I have been caught several times of late hiding in my own house. Other times I have been discovered parked in an empty lot – busy in my own car.
When asked about my curious behavior I simply respond, “I’ve got a lot of things to get done and this way I can do them uninterrupted.”
What may have begun as a sincere desire to be productive has morphed into a compulsive hunger for isolation. And you know what? I’m lonely!
I know I am not the only one. Research from CentreForum suggests that 1 in 10 patients visit their general practitioner simply because they are lonely. “Loneliness is not a physical state of being but an emotional one” states Rabbi Phillip Ohriner in his article on loneliness. Everyone experiences various degrees of loneliness but, sometimes, this pain is self-inflicted.
I have observed in myself and others a pattern or progression of thought which contributes to loneliness.
- “I can’t take these people anymore. I’m done! “Our weariness and frustration is overly simplified and blamed upon those around us. So… We take a step back.
- Slight irritation creeps up and we attempt to control our environment a little more. “I just need more of…something and less of those people who get in my way.” So… We go back to step number one.
- The above cycle seems to repeat itself over and over as we become more and more isolated, grumpy, and self-absorbed.
Has this ever happened to you? The urge to self-protect and blame-shift can seem irresistible. It can be initially freeing but requires more and more steps backward. It’s addictive!
Many years ago I attended a three-week-long survival experience in the Boundary Waters Canoe area of Minnesota. For most of the time our group of 12 individuals learned to work together and seemed to unite best around the campfire at the end of each day. There we found warmth as well as nourishment. It was also the place where, shoulder to shoulder, we grew in our understanding and appreciation of each other.
Towards the end of this trip each of us was dropped off at an isolated place to “survive” for three days and three nights…alone.
We had no tent but were given a meager ration of food. We were able to build a fire each night, but the warmth revealed to me in a surprising way that something was missing. It was people! It was those annoying weird friends! Upon our reunion, every member admitted to craving human relationship – even the least gregarious! Surprisingly, we all needed each other.
I recently heard this very helpful illustration.
Imagine a group of people circled around a fire. They not only experience the warmth of the fire but the warmth of community as well as they stay shoulder to shoulder engaging in dialogue, inquiries, and even thoughtful silences.
Imagine, that for whatever reason, some individuals take a step back from the fire and each other. As they experience a chill, they must protect themselves by layering on another jacket. Each step backward results in more pronounced inward thinking. Further alienation results as the layers of self-protective covering grow. Those who were once united by warmth and comfortable self-revelation are now divided by the threat of further chill and the suspicious neediness of others.
The glowing campfire symbolizes our Creator-God: The Author of self-giving Love itself. Drawing near to Him can sometimes feel confining but it produces that for which we are made: to love God and to love others.
Who does not want to be surrounded by self-giving friends and coworkers? Who honestly wants to live alone with cynicism and bitterness?
The only choices I can see are these:
I can remain immovable as I continue to apply layer after self- protective layer-all the while fearing and resenting those around me.
I can draw near to the campfire-both receiving it’s warm and welcoming the touch of those on either side.
I need continual reminding from loved ones to draw near to the campfire. It’s in giving that we receive. I need continual reassurance! It’s in BEING loved that we CAN love.
OK, I may be alone in a parking lot as I write this, but I’M GOING IN! I’m stepping earnestly toward the campfire. I’m shedding some layers and I’m waiting for you. Won’t you join me? Together we can be a part of the healing of loneliness.