Loneliness. I’d rather not admit to knowing anything about it. But the truth is, I do. Did you know that a recent study finds loneliness to be as detrimental as smoking a half pack of cigarettes a day? Right now, while I am not in its clutches, I want to write out the tricks I have learned for besting this beast.
Loneliness and I go way back. I first ran into it as a latch key kid in a ridiculously small town. We moved there from the outside, strike 1. We went to the weird church, strike 2. I was neither athletic nor musical; neither hilarious nor gregarious– strike 3. I managed okay… except when I didn’t. I felt like loneliness was always silently at my heels, even in a crowd of friends.
You Can Run But…
I learned in college how to stay out ahead of loneliness by being terribly busy. I had a scholarship to maintain, mega amounts of church services, a job that paid my bills. And –winner winner, chicken dinner – a handsome church boy who was talented, funny, and thought I was the bees knees!
I married Handsome Boyfriend and thought I’d left loneliness on another continent. In so many ways, I had. I really had. Steve started off strong and remains a stellar husband. We had two kids, became heavily involved in the ministry, launched a business, and commenced being a homeschooling family. These are all accomplishments I remain proud of.
Nonetheless, in hindsight, I was still playing the busy game. I said yes wherever and whenever I was needed without taking the time for soul care. I was overtired, but I was such a good, dutiful girl. Well, as it turns out, usefulness doesn’t override or cure loneliness. You can be beside people all day and remain a party of one.
Family Isn’t Everything
There is part of every woman’s soul that needs, NEEDS, needs real female friendships. No substitute exists. I adore my husband, I treasure my children, and I do appreciate all the ministry opportunities. Still, there were a few absolutely priceless women around me, whom God gifted me with. Sadly, I neglected these diamonds in my life. A wiser woman would have seized all the quality time with them she could.
Steve and I started making better decisions together, one of which relocated us to Nashville for a few years. I had a lot of time to rest and reassess. Actually, that’s not exactly true. First, I was swamped by another season of loneliness.
However, this time was markedly different. God was calling me on the carpet, and it hurt so good. Far away from everything familiar, I was able to recognize patterns in my decisions that I did have the power to change. The loneliness wasn’t a suffocating cloud without origin. I realized more clearly the immense value of certain friends who were now farther away. I grieved for time lost with them.
2 Changes I Had to Make
I resolved to stop wasting opportunities to be with people who mattered. When I met someone who was interesting to me, I made time to soak them up. Also, it’s like I quit hiding my true self. Instead of giving away all my time and energy for shallow connections, I chose instead to practice vulnerability with a few women and in small groups of couples we trusted. I am not awesome at it, but I feel markedly improved.
Secondly, I know I need a connection to vibrant women of faith. I need creative, intelligent and intuitive women around me. I’m a stronger mom and a better wife when this need is met. So I seek them out. What does that look like, practically speaking? Well, I try to be like my daughter Adrienne who will fearlessly try anything at least once. Glass blowing lessons, Rotary club, a wellness studio, family art classes, homeschool support groups, coffee dates and mom dinners. I said yes to it all. A few of those things have become a regular part of my life, along with the friends I made there. I found them by following what feels joyful (not dutiful) to my soul.
We just moved to the beach, to Pensacola, late this summer. I looked out the French doors, reveling in our gorgeous view of the golf course, and I felt – oh no. I felt desperate waves of loneliness! It wanted, in one blast, to swallow up my spirit of adventure. There was at least two weeks where I daily had to borrow courage from every single corner: from my little family, my Bible time, and my friends with whom I once feared vulnerability. I proved to myself that I am not the same woman I was a few years ago.
My Secret Weapon
Here is the bravest thing I do. This is my secret weapon to beat that new girl loneliness once again. It’s so small and simple that it sounds insignificant. I swear it’s not.
Are you ready? I look everyone in the eye and introduce myself – even on my melancholy days. When I go for walks in my neighborhood and I see any neighbor, I stop to talk. I still try new activities, alone or with my family, and I don’t sit in the back. It’s working. Together with my family, I build more circles of friendships- other women, couples, families.
Put. Your. Phone. Down.
We joined a church here in Florida and I refuse to be afraid of the women there. I don’t bring my phone in with me to services or events. I disallow using it as a shield. You know exactly what I mean. Every head bowed, every eye on their phone, no one looking around… Phones are a useful tool but we use them as a crutch. We end up even more crippled.
You know what I have learned? Meeting new people is energizing to me most of the time. Also, those females, they don’t bite! They have their own loneliness battles. In our courage, we are able to throw each other a lifeline. One of those women (whom I didn’t even hit it off with at first) became a dear friend for life.
So if you’re reading this and you too are pursued by loneliness, borrow my courage. If you find yourself longing for connection, or more meaningful ones, here is the way. Leave your phone in the car and look someone in the eye. Remember, we are absolutely wired for building relationships with one another, even though sometimes we need that wiring repaired. The cost of connecting is worth it. There’s good things in store!