FOR THE DAY YOU FEEL ALONE
“Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.’”
- Matthew 28: 19-20
Dear Brother, Dear Sister, Dear Friend,
It breaks my heart that today you feel alone. We all have moments where a sense of isolation and disconnection sinks to our very bones. We might find ourselves in a new home or new town or new school where we do not know anyone. Or someone, a parent, a lover, a friend may walk out the door and abandon us when we need them most. Or we may be surrounded by people who care about us and yet, for some reason we may not understand, we still feel invisible. We can feel alone in our own homes, and we can suddenly find ourselves without a home at all.
Sometimes it feels impossible to find people to connect with. Many of us struggle with feelings of anxiety, self-doubt, or self-loathing. All this negativity can make it feel impossible to put ourselves out there. It becomes easy to believe that no one will ever like us or even want to talk to us, and we give up before we even get started. Such feelings are often rooted in experiences of being rejected or bullied. If people have hurt us in the past, it is very difficult to trust anyone. It is easier to build up walls to protect ourselves, even though this leaves us alone.
But maybe you struggle in a different way. Maybe you are well-liked and have lots of friends to spend time with, but you feel inauthentic. Maybe you feel like you wear a mask of charm, charisma, sugary sweetness, toughness, snarkiness, or whatever it is you think people want to see. Deep down, you know this false image keeps others from seeing the real you, and this makes you feel like no one really knows you. You can have legions of friends and still feel alone.
Maybe you have become someone you do not really like in order to belong. Maybe you find yourself gossiping about others, being mean, spending too much money, using drugs or alcohol, having sex without love or meaning, or wasting your time on things you do not care about because you want to fit in with a culture that tells you these are the things you are supposed to do. You wanted to be part of the crowd, and now here you are, but you know in your soul this is not the person you were made to be, and this is not the person you want to be.
Or maybe you are angry at the whole world, and you do everything you can to push people away. Maybe you are so hurt from the past and so afraid of experiencing more pain that you convince yourself you are better, smarter, or more righteous than others. You cut them all out of your heart. You give up on relationships because it feels easier to keep people at a distance through harsh judgement than to connect with people who are flawed.
Or maybe you feel solid in who you are and you like yourself just fine, but you have trouble finding people who are like you. You do not always feel easy around people and yearn to find others who share some of your identities, experiences, beliefs, or interests. Yet they remain hard to find.
We were created to love and to be loved. There is a yearning in our souls to connect with God and with other people. At the moment of our creation, Genesis 2: 18 tells us that, “The LORD God said: ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a suitable partner for him.’” Suffering comes when sin, misunderstandings, hatred, prejudice, and lies tear us apart from one another and from God. I wish I could spare you from the pain of loneliness, but yearning for connection is a part of our human condition. In our world, which is broken by sin, there will be times when we feel the weight of loneliness.
When Jesus took on flesh, he shared in all aspects of our humanity except committing sin. He understands us because he experienced profound loneliness at times. In fact, he teaches us that walking the lonely, homeless road is sometimes a part of being his disciple. Luke 9: 57-58 says, “As they were proceeding on their journey someone said to him, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’ Jesus answered him, ‘Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.’” This verse breaks my heart because it opens my eyes to the painful loneliness experienced by Jesus. Every sin throughout the ages is a rejection of God’s love, and Jesus feels each violation of love personally. Knowing this calls me to open my life to Jesus so that he might finally have a place to abide on earth, and that place is within my own heart.
We all experience loneliness and isolation as a result of sin, but through God’s saving grace, we are reconciled to God and to each other. This is the joy of the gospel! Our calling as Christians is to live this truth at all times and in all circumstances. We must let God work in and through us to right wrongs, establish justice, and rekindle love until the fullness of the Kingdom of God is revealed at the end of time.
How would that look in your life? As you struggle with feeling alone in your own corner of the world, where is God calling you to seek love with Him and with other people?
It is such a blessing to find a friend, a family member, a lover who sees and cherishes you as you are. Love inspires us to grow into the people we are meant to be. Never give up the search. There are so many good and loving people out there who are looking for a person like you. Go find them. Be the friend they need.
How can you find someone to help soothe your loneliness? Start by living a full life today. Spend some time doing what you like to do. Take classes, join teams, or start a book club at the library. Go to concerts or dances. If you cannot afford them, see if you can work part-time at a music venue. Volunteer for causes you care about. Participate in community groups or service projects with your faith community. If they do not have what you are looking for, offer to lead something new. Even if you can’t think of anything that sounds interesting or fun, put yourself out there and try something random. In time, you might discover interests and make friends in the most unexpected places. But try not to approach activities with great expectations that you will find a new best friend or someone to date right away. Rather, just put yourself places where you want to be and open your heart to love any neighbor who happens to show up.
When I was in my late teens and early twenties, I felt very much alone. I had dear family members in my life who loved me and whom I loved, but I felt like I needed friends of my own. I wanted to connect with people who understood what was happening in my life at that time, who shared my interests and beliefs and were going through what I was going through. Sadly, I let my desire for this specific kind of friend blind me to the good people who were right in front of me all along.
