Its a well known adage that one can feel lonely while in the midst of a crowd. We’ve all (I presume) experienced it; being the one standing in the corner at a party, walking alone in a foreign country and not understanding a word around you, or feeling alienated among old friends at a school reunion. Sadly, this happens even in a church.
But there’s a much more insidious, and dare I say widely prevalent loneliness that is of far greater consequence. I seem to have been unknowingly circling this topic and its now crept closer and surprised me (see: where’s our conversation, how to speak wisdom, suppression and expression of public passion).
I’m talking of the loneliness found within relationship. Again sadly, I think Christians are no more immune to this than those outside the church.
If I even look back at only the last few weeks I’m conscious how often I’ve seen this loneliness. The retired couple who tolerate each other out of habit, the extrovert who let his guard slip and exposed a hole of loneliness, the person who’s dying and isn’t letting anyone into their fears, and all the ones living on the edge of a divorce that they don’t see coming.
This is the loneliness that hides under cover of friendly social norms. Its the loneliness that grows because we can’t find someone to share a passion we hold dearly.
All relationships have some measure of this, and it naturally causes little pools of sadness that there is something that another doesn’t share. This is perfectly normal, to be expected, and most people cope fine. In some ways a slice of loneliness can help one find empathy.
But when that absence of a connection lies in an area of deep felt passion, of a feeling that we find hard to express, it becomes the cause of deep frustration. No wonder artists are often deeply unsettled people, they’re struggling to share something burning inside. Its no wonder that painters and musicians need their art to find some way to connect their deep passions with those around them, to find an expression that will create a sharing in relationship – its something we’re all hungering for.
I like to talk to myself – it helps. But having someone else to share my passion is even better. Those who have a close friend with who they can really converse are truly blessed in this world of digital isolation. Those who marry a friend, likewise. But many people only have social circles of shallowness. There are all too many relationships where all they have are conversations of convenience; what maybe started as a lust never grew into love.
Thinking about this type of loneliness explains a lot, especially about why couples break up. If something is deeply important to me and I have no-one to share that passion, then I’m lonely in that area. Perhaps this is a root contribution to divorce – this loneliness even in relationship?
This is the only explanation I can find for one person I know who was close to me. He divorced his wife for no clear reason, and could (would) not explain it to me. Increasingly I’m thinking that he allowed the slices of loneliness to grow ever larger until they consumed his love. We have to fight this loneliness in relationship, and the church should be on the forefront of that battle. And that makes me think of about another friend, and another, and another … all have measures of loneliness … have they let their passions nurture a loneliness within their relationship?
(And I also wonder if that is why many lifestyle Christians don’t have this loneliness? Perhaps because there’s no passion that they desire to share?)