Loneliness: The Unnamed Pain


Let’s talk about loneliness.

I’m not a therapist or doctor, but as a hospital chaplain, I’ve seen the terrible and awful effects of loneliness on mental health. The problem is that it’s tough to admit, almost embarrassing to say, “I’m hurting from loneliness.”

Loneliness is a double-bind in that in order to find comfort, it requires reaching out to people or for people to be near. But some of us have been alone so long, it’s unthinkable that we can connect with another human without risking rejection—which fuels more loneliness.

The unhelpful reply I hear to “I’m lonely” is “Why don’t you just make friends?” But that’s like saying, “Why don’t you just get rich?” or “Why can’t you just go to the gym?” We’re already in deficit, a lap behind, because we fear connection in proportion to how alone we feel.

It’s difficult to make friends and keep them. It’s hard to have real friendships that are not just functional transactions. Even when someone is surrounded by crowds or well connected, they may be the loneliest people on earth, because all their “friends” are transactional.

I don’t know the answer to loneliness. But I know what the answer is not: We can’t just snap out of it. We can’t just cure it with a party, a bar, a church, a dating app. It requires intentional investment and yes, the risk of rejection. The opposite of loneliness is courage. It takes courage to reach out, to enter each other’s orbit, to risk trust, and to be alone in our thoughts and fears.

Friends, this week may be lonely. This season can be brutal. They can remind you of all that’s missing. As trite as it sounds: You may feel lonely, but you are not alone. May you find the courage to reach out, to enter the possibilities of love in all its heaven and heartache.
— J.S.

Grinches, Scrooges, and Grieving Souls: Christmas Is For You, Too


I know that for many of us, the Christmas season is a painful time. The festive celebration is in stark contrast to your own history.

It could be a dysfunctional family. Grief from loss. A lonely time. The heartache of a hard year. Or it could just be you dislike the whole affair. You can’t stand the egg nog, mistletoes, and holiday radio.

But that’s okay. Please know: You are not obligated to pretend happiness just because a certain calendar date has fallen on you. You have permission to be a Scrooge, a Grinch, a “downer.” No one else has to live through what you’re going through, and they will be long gone after telling you how to feel.

I believe that God can handle that. He receives you. He validates your grief. No one else can, not fully. He does.

And more, God’s invitation to rejoice still stands. Always. He won’t stop inviting you to joy. Through tears, even for brief moments, laughter can still bubble up and surprise you. Jesus broke in the same way: through dirt, grief, a lonely manger, he was light pushing through the dark. A surprise.

Merry Christmas, to Scrooges and celebrators. However you spend this time and through all you’re going through, I hope you know: you are loved.
J.S.


Photo from Images Catalog, CC0 1.0