Underneath the noisy newsfeeds and flowery photo ops with lovely lattes, many are living what Thoreau called “lives of quiet desperation.” I know this because I feel it myself, and I regularly hang out with people who share the same sentiments. Beneath our busy schedules and surface relationships, we’re starving for authentic friendships.
The Long Loneliness
Dorothy Day, who helped found the Catholic Workers Movement and lived faithfully among the poor and working classes, had her own sense of poverty: a relational one. As a single mother and as an ordinary believer living in the already/not yet of the kingdom of God, she experienced what she called “the long loneliness” all her life.
I love that phrase—it honestly depicts an ongoing struggle with feeling alone, or never fully known or at ease. We all experience it, though to differing degrees and in differing seasonal lengths.
Long More, Not Less
I used to deal with unfilled longings like Whack-a-Mole. When one came up, I immediately sought to shove it down and pretend it never showed itself. So, when the creeping sense of sadness and aloneness started to creep in, I busied myself to avoid it. Fill the schedule. Work on a project. Read a new book. Get things done.
But this approach to longing and life is more Buddhist than Christian. Desires, as much as they may cause us to ache, remind us that our hearts are made for far more than even the best this earth has to offer us. Piercing desires are homing devices that keep us aligned with our true North, helping get us back to our eternal nest.
As such, I’m learning to lean into loneliness even though it feels scary and vulnerable. I’m learning that loneliness is a costly invitation to walk more deeply towards our faithful friend, Christ. I can drag my seemingly unmentionable hungers to the throne room and tell God honesty what I feel. I tell him how alone and unseen I feel. In my complaining about lack of kindred friends, he shows himself to be the epitome of a faithful friend. What a gracious friend we have in him!
Long for the Faithful Friend
God is such a good and faithful friend to us that he has given us ready-made language to express the deep desires of our hearts. In the Psalms, our dearest friend has provided prompts to help us share our homesickness for him.
“The friendship of the Lord is for those who fear him, and he makes known to them his covenant. My eyes are ever toward the the Lord, for he will pluck my feet out of the net. Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted.”
“As the deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?”
Through Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, he secured a way for us to be in right, warm relationship with him (1 Pet. 2:24-25). Whereas the ancient Israelites feared to approach Mount Sinai where God’s presence descended, we know that the God of the universe calls us friends (John 12:15–16). He’s compassionate toward us as we walk through life and experience all its accompanying longings. (Ps. 103:13–14).
While I’ve always been comfortable being honest with God, it has taken time to learn how to be vulnerable with people about feelings of loneliness. After all, it can be awkward to express such depth of relational needs in our closest relationships. Yet, as I share my heart, I notice something beautiful happening. When I walk in the light, others open up, too. This doesn’t mean we can perfectly or ultimately meet one another’s longings, but it does mean that we can validate those longings and point each other to the one who will meet them all, whether sooner or later. As Henri Nouwen writes, “It is in the intimate fellowship of the weak that love is born.”
As we long together, God uses broken, imperfect human relationships to care for us in tangible ways. The presence of a friend who sits with us in our loneliness or heartache provides an embodied picture of God’s ever-present love (Rom. 8:31–38; Ps. 139:7–12). A friend who listens to us as we verbally process complex emotion models for our God who leans low to listen our cries (Ps. 17:6).
One day, we will only, always be in the presence of our Faithful Friend. Until then, may we long honestly and lean into the relationships God has given us along the way.