You haven’t hugged your grandkids for a while. You recall chatting with friends at Tim Horton’s - but it’s been a while. Your social world has been squeezed to four walls and a computer screen. Isolation and loneliness are the contagion that reaches all of us in these Covid-19 days. So it might help us to reflect on what loneliness means.
Loneliness and being alone are two separate states. It is possible to be alone without being lonely. It is also possible to be lonely without being alone. So our feelings of loneliness are not a direct result of isolation. Loneliness is a function of love. When we love someone and they are distant or absent, an internal ache builds. It’s not a cognitive reaction - obviously, we know they are elsewhere. The ache is a love cry, “Someone is missing.” If we did not love, we would not hurt. Every love we hold contains the possibility of loneliness.
Note also that our heart cries out for someone not something. We might miss our old house, but we can’t be lonely for it. Loneliness is reserved for relationships. Of course, that means that there can be no substitutes for who it is we are missing. We may distract our lonely feeling with food, work, entertainment, busyness or the sound of other voices. But the heart wants what the heart wants. Nothing else will satisfy. Friends may help, but are impotent to remove the loneliness of a widow. Other children may cheer us, but they aren’t our grandchildren! It’s their giggles we miss. So does that mean that loneliness is a pain we simply endure? Yes and no. Yes, loneliness is an emotion that must be faced. If we try to run from loneliness we’re running from the reality of love planted in our souls. But no, loneliness is not meant to simply inflict pain. It has purpose. Our forlornness directs us to a higher place.
Our ultimate love is with God, who is Love. He is the colour behind every affectionate connection we have. So too, every moment of sorrowful solitude is an invitation from God, for God. We are created to crave intimacy with Him. We may quench that urge or direct it to lesser things or even lesser people. But we remain lonely for God. The most powerful prayer you can make is simply, “God, I miss You.” It’s a prayer God will not ignore. It’s a prayer that has both a current and eternal answer. God draws near to those who seek Him. God reserves an everlasting home for us - that where He is, there we may be also.
Loneliness, like thirst or hunger, is not a fault. It is a natural lack which is part of our shape. It may increase or decrease with the people and events of life. But it will not go away; not as long as we love. Until heaven. God will fill us to everlasting fullness. There will never be room for loneliness again.