“Lonely” Doesn’t Always Mean “Alone”

God uses our solitude to reveal Himself to us. But we have to let Him in.

Long, long ago, before I was born, there was a girl group called, believe it or not, the Dixie Cups, who had a hit song called “Chapel of Love.” There was a line in the song that said:

“We’ll love until the end of time, and we’ll never be lonely anymore.”

 Could it be? Is marriage the ultimate panacea for loneliness? Are married people really never, ever lonely?

A lot of single people believe it is. And a lot of formerly single people who married just to escape their loneliness have learned the hard way that it’s not.

Loneliness is a part of the human condition. Everyone experiences it. Sure, people who live isolated lives are sometimes lonelier that those who live with spouse and/or family. But not necessarily. Who hasn’t felt ever felt lonely even while surrounded by a crowd of people?

Apparently Pope John Paul II understands loneliness, too. (Not surprising, since he had lost his entire family by the time he was in his early 20’s.) He deals with it at length in his Theology of the Body. Since all of us – married, single, religious – experience loneliness, I thought it would be a good idea to take some time today to see what JPII has to say about it.

In the book of Genesis, God created Adam, “And it was very good.” Adam is created in the image and likeness of God. All of creation existed as a gift to Adam. And yet, the first thing God said after creating Adam was “It is not good for man to be alone.” Adam is created to give himself in love to another human person – and yet, there is no human person to whom he can give himself.

The Holy Father says that Adam was experiencing “original solitude.” He was realizing that he was different from the rest of creation. He had not just the capacity to give himself in love to another person – but the need to do so. JPII speaks of “personal subjectivity” – Adam needs to exist, not just in his own life, but in the lives of others as well.

But that “other” is nowhere to be found. Adam can’t create her. She will be a gift from God, and Adam must wait on that gift.

The Holy Father says that the waiting is important. Original solitude is important. To use a very un-theological phrase, “You don’t miss the water ‘til the well runs dry.” It is only in that original solitude that Adam discovers his capacity and his need for self-gift. Without that experience of loneliness, he wouldn’t be able to appreciate and treasure the gift of another human person in his life.

Eve is, of course, created for her own sake, not Adam’s. But her presence in Adam’s life is a gift from God, just as Adam’s presence in Eve’s life is a gift. But that gift, as beautiful as it is, does not completely overcome original solitude. Adam and Eve each stand alone before God, and no matter how close they may be to each other, that reality is never far from their minds. That other person cannot and will not fill the space in the heart that is meant for God alone.

Do you know why I love the Theology of the Body? Because we are Adam and Eve. It’s about us.

So our loneliness can be good. It helps us appreciate the gift of others in our lives. More important yet, it helps us get in touch with our need for God.
But that’s only the case if we use that loneliness. If we run from it, if we wallow in it, there’s no benefit.

How do we use it? I think I’ve found the answer to that in the writings of Gabrielle Bossis. She was a wealthy French woman – a single woman – who in the 1930’s began hearing locutions she believed were from Christ. Those locutions are recorded in a book called He and I. Whether you believe these messages were actually from Christ or not, the messages contained in them are astoundingly beautiful. For example, on loneliness, Christ says:

You do everything – work, prayers, thinking, talking – just as though I were there, and I actually am there. Don’t you find that infinitely wonderful? When you wake up, I’m there. When you rest, I’m there. So you can say, ‘He never leaves me alone.’ This is what makes your solitude divine. (p. 96)

Here’s what it all boils down to: We need to be alone in order to realize that we’re not alone. When we live in the state of grace, Christ is present to us. He’s not up in heaven listening to our prayers on some kind of two-way radio. He’s right here, at our side. He’s living every moment of our lives with us – loving us, caring about us. And He wants us to acknowledge Him, to love Him and talk to Him and share with Him.

It’s easy to see loneliness as a curse. I know I do. We want to run from it. We make busy work, watch TV – anything to escape from ourselves and our solitude. But I’m learning that perhaps I need to learn to run the other way – to run into the solitude.

Because sometimes God hides His best gifts in unexpected places.