Could Loneliness Be Good for You?

Carla: My dear friend Tim Keel posted something on his blog that got me thinking differently about the issue of loneliness. You can read Tim’s post here (and I encourage you to read all the links, especially this one).

If you’ve spent any time here at the Mommy Revolution, you know that loneliness is one of those issues that keeps coming up. It seems to ripple in to all kind of other conversations–jealousy, community, boredom, the mundane details of maternal life. It’s a subject we could look at from several angles. But I think this one, this idea that there might be something redemptive in the midst of loneliness, is worth digging into.

I find that loneliness is one of the most pervasive issues I face as a mom. The irony of course is that I’m rarely alone. I have company in the shower (and not the fun kind of company), in the bathroom, in my bed, at my desk, when I’m trying to make lunch or read or get dressed or water the plants. And yet most days I feel such a deep sense of loneliness it almost makes me crazy. It’s why I’m addicted to Facebook. It’s why I get excited when the mail comes. It’s why I blog. I am starved for some kind of connection with other people, the kind that’s rich and meaningful and intimate.

This feeling isn’t the result of being an at-home mom, either. I felt the same way when I worked. In fact in some ways it was worse then because I was surrounded with potential connections that, for various reasons, never quite turned into what I longed for.

But Tim’s post has me wondering what I could learn about myself in the midst of this loneliness. I don’t see it going anywhere anytime soon, but I do think that there might be a way to reconsider loneliness through the eyes of redemption. But I also know that I need some help from you smart women (and Steve), to help me figure out what that might look like.

So here’s what I want to know: What have you discovered about yourself, about God, about life, about anything, in the midst of loneliness?

Caryn: I’m seriously having a hard time responding here. After reading your entry and the links, I just want to curl up in some corner and cry. Lonliness is probably THE big issue of my life. The thing I wrestle with the most. The thing I worry about most for my kids.

But, alas, as you and your friend Tim and the other guy so beautifully shared, loneliness is also one of the biggest blessings. God has used it probably more than anything else to shape me into who he wants me to be. It’s almost weird, too, how he uses it. That it’s through times of desperate aloneless and the resulting deep introspection that has turned me less inward and more outward. God has used my own loneliness to soften me, to sharpen me, and to–as it’s been pointed out–connect with others.

And beyond a blessing it also certainly is a Muse. The least lonely years of my life (my early marriage, my work-in-an-office-career-years) were my least creative. I only wrote when I had to, and much prefered editing other people’s stuff because I just didn’t have any “juice” of my own. And that juice comes from loneliness—among other things. (FYI: this is not a sex reference. I’m not like you, Carla, with your little shower imagery up there…).

So, yes, I think loneliness can be very good. I now like it a little even—in certain circumstances—because I know it’s a gift of sorts. Something that if we allow God into, he can use and redeem and work with in so many ways.

Sorry. I seriously am feeling all emotional and the need to cry, but I have to run to a meeting. I do have a story about being at the pool today and feeling all lonely seeing the other moms talk, but maybe I’ll just comment that later.

Thank you for starting this one, Carla. I feel sad that you were lonely at a time when we worked together. I’m so glad, though, that out of our own crazy loneliness we could do this Revolution thing and make at least ourselves feel less lonely. We’re in this crazy together!! With all you Revolutionaries too!

Carla:  I’m sorry to make you almost cry Caryn. I think that there is, as the second link above says, a very fine line between the redemptive loneliness and the horrible loneliness that no one ought to have to live through. For me, the trick will be learning to tell the difference.

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16 responses to this post.

  1. Oh how I feel this post in my heart. I relate to what you said Carla, “I find loneliness is one of the most pervasive issues I face as a mom.” We moved to a foreign country 10 months ago, when I was trying desperately to find my feet as a new at-home mom. I often say adjusting to not having my career was more difficult than moving to a new country. I don’t really know for sure, but I do know that it was a complex situation full of emotion and lots of loneliness. Now I have a pretty decent community here but I still struggle immensely with being lonely. It is almost 3 in the afternoon and although I know my friends and family are fast asleep in the US I refresh my facebook, check my email obsessively and read blogs seeking a connection. The technology is such a great to keep in touch but lately my loneliness manifests in an almost obsession with email, blogs, facebook, etc.

