Pulling out of the driveway of a rented beach house on a beautiful Saturday evening, I was struck by an overwhelming sense of loneliness and separation. There, within the confines of my vehicle, I felt as though I were a million miles away from the rest of the world and from myself. In the heaviest of traffic, I was seized and wretched by this unseen force with tears dammed just beneath the surface ready to breech. In an instant, the bottom dropped out and my heart plummeted into a depths of the abyss. How could this be? Where did this come from? Why do I feel so numb to everything? My world was flipped in one instantaneous moment and has continued to linger since.
My weekend leading up to this moment had been one of the best experiences I’ve had with my friends in a long time. Thursday night we packed into a theater ready to experience all that was Avengers: End Game. The following day was met with one of my favorite pastimes, baseball. Myself and three of my most favorite friends loaded up my car to head to the stadium. We had the most lovely of times watching the game, sharing in laughs over the heckler sitting a row behind us, and the well orchestrated fireworks that followed the game! We truly did have a wonderful evening together. Saturday brought with it a crawfish boil where even more of my friends gathered together to share in fellowship and fun. Yet, just mere hours later, I was struck by the cold, numb feeling of loneliness.
Loneliness is defined as “being without company, cut off from others, not frequented by human beings, sad from being alone, and producing a feeling of bleakness or desolation” by Merriam-Webster. Britannica states that loneliness “occurs when a person’s social relationships are perceived by that person to be less in quantity, and especially in quality, than desired” and highlights the highly subjective nature of loneliness. One may be alone, but not feel lonely whereas one may be surrounded by others and feel lonely. At this time, I fall in the second camp as I’m surrounded by many incredible people who I have strong relationships with, but I feel lonely. Outwardly, I may not appear as though I am hurting but that couldn’t be further from reality. I am not putting up a front or trying to hide my pain, which is, perhaps, why being under this particular mood or temperament is so difficult for me.
Pain comes in many forms, but, unlike physical pain, loneliness hurts without anything inflicting a wound. Loneliness attacks the heart and it’s fragile brokenness is only exaggerated by the spotlight that is isolation. The best way I can describe it for myself is an overarching feeling as if I am just a bystander to other people’s lives and successes. An inconsequential, obscure blur as the world passes by like the trees on the side of the road as your stare out of the car window. The reality is that loneliness hurts unlike any other pain one experiences, and is difficult to describe beyond general abstractions like the definitions given above. In my case, I am not without company, or cut off from others. I am frequently around human beings, and I am not sad from being alone. I may be down, I may feel sad, but my sadness does not stem from being away from others.
Minute Maid Park in downtown Houston seats 41,168 people, which is incredible considering the stadium does not feel as though it is as large as it actually is. Then again that’s what good stadium design is suppose to do. All things considered, being one face in a massive crowd reveals one of the more frustrating aspects of loneliness — just because you’re around people does not mean that you’re not lonely. You may feel fine and know that you’re on good terms with your circle of friends, but you can still feel distant and cold. For myself, I become frustrated by this because I am waging war between what is real and how I currently feel. Bemoaning the difficult navigation that I must take in order to remain rooted during such times of intense loneliness. However, this too shall pass.
The mind is a curious thing, and is not impervious from the affects of sin. We must be graceful and cautious in our approach to addressing these matters. While we may be well-intentioned in our words and actions, we may inadvertently provide ill-informed advice and care to those who are hurting. As someone who has, off and on, experienced loneliness and depression, I can speak to the illogical thoughts and feelings that appear when experiencing such matters. While we may know that the thoughts of loneliness and sadness are not true or unfounded, we are burdened by the weight the circumstances we find ourselves in. Loneliness and depression can go hand-in-hand with one another, and oft times come in relationship to one another. For myself, loneliness came first and then the mild depression. As I write this now, both have passed and been removed from their residences in my life. As unwelcome of guests as they may be, I have had to reflect upon myself and the tendencies I have in how I respond to changes in my emotional and mental well-being.
I have, without a shadow of a doubt, been called into ministry. Looking back through life, I see the path and opportunities God placed before me to bring me to where I am today. He has sought my heart and obedience so that I may want His will over my will. However, as I’ve gone deeper and deeper into this process, I have learned from my peers and friends who are in ministry of the dangers of this calling. One fact that I have seen in my life and in others, is that those who are called into ministry are attacked through different means. One of the more quiet, less visible means by which they are attacked is loneliness. In leading others, in serving others, and in creating a space for people to flourish, the illusion may appear that ministers/pastors/leaders are without suffering. Do not be fooled! We can easily forget that we are all broken, because of the way in which people carry themselves. Not that people are putting up a front or trying to wear a mask, but we carry ourselves in a manner based on who God says that we are. Our hope and trust in God dictates how we conduct ourselves in spite of whatever trial we may be facing.
Having said all that I have, I recognize that I have some areas which may feed these uninvited guests. Firstly, I tend to put other’s needs above my own. I favor lifting others up over speaking up that I am hurting. Secondly, I can fall into the trap of belief that because others do not show the same level or awareness of compassion that I do, that must mean that others do not care. We are all gifted very different and have different skill sets suited for different tasks. I happen to be called to and gifted in counseling which has very specific methods of execution. Much of my expectations in being cared for stem from my own background, which is not how most people are going to operate. Finally, I carry/conduct myself very particularly and as a leader among my church family, the perception seems to be that I have life figured out and that life is easy. None of us, in reality, believe that anyone else’s lives are perfect or easy or without their struggle. We do, however, sometimes forget that reality for any number of reasons. I’m guilty of this too.
As I finish writing this post, these feeling have since subsided and been subdued. Loneliness and depression are uninvited guests who can linger for some time or pass quickly. Fortunately, both have moved on quickly in realization that I am not going to wallow in self-pity and self-doubt. I have a community that is focused on transparency and accountability who I can rely upon to walk with me through whatever season I find myself in. I wish to encourage you, whomever may be reading this, to seek out a community who will serve you, love you, and walk through every season with you! If you are hurting and in despair, lean in to those around you! Surround yourself with other who love you and care for you and be willing to speak up about the difficult parts of your life. Be willing to let go of the bondage of loneliness, depression, and sin and find hope, freedom, and mercy in the hands of God! Be brave, not matter the fear or doubt you may have, to speak up when you are hurting. Rely upon those God has placed in your life and trust in His purposeful placement of those around you!