to there, that’s okay. This is a journey.
Moving past loneliness
The path past loneliness was a long, winding one. It continues to be. It took time, effort, and so much Jesus. If you’re interested, I’ve talked extensively about this in my Rooted series on YouTube.
Why my loneliness was a gift
I have long subscribed to the idea that we must let hard things teach us. Through this journey, which is one that I wouldn’t have chosen and didn’t want to walk, I have learned more than I can say.
- The most important lesson I’ve learned over the past three years is to assume other people are lonely. I’ve learned to “get over myself” and reach out to women who are new in town. Over and over, I have invited people over for dinner, given them welcome gifts, checked in over text, and asked how they’re really doing. I attend a small church, and whenever a new family comes to visit on a Sunday, I act like they’re my long-lost relatives. I go out of my way to welcome them and say hello, which I never used to do. Because I know how it feels to feel forgotten and cast aside. And I never want another person in my reach to feel that way too. I believe that when I look for the lonely people, I’m being the hands and feet of Jesus. What an honor.
- I’ve learned about seasons. Just as the natural world is seasonal, so is my life seasonal. The past few years have been a season of building. Stripped of community, I’ve had the time and energy to pour myself into my work, which has grown (and continues to grow) beyond my expectations. This building season has been a blessing.
- I’ve learned that I’m not fragile. Turns out, this sensitive girl can do really hard things, like live in the middle of nowhere with zero friends and come out the other side stronger for it. This new learning gives me confidence and hope moving forward.
- I’ve learned that God is infinitely more faithful, more present, and more loving than I ever knew. Here come the tears. I have yelled and screamed and sobbed at God four thousand times in the past few years. I have struggled deeply with my faith. I have fully rolled my tired eyes at “God has a plan for you,” though I’ve known this to be true for close to a decade and a half. I look back on these months and see the hand of the Lord over and over and over again. He didn’t abandon me as I learned these painful lessons, just as a good father wouldn’t abandon his child.
And so, I actually see my loneliness as a gift. A gift of understanding and empathy. A gift of compassion and kindness. I gift of seeing and feeling. It wasn’t fun, but I wouldn’t trade it. It has made me more loving and giving, more aware of the needs of the people around me, and for that I am grateful.
Encouragement to you: grab a hand
When you walk through something hellish, you have the unique gift of understanding that particular brand of hell. Instead of stuffing your feelings down and forgetting the trial, GRAB SOMEONE’S HAND AND WALK WITH THEM. Please don’t waste your pain. Find someone who’s still in the valley and grab her hand! Encouragement and healing out of the mouth of someone who’s been in the pain is infinitely more valuable than empty words spoken by someone who hasn’t.
It’s been a revelation to me that my weakness, pain, and suffering can comfort and encourage others. What felt impossible and awful in the short run has been one of the most important lessons of my life in the long run. The idea that God can use my pain for good–for redemption and encouragement–is a gift to me.
// What hard thing have you walked through that’s turned out to be a gift? How can you use your most painful trials to help others?
Related blog posts:
- Assume She’s Lonely
- Hope When You Can’t “Find Your Tribe”
- Discontentment Follows You
- I am Not a Victim of my Circumstances: Thoughts on Abundance
- When You Don’t Want to “Catch Up” Anymore
- When Friendships Change
- Here’s to Being Obedient When You Don’t Feel Like It
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