There are two major types of loneliness. The first is chronic loneliness, a feeling experienced over long or short duration. Loneliness isn’t a diagnosable mental health condition but can have a negative effect. Some say that loneliness comes when we don’t feel connected to others. Introverts enjoy the time they spend being alone. Extroverts get their energy from being with and connecting to others. When extroverts are alone for long periods of time, they may suffer. For most people it is normal to enjoy spending some time alone.
Situational loneliness, the second type, comes from a situation which causes the feeling of being alone. The pandemic has brought up a lot of feelings of isolation from others and therefore people feel lonely. It’s hard when I cannot meet with vulnerable loved ones and connect in-person with old friends. The pandemic has shown us how dependent upon each other we truly are. We notice how much we miss the face-to-face company of others and how it enriches our lives.
My Experience of Working Through Loneliness:
I have always felt chronically lonely, even as a child. I thought I was the only one who felt this way. Then I read an article about Neil Diamond and how he channeled loneliness and uncomfortable feelings into songwriting. That article was life-changing for me. I understood that loneliness could actually be useful for something, an impetus for us to create art.
I have learned to live with this uncomfortable feeling. As a child I regarded loneliness as negative, making me suffer to the point where I was saddened and depressed. Today I have come to see loneliness as a spiritual gift and no longer fight it. It’s just like the wind blowing or the sun shining. I have stopped judging loneliness as a negative thing but rather see it as a part of my personality – who I am and who I have been. It isn’t scary or bad but just a feeling that travels with me.
Ironically, ministry is a profession fraught with feelings of loneliness and separation. Being a rabbi, priest, or minister is a lonely road to walk. I can explore the origins of loneliness but that would be really boring. Who cares where the feelings came from? The question for today, rather, is whether this feeling of loneliness can ultimately be good for us.
Emmet Fox’s Metaphor on Doors
He wrote an essay saying that doors to public buildings open out. They are obligated to do so because of the law, which is based on human nature. When people get panicked, they push outward to escape from a burning building. However, doors to houses open in. When you wish to enter a home, you have to push the door which opens to the inside.
Emmet Fox points out that doors to the soul open to the inside as well. He likens the pushing outward of a public building’s door as the outward pushing of the ego. When we seek something, we push. When we are quiet through contemplation, meditation, or the discipline of loneliness, the door to our soul opens in. We allow God to enter into ourselves. We don’t have to push but rather welcome God. Loneliness can be an impetus for us to allow God and others to come into our soul.
Therefore loneliness can be a spiritual gift if we allow it to open us up. We are apt to risk rejection and pain when loneliness is pushing us to remedy the situation. We are more likely to take action when we are in pain, distress, or discomfort. Loneliness can be the encouragement we need to do so.
I was about to turn 21 years old and a woman who knew me well asked an important question. “What are your plans for your 21st birthday?” I had no idea what to do and she knew it. She realized that I was prone to feelings of loneliness and these were a slippery slope for me. The advice she offered was priceless. “If you don’t have a plan for your birthday, it will not get planned. Then your feelings of loneliness will take over and you’ll spiral down into negativity and resentment.” I will never forget that. To stave off my loneliness on my 21st birthday, I planned a party for myself and it was wonderful! I had the party I wanted and didn’t have to suffer from the negative feelings of loneliness.
She taught me that planning ahead could save me a lot of pain later.
I offer the same to you. Use the loneliness as a spiritual tool. Allow it to inspire action: Whether you channel it into art or use it to plan ahead, loneliness can then become an ultimately positive emotion.