walking the lonely path

GEG-featured-image“To live a spiritual life we must first find the courage to enter into the desert of our loneliness and to change it by gentle and persistent efforts into a garden of solitude. The movement from loneliness to solitude is the beginning of any spiritual life because it it is the movement from the restless senses to the restful spirit, from the outward-reaching cravings to the inward-reaching search, from the fearful clinging to the fearless play.” — Henri Nouwen, Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life

Ten years ago, the sort of loneliness I feel these days would have shot me into a panic. There’s a myriad of reasons as to why that would have been the case, but that was then, this is now, and I wanna talk about now.

I’ve had five friends fall out of my daily life in the last year-and-a-half. (And by “daily life”, I mean living in the same town…randomly dropping by with hugs or hand-me-downs…getting together for playdates, coffee, walks…and having a deep trust between us.) The initial hit happened when one friend left the state and two others deliberately stopped interacting with me. Together, those events effectively catapulted and landed me on a lonely path. I fell hard in the dirt, and it knocked the wind out of me. More recently, two other dear ones moved away. Another jolt.

The leaving of those friends left behind a desolate emptiness in my spirit. And I – like most humans – prefer the feeling of being satiated, even if it’s only temporary. To stave off the emptiness, we pour in sugar, drugs, porn, overscheduled calendars, all manner of material items, other people. Other people. That’s me. I’ve spent most of my life attempting to fill that emptiness with other people.

But this time – this time (why THIS time? I have no idea) – instead of scrambling to fill up the friend queue with newbies as I always have before, I stopped myself. Something told me to hold my horses, and I listened. I decided to try accepting that this was my path for the time being. In Elisabeth Elliott’s book The Path of Loneliness, she writes, “Many times in my life God has asked me to wait when I wanted to move forward….To my pleas for guidance, God’s answer has often been ‘Sit still, my daughter’.” That’s exactly what I sensed. So I made a conscious decision to welcome the loneliness, sit smack-dab in the middle of it, and see what it brought me. Instead of panicking at the loss and expending energy on relationships that might not be meant-to-be, I held steady and waited to see if something Even Better flowed in. I decided to stop raging against the loneliness, and instead let it BE.

Just glancing at the title of Elisabeth Elliott’s book makes me consider that this present path of mine – lonely and however long it may be – has a purpose. No clue what that is. Maybe it’s simply about trusting God/Love. Maybe it’s about learning how to remain calm in uncomfortable circumstances. Maybe it’s about realizing there are good things to be found in this space, to be found only by me. I liken it to taking a walk in the woods. It’s fun to hike with others, and it feels safer in numbers. But there’s beauty and a freedom in walking alone, in you being the one who decides where to wander. When you’re alone (and thus less distracted), you’re more apt to discover the moss-covered rocks in a trickling stream or notice the birch leaves’ musical fluttering overhead. And you realize you actually can walk through the woods…all by yourself.

I used to be terrified of loneliness. As my path diverged from those whom I had loved deeply, I grew afraid. But accepting my lonely walk this past year has been transformative. And now? I’m feeling braver. I see the forest ahead, I step into it’s solitary beauty, and I know there are good things to be discovered by me, and me alone.

12 thoughts on “walking the lonely path

  1. Jana…I LOVE seeing your growth! You are so different from the young lady who came to my house in a panic because of recent events just a few years ago. God has great plans in store for you, my friend!

  2. Love this and your way of relating. I wish our paths crossed paths more. Maybe we can work on that, but in any event, know that I am reading your words and sensing you nearby. Even through a screen.

  3. I’ve definitely gone through seasons of loneliness before, but nothing like this. Moving away from everything and everyone I love….this is completely new territory. I feel like you just handed me a compass. Or a map. Or left me a really nice trail of bread crumbs to follow.

    I love you, friend.

  4. So good. You said it just right. I’ve been on a similar journey the last few years, and I think I’ve finally figured out a few reasons why the decision to allow the loneliness to work on you is a good thing:

    – because the friends you make when your’e not desperate for friends are usually better people, and a WAY better fit (example from my life : you)

    – because being lonely helps you learn to make yourself happy without anyone’s help, which is a critical skill for anyone living in a world with imperfect people who will all eventually disappoint

    – because the only real, lasting happiness is some sort of deep connection with God (or the universe or Love or whatever you wanna call him/her/it), and that can only be found with lots and lots of space and inner quietness

    I would love to be part of a small group where someone just reads this entry and the discussion goest wherever it goes.

    Well done amiga.

  5. Beautiful, once again. I really needed to hear this perspective! Thank you. And, I have to say that I can’t imagine anyone deliberately stopping interaction with you!

  6. Really glad to read your thoughts , helped me a lot with my own journey … had to relocate from my small hometown of 23 years , to a big city , left my friends , support system , church , and am full time caregiver to my husband , with a stroke and no words …I am a people person for sure and have had to learn to be alone a lot …but being lonely is a different thing altogether … I can hear my inner voice so much better and when I feel God speaking to me , I am learning how to be a better listener …I am so glad you have started me thinking about this subject instead of just blindly living it everyday …you have given it purpose , thanks so much …have a blessed day !!

  7. i was just listening to this book review & author interview, and it made me think of this post of yours, especially this one line about lonliness.

    “At night, loneliness pressed like a stone on my chest. Sometimes I was almost grateful for that stone; it kept me weighted down when I was sure I would float away, so little connection did I have to the world.”
    http://n.pr/M1beS2

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