    And I know there is a place for some loneliness, but man I frantically avoid it. I agree too that I tend to write, draw, paint, be more creative when I let myself sit in with that loneliness rather than run from it.

    Reply

  2. I recently posted some thoughts about loneliness on a friend’s blog. He goes to my church & wrote a post about people at our church feeling excluded. This is what I wrote:

    “I think there is more going on than people just feeling excluded. I have some meaningful relationships with people at RMC and I don’t feel excluded. But I do feel a good amount of loneliness–even in the midst of being in an amazing community of neighbors, friends, and family.

    I really want other people to ‘get me.’ And, 34 years in, it has yet to fully happen. Even though I know that no person is ever going to completely understand me, I keep wanting it. I know that we will always have some loneliness and having friends, roommates, a spouse, or children can’t make it all go away. Some people feel that inherent loneliness more deeply than others, and a lot of us in that category have ended up at RMC. We want to connect with others, and some of us are able to do so. (Even if it’s just feeling connected to others who want connection.) But then we find out it’s not enough because no one is ever going to completely understand us or fully know us the way we want to be known. So then we still have the pain of loneliness even though we’re at this church that encourages ‘community’ & ‘authenticity’ and ‘meaningful relationships.’ Maybe when we feel the absence of those things at RMC, we feel even more lonely and/or excluded because having those things is part of why we came to RMC. Or something. I don’t know.”

    I agree that we will always feel some loneliness and that in some ways we need to embrace it… It’s part of who we are. It’s a result of the Fall.

    I feel very lonely with regards to what God is calling my family to at this point in our lives. We are being led to make some decisions that others think are crazy. And that is a lonely place to be. I also feel lonely with regards to my views and beliefs about the purpose of & God’s vision for the church. (Let’s just say that I’m not the typical southern PCA woman.) Additionally, I’m currently dealing with my 6yo daughter’s increasing awareness of the loneliness that will be with her throughout her life. It breaks my heart knowing that this is only the beginning of the road for her.

    I do feel God drawing me to Himself in my loneliness. Most of the time. My loneliness causes me to long for eternity. I will continue to try to believe in and hope for (and help my children and others in my life believe in and hope for) that Place where loneliness will no longer be.

    Reply

  3. Posted by Robyn on June 16, 2009 at 1:36 pm

    “the kind that’s rich and meaningful and intimate.” That’s the key right there, Carla. I don’t think this is a “mommy problem.” It’s a HUMAN problem. The lack of intimate connectedness with other people. It’s one of the things I long for most about heaven. 1st Corinthians 13:12 For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.

    I do find that loneliness draws me to God. When there is no one else, he is there. I mean when there is no one else who knows me intimately and loves me deeply (which is more often than not), not when I am physically alone. I find myself in a constant, ongoing dialogue in my head simply sharing my thoughts with my Father.

    Reply

  4. Posted by Carla on June 16, 2009 at 4:47 pm

    I think you’re right Robyn–my therapist told me that the greatest human needs are to be understood and for our lives to have meaning. It’s absolutely a human problem and it’s not something that started when I became a mother. I’ve wrestled with loneliness for as long as I can remember.

    One of the ways it plays out for me is that I don’t feel connected to God when I’m lonely. For me, I find God is most present in relationships. I can read the Bible, pray, meditate on God and it doesn’t shift into being real to me until I live out what I’ve read or talk about what I’ve learned with other people.

    I tend to live in my head and I find that I can “know” that God loves me, that God knows me, but it isn’t real for me until I feel that love through human relationships. I am also an external processor, which means that I have to talk about my thoughts and beliefs for them to become meaningful to me. That combination means that when I spend too much time alone, living inside my own head, having no one around with whom I can talk things through, I end up feeling disconnected and meaningless.

