On Loneliness

Enlight144

Photo of an Arkansas dawn by Steven Nawojczyk

I have always hated feeling lonely. Being alone meant sorrow for me, and in my younger years, I did everything I could to avoid spending time alone, trying to keep loneliness at bay. The more people I could have around me, the more alive I felt.

And then I began to experience the deep loneliness one can experience even when surrounded with people. That is to me the most painful loneliness of all β€” being lonely in a crowd, suddenly coming face to face with my emptiness, discovering that no one is ever truly present with me.

Growing older has taught me that being alone is actually life-giving. Sometimes being alone brings the kind of silence we need to draw closer to God, hearing the sacred whispers that reach the depths of the soul. Silence can bring a more intense awareness of the bursting life all around us, the rise and fall of the cicada’s song in the summer, the sweet music of birdsong, the delightful sound of fluttering hummingbird wings, the silence of the night broken only by the sounds of katydids and crickets.

I recently read these words from the children’s fantasy novel, The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster.

Have you ever heard the wonderful silence just before the dawn? Or the quiet and calm just as a storm ends? Or perhaps you know the silence when you haven’t the answer to a question you’ve been asked, or the hush of a country road at night, or the expectant pause of a room full of people when someone is just about to speak, or, most beautiful of all, the moment after the door closes and you’re alone in the whole house? Each one is different, you know, and all very beautiful if you listen carefully.

― Norton Juster, The Phantom Tollbooth

It truly is beautiful . . . being alone with silence complete enough to listen and to truly hear. It is one thing to be alone, but quite another to be alone with God. Being alone with God is being in the silent, sacred place where the soul meets its creator. It is finding the quiet, holy place of falling into the arms of a God who abides and protects. It is coming near to the β€œmercy seat” where disconsolate seekers bring their wounded hearts. It is sitting in the place where we learn that β€œearth has no sorrow that heaven cannot heal.” *

I have learned, even in my loneliest times, that there is abiding truth in the words of philosopher and theologian, Paul Tillich.

Loneliness expresses the pain of being alone; solitude expresses the glory of being alone.

Being alone taught me that, even when not one human soul is around me, I am never truly alone. And I rest my hope in these words, β€œIn life, in death, in life beyond death, God is with us. We are not alone. Thanks be to God.”

Amen and amen.

 

β€œCome, Ye Disconsolate,” Lyrics: Thomas MooreΒ (1779-1852); Altered by Thomas HastingsΒ (1784-1872); Music: Samuel WebbeΒ (1740-1816)

Please enjoy this beautiful hymn presented by the Baylor University Men’s A Cappella Choir at this link: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=mNqzhfB4y1I

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To Sing Again

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60,072,551 Americans are celebrating, singing songs of victory. At the same time, 60,467,601 of us cannot sing at all. We are silenced by grief after a divisive and troubling presidential election. Many of us are afraid, some are angry, others are despondent. And all around us, people celebrate.

How will we get through this time? How will we ever again feel that America is our home? When will we again lift our eyes after being bowed down in mourning? I have no easy answers. I only know that these words of the Psalmist describe my deepest feeling.

By the waters of Babylon,
there we sat down and wept,
when we remembered Zion.
On the willows there
we hung up our lyres.
For there our captors
required of us songs,
and our tormentors, mirth, saying,
β€œSing us one of the songs of Zion!”
How shall we sing the Lord’s song
in a foreign land?

Psalm 137:1-4

It is my sincere prayer that on some day in the future we will pick up our lyres, lift our eyes to the heavens, stand tall, and sing again.

Celebrate!

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How can this be a melancholy day? The sun is shining. The flowers are blooming. A gentle breeze cools the day. Yet, melancholy days can come upon us, days when we feel that discouraged feeling that something is missing. Loved ones may be far away. Physical pain may be getting us down. Any number of circumstances can make for a melancholy day.

Today, I am there, feeling a bit sad, missing my grandchildren, concerned about my health. It happens. There will always be days like this. But we learn to get past them to a more hopeful mood. Even on melancholy days, aren’t there things to celebrate? Like relatively good health, loving family relationships, a comfortable home. Osho writes about learning to be celebrators.

Be the celebrators, celebrate! Already there is too muchβ€”the flowers have bloomed, the birds are singing, the sun is there in the skyβ€”celebrate it! You are breathing and you are alive and you have consciousness, celebrate it!

― Osho, Creativity: Unleashing the Forces Within

How true that is! Breathing and alive, we can celebrate the day. We can enjoy the blooming flowers, the singing of the birds, the bright sun in our sky. We can celebrate our life!

Night Prayers

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I have had some dark nights of the soul in my life. And it seems that when night falls, the fear is greater, the mourning is harder, the sorrow is more intense, the Lonliness is almost unbearable. In those times, I would pray for the morning, hoping beyond hope that I would survive the night. Sleep would not come and I spent hours worrying. I spent many of those kinds of nights in the hospital, fearful, lonely, worried about my health and wondering if I would ever get well.

I can remember that during those long nights, I would call my husband for support. The time didn’t matter. I might call at 1:00am or even closer to the dawn. My husband was always faithful to talk me through the night crisis.

