I remember, some ten years ago, falling on my knees at Notre Dame’s grotto, disconsolate. I had plenty of friends, I thought, but I was so alone. Nobody really knew me, nobody understood. I turned my heart to heaven and begged the Lord for one friend.
“I just need one person who really loves me!” I cried out, and I got the distinct feeling that he answered: It’s me.
“No, I know. But I just need someone who’s going to be on my side.” Yup. Me.
“Right, but I’m just so alone. I don’t even need someone who’ll give me advice, just someone who’ll listen.” I’m listening.
“No, but somebody who really knows me, who gets me.” Yes.
“And who loves me anyway.” Right.
“Jesus, I get that you love me, but I just need a friend!” Yes. You need me. And that’s all you need.
I quit my temper tantrum eventually and started to listen. I started to see how he had been loving me so well for so long but how he had recently started to wean me off the friendships that I’d turned into idols. He’d broken down the walls of popularity I’d built around my heart, forced me to take my troubles to him instead of to half a dozen people who’d agree with whatever conclusions I’d already come to. I’d just finished one of the hardest years of my life and I’d come out more alone than I’d felt in years. Because all the love in my life had been separating me from him.
I spent the next year learning what it meant to be loved by God. I learned to process my wild emotions in prayer instead of on Instant Messenger. I wept in prayer instead of in Starbucks and let him define me. After years of following the Lord, I began to love him with an intimacy I’d never imagined. And I found that I wasn’t lonely anymore.
And then he gave me friends. Incredible friends, the kind who ruin you for relationships with less amazing people. And I was mostly happy, but not always. Those friends married and started families while I was still alone. And the loneliness returned, causing me to question whether I was worthy of love. But I ran to the Lord and he reminded me who I am in him.
I moved into the real world and tried to find friends outside the beautiful community of Notre Dame. Turns out, it’s not that easy. While I loved my kids more than I could have imagined, I didn’t have much of a community. But God shook the complacency of my heart and I began to fall in love with him.
I entered a convent and left to find myself surrounded by people who couldn’t understand the heartbreak of giving your life away and then having it given back. I was shaken and confused and nobody sensed that, nobody got it. So I turned again to the God who listens and understands and loves me the more for my brokenness.
I moved again, built relationships again, and found that as much as I loved my kids they were always going to ignore and betray and reject me. So I turned to the Lord again, handed him my bleeding heart again, and asked him how I could keep doing this, how I could keep standing alone and loving people who would spit in my face for my troubles. And he showed me his bloody, bruised, thorn-pierced image and reminded me that this is exactly what love is.
Again and again, the Lord leads me into loneliness—or perhaps I run there on my own—so that I’ll turn to him again, find myself in him again, let him be my rock again. And I’m so grateful.
Since I started hoboing, I’ve been asked again and again, “Aren’t you lonely?”
“No.” I’ve glibly responded. “I spend time with the Lord every day, and he’s the most important person in my life. Besides, I get to see all kinds of wonderful people in my travels.” It’s true, of course. I see my best friends more than I ever did when I had to live in one place all the time, 600 or 1000 or 3000 miles away. And the only thing that keeps me sane is my time with Jesus, when I sit before the Blessed Sacrament and am known and loved.
But lately, I’ve been a little lonely. Not having a community will do that to you, I suppose. But I think it’s more than that. I think it’s a gift: God making me ache for something more so that I’ll draw deeper into him. And I hope you feel it too.
I hope you’re lonely. Regardless of how much your spouse loves you or how many friends you have who understand and encourage and challenge you, I hope you’re lonely. I hope that none of your relationships leave you satisfied. Because they aren’t made to satisfy. The only relationship that will ever satisfy you is your relationship with God. Any time you find yourself convinced that somebody else completes you, take a step back. It’s idolatry. And it’s a lie. People will sin. They’ll misunderstand. They’ll expect less of you than what you’re capable of. Your husband, your daughter, your spiritual director, your best friend: they’re not enough. And while it’s a grace that we may feel satisfied for a time, the loneliness will always return to remind us that the only one who will complete us is the Lover of our souls.
Remember this when you’re lonely: you will find what you long for only in the one who created you, the one who died for you, the one who knows you through and through and loves you just the same. Let that loneliness drive you to the foot of the Cross, where Love was poured out for you. You are not alone. You are loved beyond imagining. And the loneliness that reminds you of your need for that love is a gift.