    That’s a lot of emotional crap to dump on a blog. It’s wonderful that people can find deep connection with God in that hard place of loneliness. I wish I was one of them.

    This is an incredibly therapeutic conversation for me, so thank you all for being part of it. Welcome to my external process!!!

    Reply

    • Posted by Robyn on June 16, 2009 at 8:53 pm

      I get what you are saying. “But you gotta have friends!” as Donkey would say…

      Do you journal? I simply adore journaling because it helps me to “talk” out my thoughts without having to actually, you know, talk. Plus, they are such valuable treasures for me to go back and read later. Though the ones from my teens are sometimes quite funny!

      And isn’t it wonderful that by blogging you can, in a sense, talk to people who actually care what you have to say?!

      Reply

    • I keep thinking about your feeling God most in relationships….. While I am a very relational person (I want everyone to like me–ESPECIALLY when they disagree with me), for the most part, I’ve come closer to God during my lonely or simply alone times.

      That said, there’s this group I’m a part of–“Koilia,” my writer’s group–and it’s been the first time in my life where I’ve been a part of something where I’ve actually FELT God working, the Spirit moving among these amazing women. Every time I leave this our little get-togethers, I KNOW God is at work in big, big, cool ways. And it’s probably the one place on earth where I feel like I really belong and feel the least lonely.

      I don’t know what this has to do with anything, but I just realized that this is a NEW thing for me. To feel God in relationships. So, is this what all these small group gurus have been spouting about for years? : )

      So that’s weird.

      Reply

  5. Posted by Steve B. on June 16, 2009 at 4:54 pm

    Okay, since I was called out by name in this blog (and certainly do appreciate being a part of these conversations from time to time), I will do my best to offer a thoughtful response. Let me start by saying that I am a loner. I enjoy my time alone, have never felt the need to be surrounded by friends, HATE to talk on the phone, and have no problem going to movies or restaurants all by my lonesome. With that being said, there was a time in my life, not too long ago, where I experienced profound loneliness. I had been working in full time Ministry, utilizing both my Gifts and my talents, when suddenly I found myself kicked to the curb.

    For four and a half years, I had poured my heart and soul into the lives of men who had found themselves homeless because of their drug addictions. I thought that this was God’s plan for me for the rest of my life. Then came the bad news. Due to “funding issues”, the recovery program had been cut. Without warning, I was out of a job and worse yet, out of a “ministry”. For over five months, I looked for another job, all the while convinced that God had made a mistake by allowing this to happen. I thought that He needed me and without me, the ministry would fail miserably.

    Our daughter was about 20 months old at the time and although I treasure the time we spent together, I was very lonely and very discouraged. Here is what God taught me through my loneliness:

    1. He does not need me to accomplish His purposes.
    2. He showed me that sometimes I had taken for granted the privilege of allowing me to participate in His work.
    3. He showed me that my ways are not necessarily His.
    4. He profoundly reorganized my ideas about Ministry.
    5. He showed me that my Ministry is to my wife, daughter, my brothers in my Bible study, AND to those caught up in addiction (Ministry is bigger than I had thought).

    Sorry that I rambled a bit and I hope this wasn’t too preachy, but the bottom line is that my loneliness helped me to realize that I am desperately dependent upon God, whether I realize it or not.

    Reply

    • Posted by Robyn on June 16, 2009 at 8:54 pm

      Oh, Steve. I am so with you here: I detest talking on the phone! Give me an in-person conversation any day!