After graduating from college, I worked as a preschool teacher. I loved playing with the kids, reading books out loud, and belting out silly songs to make the little ones laugh. Yet every day was an exhausting challenge. One of the people who helped me through was my co-teacher, Janet. This eighty-year old, spit-fire, fearless woman had raised nine children and taught for decades. She had a side-splitting, irreverent sense of humor and was not afraid to boss me around, which I needed now and then. Janet was very different from the young-Christian-gay-male buddy I had been praying for, but her friendship rapidly became one of the greatest blessings of my life. To this day, she makes me laugh, listens, reminds me to be brave, and gives me great advice. Janet grew up during the Great Depression and she is one of the strongest people I know. Through her, I discovered that I can find amazing people to connect with who are different than me, and that is a wonderful thing! I do not need to find friends who are exactly like me. I simply need good people to love who love me back.
Maybe you have good and loving friends and family, but there is a special ache in your heart to find romantic love. This particular kind of loneliness can be painful. Pray about it. If this longing for love was placed in your heart by God, trust that God will guide you to your soul mate at the right time. Psalm 37: 4 states, “Find your delight in the LORD who will give you your heart’s desire.” I do not think this means God will give us whatever we want. Rather, I believe it means if we truly give our lives to God, He will give us the desires that will lead us to true meaning and happiness. After discerning what God wants for us, we can trust in the words that Jesus speaks in Luke 11: 9-13: “And I tell you, ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. What father among you would hand his son a snake when he asks for a fish? Or hand him a scorpion when he asks for an egg?”
Searching for a soul mate has been a struggle for me. I definitely had a late start. I did not realize I was gay until I was twenty-one years old. At that time, I developed a crush on a friendly, adorable co-worker. I did not know what my own feelings meant at first. Was I gay? Was I bi? Was I having a hormonal episode that would pass? Back then, I did not believe it was ever morally right for two men to love each other in a romantic, sexual way. And yet, here in my heart was this longing. All my life, I had always dreamed about falling in love with a woman and building a family with her. Feeling attracted to another man was a complete and total shock.
After a day or two of painful confusion, I sat on the bus and opened my heart to God in prayer. I imagined Jesus watching me with kind eyes, and I said to him, “Jesus, I give you my heart. You can keep it for yourself alone, or you can share it with the person I’m meant to be with. I trust you.” This prayer brought me great peace in those early days of confusion and questioning.
I wish I could say I always remain in a stance of blissful surrender to God, but that would be a terrible lie. The first man I had a crush on ended up being straight, and that was a painful disappointment. I wrestled for years with deeply ingrained homophobic beliefs and eventually came to the conclusion that God is love and, therefore, if true love exists between any two people, God is there. When I first decided to give dating a try, I experienced some false starts and early disappointments. I made mistakes. I started thinking I could not be happy or fulfilled until I found my perfect match. Dating became all about me. Rather than turning to God’s mercy and holding onto hope, I allowed myself to grow bitter and despairing. I kept dating, but over time, I realized I was not even looking for love anymore because I did not believe that love was real. I was only using people to ease the pain of loneliness. Some of those people really liked me, and I ended up hurting them.
This painful discovery forced me to step back and reflect on my dating life. I realized that the idea of love with a romantic partner had become a false idol for me. Rather than opening my heart to love and letting God guide me, I attempted again and again to find happiness and satisfaction in the arms of another man. We experience God’s love through the love of others, but I had lost sight of the truth that love comes first and foremost from God. I now realize that I must continually smash the idol and remember the prayer I made on the bus in those early days of questioning my sexuality: “Jesus, I give you my heart. You can keep it for yourself alone, or you can share it with the person I’m meant to be with. I trust you.”
Jesus is there to take me back every time.
If you are yearning for romantic love, pray about it. Ask God to help you grow into the person you need to be for your soul mate. Open your heart to the people in your life today. Love your family, friends, neighbors, and even your enemies. Let God guide you each step of the way. Trust Him. I talked to my priest once about feeling lonely and wondering whether or not I would ever find anyone to marry. He listened, gave me a warm, knowing smile, and said, “You’ll find each other.”
Remember, the truth is that we are never alone because God is always with us. He is always here to love us, hold us, walk beside us, and show us the way. As Jesus sends his followers, including us, out into the world, he says, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age’” (Matthew 28: 19-20).
This mission gives us the grace to know that whenever we encounter another soul, we encounter a neighbor who we are called to love as ourselves. It can be very difficult to find a best friend or the love of your life, but it is rarely a challenge to find a neighbor. God calls us to love the people around us, the strangers on the other side of the world, and even our enemies just as much as we love our dearest friends. And so the opportunity to love, to not be alone, is everywhere. You can always offer a caring hand or an encouraging word to everyone you encounter. Whether or not they take it is up to them.
So as you go through this season of solitude, I invite you to open your eyes and heart to God’s presence. Cling to Him, let His love wash over you, and let the Spirit move within you. Let God’s love generate new life in you and prepare you for connection with whoever you encounter. Do what you can to change the world for the better, and let go of everything else. God loves us as we are and, if we let Him, He will guide us to where we need to be.