But when I was completely alone, my prayers emerged from the depths of worry and fear. I was almost desperate to talk to God and hear God’s voice of comfort.

Steven Charleston describes night prayers.

Night is drawing near. Soon the night prayers will begin. The after-hours prayers. The prayers without the need for words. Spoken from the heart, the language of those who work the late shift of sorrow. Night prayers turn bar rooms into churches, motels into cathedrals, truck stops into shrines. Night prayers are first time prayers, last chance prayers, prayers tossed up into the stars to see if anyone is there to catch them. Prayers without expectation. Tonight I will pray with the midnight seekers and the far from home angels. I will offer my own night prayer. For them, with them, in the congregation of the all night diner.

I love the words that speak of tossing prayers “up into the air to see if anyone is there to catch them.” I can attest to the fact that God was always there to hear my night prayers. Thanks be to God.

Set Hope Free

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Head bowed down, I listen to the stories on the news with deep sadness. I listen to my own inner voice telling me that I am aging. I listen to others speak of aging with terms like loneliness and discouragement. I listen to the voices of the young who speak fear about their future.

These, and a myriad of other stories of despondency, try to hold me down. And yet, my faith still rises up within me in its reach toward hope. The words of Bishop Steven Charleston never fail to inspire me.

Rise up in hope again today, no matter what may seek to hold you down. If the world around you seems dark, then have faith that your own light will only shine the brighter. Your witness is needed now more than ever. Do not bow your head before the story you hear being told by others, but lift your voice to tell your own story, a story of beauty and wonder, a story of love and struggle, the narrative of a life lived and lived well, a sign of faith for all to see. Rise up in hope again today, for you are living testimony to what hope can do when hope is set free.

As we tell our stories, you and I, we can share lives of beauty and wonder in the midst of struggle. We can give witness to a life well lived. We can rise up in hope and set it free!

Cast Down but Not Destroyed

 

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It was several years ago, a sunny, balmy day on the beach. A beautiful vacation with friends. Until the ill-fated phone call.

“Your nonprofit organization will no longer receive state funding. Your grant ends immediately. You will receive no payments as of today.”

To say this was shocking is an understatement. Suddenly, ten years of building was over. Services for victims of violence would cease immediately because staff had to be laid off. I was in shock and inconsolable. I had lost all that I had worked so hard to accomplish. What would we say to our clients? Who would help them when we closed our doors?

The press was asking for comments, but I had no words. All I could muster was silence and a few tears. I was too shocked to really cry. I was too bereft to make any coherent statement to the press or anyone else. Richard Rohr had the spot-on words to describe such a blow.

The pain of something old falling apart — chaos — invites the soul to listen at a deeper level. It invites and sometimes forces the soul to go to a new place because the old place is falling apart. Otherwise, most of us would never go to new places.

So true. I would never have gone to new places. As I look back on the day of my soul’s assault, I can honestly say that I was forced to listen to God at a deeper level. When that old life fell apart, there was something new in my future. Enmeshed in my work, I would never have seen it. I was drowning in my ministry and did not even notice that I was sinking. My health – physically, emotionally and spiritually – was at a low ebb. My friends saw it. I refused to.

In the end, the pain of that loss, the chaos, opened my eyes to a fresh new day. There was a new path ahead, bright and full of promise. As I allowed myself to be comforted, I called to mind one of my favorite scriptures, 2 Corinthians 4:8-9

“We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed . . .”

I decided to be happy!

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I simply decided to be happy again. It was my choice, after all. I had been through a grueling coup in my nonprofit organization. Friends and colleagues of many years betrayed me in very hurtful ways. I lost all that I had worked for in the previous ten years. The community lost a significant resource. I lost long time friends.

But that was several yesterday’s ago. I suffered a great loss, and grieved that loss for at least a year. I learned that the decision to be happy again is my own decision. The choice to hope again is my choice.

It was a good day when I made that choice. It was a good day when I made peace with the past, when I thanked God for the positive things I accomplished. It was a good day when I decided to be happy again!

The real things haven’t changed. It is still best to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasures; and to have courage when things go wrong.
― Laura Ingalls Wilder

Thankfully, that’s where I am today. The painful yesterdays are but a slight mist. The tomorrows are bright with hope.

Stronger than My Sadness

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I am stronger than my sadness. Because of that, I don’t dread sadness so much anymore. I just take it in as a part of living. Some days for me are just sad days. Yesterday was one of those days – Mother’s Day – and I spent it without my child or my grandchildren. So I figure it was most appropriate to feel sad.

I have learned, though, that sadness passes and brighter days are just around the next bend. That reality keeps me going and reminds me that I can take whatever comes in this thing we call life. Life brings all sorts of emotions, happiness, joy, pride, elation, peace, excitement, and yes, sadness too.

I love the poetry of Khalil Gibran who wrote “Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.”

 

And when I am sorrowful, I always return to Gibran’s writing on joy and sorrow:

The deeper that sorrow carves into your being,the more joy you can contain.

Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven?

And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives?

When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.

When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.

And that’s that! I am stronger than my sadness.