Wanting to break through the wall of loneliness is a basic instinct. It’s often at the root of many behaviors, such as changing jobs, churches, moving to a new neighborhood/city, etc.

It’s also not unusual to go through a difficult struggle and emerge from it saying, “I want to help others going through similar struggles so they won’t feel alone like I did.”

Unfortunately it seems that loneliness is inherent in many struggles. But maybe this isn’t such a bad thing.

I’m reading  The Wounded Healer by Henri J. M. Nouwen and he makes a case for loneliness:

But the more I think about loneliness, the more I think that the wound of loneliness is like the Grand Canyon – a deep incision in the surface of our existence which has become an inexhaustible source of beauty and understanding.

Therefore I would like to voice loudly and clearly what might seem unpopular and maybe even disturbing: The Christian way of life does not take away our loneliness; it protects it and cherishes it as a precious gift.

…Perhaps the painful awareness of loneliness is an invitation to transcend our limitations and look beyond the boundaries of our existence. The awareness of loneliness might be a gift we must protect and guard, because our loneliness reveals to us an inner emptiness that can be destructive when misunderstood, but filled with promise for him who can tolerate its sweet pain.

He goes on to say that our desire to avoid loneliness sets us up for relating to the world and other people with “devastating expectations.” For example, marriages are often ruined because neither partner was able to take completely take away the other’s loneliness.

We keep hoping that one day we will find the man who really understands our experiences, the woman who will bring peace to our restless life, the job where we can fulfill our potential, the book which will explain everything, and the place where we can feel at home.

Such false help leads us to make exhausting demands and prepares us for bitterness and dangerous hostility when we start discovering that nobody, and nothing, can live up to our absolutistic expectations.

When you start claiming your bouts of loneliness as a source of human understanding – rather than something to avoid at all costs – only then will you be able to offer real service to others who need help understanding their suffering.


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