      Reply

  6. Very interesting discussion. I love this blog, and yet–if our only interaction is electronic, we are very likely to feel lonely. We need face-to-face contact. And we think everyone else has hoards of friends calling and visiting them. But we have to realize that others are lonely, too. Invite someone to have coffee or bring their kids over for a play date.
    A lot depends on the age of your kids: when they are very small, you often will feel isolated. Take a mom & tot class with your kid, and talk to the other moms there. I met one of my closest friends in a park district class for two year olds–our girls are now in high school and we’re still friends. I don’t remember anyone else from the class, which is important: not everyone will be your friend. And that’s ok.
    If your kids are in school, volunteer somehow at school. it’s a great way to meet other parents.
    One last thought, from Dietrich Bonhoeffer (with apologies for the old fashioned masculine pronoun): “Let him who cannot be alone beware of community. He will only do harm to himself and to the community… But the reverse is also true: let him who is not in community beware of being alone…We recognize, then, that only as we are within the fellowship can we be alone, and only he that is alone can live in the fellowship.”
    Being comfortable with being alone is the first step to alleviating loneliness.

    Reply

  7. Posted by Jennifer on June 18, 2009 at 9:46 pm

    I recently read an article that cited a study that found that humans are more creative when depressed. I have definitely found that to be true in my own life. Deep lonliness can lead to depression which in turn can lead to a more reflective state of being. A lot can be learned and processed when depressed and alone. It has helped me learn what in my life to keep and what to throw away. Sort of a purging.

    I have to say however, that there is nothing worse than being lonely in marriage. I have yet to see what is redemptive about that. Unless it is to figure out what is going on to create a barrier between us. Maybe it is a warning sign to tell us something is off.

    Reply

    • Jennifer: I agree. Loneliness in marriage is a whole different ball of wax…. I think because THAT kind of loneliness feels the same as being unloved or rejected or something. Which is horrid. And not the same as being lonely in general.

      Interesting point, though, that it may call for the creativity in figuring out ways to knock down barriers. Hmmmmm……..

      Reply

  8. Posted by Bookgirl on June 23, 2009 at 10:28 pm

    Anyone read “The Path of Loneliness” by Elisabeth Elliot?

    As a single woman, I have found that book incredibly helpful, but she addresses loneliness in many forms and life stages.

    Reply

  9. Posted by joy on August 21, 2009 at 9:56 pm

    I was searching tonight for something to read on the pain and loneliness in marriage and your site came up. I am a believer in Christ living in a very lonely marriage. I have and still give 100% to my family. During these times of extreme loneliness it does make me reflect on my life and my relationship with Christ. I remind myself that He will never leave me nor forsake me….however, it is so easy to fall into the feeling of total hopelessness and why am I here. It does scare me when I begin to feel like if I just disappeared no one would notice….how sad is that. If I stay there very long I begin to think that I am only appreciated for what I do or what I can give…otherwise I am not needed or wanted. I am a stay at home Mom and my husband just tells me I need a job…like that is going to solve everything.

    Reply

  10. Posted by Darshan on December 17, 2010 at 2:26 am

    Thanks a lot

    Reply

  11. Posted by Nadia on April 29, 2011 at 6:44 pm

    I am so pleased to be reading your post (although its bitter sweet) – as you really seem to understand what I also have experienced. This loneliness is not about having friends/acquaintances and activity in one’s life. I too have had that feeling and I too have felt lonely many times in the company of others and surrounded by friends and family. I also think there is a difference in what it takes to ‘satisfy’ some people’s need for contact – along the lines of introverts vs extroverts. Extroverts are happier with surfacey friendships and lots of shallow connections, whereas introverts actually want deeper connections.
    Introverts like depth but feel each of them deeply. they may have fewer friends but more intimacy. They like to delve deeply into topics and look for richness.
    but it is estimated that 75% of people are extroverted, and the world is made for extroverts.
    Maybe there is nothing wrong with you – maybe you are introverted (like me).

    Reply

    • Posted by Nadia on April 29, 2011 at 6:45 pm

      oops I should say, I paraphrased: Marti Olsen Laney’s The Introvert ADvantage: How to thrive in an Extrovert World published by Workman Publishing.

      Reply

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