The Gifts of Loneliness

The gifts of Loneliness – Fridays with Robynn

Over the years I’ve been graced with some very precious friends. This past summer I said good-bye to two of them. One is a friend with whom I share a great deal of history. We’ve been through deep suffering together. We’ve laughed a lot and cried even more over the years. The other is a newer friend but we’ve walked miles together and logged many conversations of significance.

Both are good friends. And I miss them.

Saying goodbye again reminds me of the sting of loneliness. As everyone has, I’ve endured seasons of deep loneliness. I’ve felt misunderstood, empty, alone. I used to dread loneliness. It felt dark and claustrophobic. I felt isolated. I felt sadness and pain. I hated loneliness. But lately I’ve come to recognize Loneliness as a generous benefactor. Loneliness greets me in the morning with strange and unusual mercies. She lingers in the afternoon and sits with me on the sofa and she offers me presents.

Loneliness comforts me with the reality that she cannot destroy me. I live on, even in her company. That’s reassuring—because I used to feel that she would be my undoing, my destruction, my soul’s demise. Now I know differently.

Loneliness is a type of suffering and suffering has the capacity to transform me. It produces character. It gives way to endurance. It yields to faith. Those are sweet and generous gifts.

Loneliness highlights my need. She gives me my emptiness. This is a good thing. I recognize my empty spaces and I have the opportunity to turn to God with my soul in my hands, my heart on my sleeve. This helps me see that God can really be my True Soul Friend. I can experience His Presence. Loneliness gave me that.

She gives me my humanity. She connects me to millions of others around the globe who are displaced, afraid, betrayed, abandoned. Loneliness whispers, “see you are not alone”. The pain that she brings also reminds me that I’m still alive. And I’m more fully human for having encountered her.

Loneliness shows me her ability to diminish when I take my eyes off her. She gets smaller in stature when I don’t focus or fixate on her. Conversely she grows enormous and ominous when I stare at her, when I dote on her, when I nurse her with my self-pity. She’s magical that way. That’s another of her mysterious gifts.

Perhaps the sweetest thing of all that Loneliness gives is the opportunity to receive random moments of connection with others as gifts in themselves. I can receive a deep conversation in the church lobby. I can enjoy a joke with a stranger in the grocery store. I can marvel at the various people God has given me –a kindly neighbor, a faithful postman, a humorous barista–and I can receive them with thanks. I don’t have to demand from them a forced friendship, a deeper commitment. I can walk away and be grateful for the moment of connection, the sacred spot of community. Loneliness gave me that.

I’ve just said goodbye, with sobs and tears, to my friend Ellen. She’s returning to India. And I’m staying on here. I’ve bid Ellen farewell and in the same space, filling the same place she leaves– Loneliness steps in. I also just said goodbye to Jill. Jill’s moving to a place I’ve never even visited. She’s going on new adventures without me. I’ve said farewell to Jill too and Loneliness swoops in. I’d rather Ellen and Jill had stayed. But I’ve learned to not resist Loneliness.

Thank you Loneliness. You’ve been almost kind to me.

21 thoughts on “The Gifts of Loneliness

  1. Dear Marilyn,
    The most meaningful thing in this blog was your comments about random moments of connection. I do appreciate them but will now see them as gifts.
    Thank you!

    Marnie, a friend of your cousin Jan.

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    1. Marnie – I’m so glad you found this post through Jan. Are you in the Chicago area as well? It was actually written by my friend Robynn who knows of what she speaks! I loved the post as well and found it to be tremendously insightful. Thank you so much for reading and commenting.

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  2. Yes! I really resonate with what you wrote. I had some intense loneliness in Pakistan, and I used to literally cry to the Lord. I imagined Him collecting my tears in a bottle, as a Psalm mentions. I found that being alone was okay as long as I was busy, my mind engaged, and I came to appreciate solitude and able to differentiate between solitude and loneliness. Loneliness drives me to Jesus, and solitude is when I am contentedly alone with Him. Now that I am back home with my father, I have lost my ability to have much solitude, and I know when he dies I will face a lot of loneliness again. But I survived it before, and I will survive again the same way, by crying to Jesus and looking for His provision for me.Thanks for writing this, I sent it to my niece.

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    1. Thank you Nancy. I love how you defined the difference between solitude and loneliness: “Loneliness drives me to Jesus and solitude is when I am contentedly alone with Him.”

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  3. As always, Marilyn, You wax eloquent and reach in to our hearts…A friend just lost her precious husband and although ‘your’ loneliness you describe is of a different nature…I feel your entry will touch ‘her heart.’ Thank you

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  4. My friend- thank you for putting into words what we all have felt and do feel. Thank you for this today as I seek to see loneliness as a gift. Sure do miss you and our walks.

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  5. Robynn….wow. i am printing this and putting it in my journal to ruminate upon. thanks for sharing and baring your soul in such a profound way.

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    1. Ruminate away Martha! Let me know what rises to the surface in your soul. I think we learn from each others meditations. Thanks for your kind words.

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  6. Thank you so much Robynn, for your thoughts on loneliness. They struck a real chord with me, reminding me of times in Pakistan when we were the only foreigners in our town, and for a couple of years the only Christians. It is so true that loneliness brings rich gifts. One for me was finding my need for friends filled by my Pakistani neighbors. Had there been another western woman there, it would have been so much easier to turn to her. It also made me appreciate times with colleagues more than I had when we lived close together.
    Helena, I love what you wrote. We who have lived in so many different worlds are rich beyond measure, but there is always the pain of saying goodbye.

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    1. Thank you Auntie Polly! I do think that’s maybe another of her gifts…she gives us permission to look for friends in places we weren’t expecting to find any! I’m sure now you miss those friends in the Sindh….!

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  7. Robynn, you’ve brought some very wise and heartfelt words to the feeling that as you’ve said connects many of us. I so long for heaven where finally all my friends from all the different sides of me, my Toronto side, my Finland side, my Pakistan side, my etc. etc. side can all connect together. It’s a beautiful challenge to see the gifts that that loneliness brings, thank you.

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