I’m Lonely

Emma Doyle   -  

Loneliness. It is at epidemic proportions in our western culture. I lived in Toronto for three years and despite my efforts to connect and find community, I felt lonely much of the time.

I am someone who has always lived life at a slower pace than most, being intentional to not fit so many things into a week that there is no time for spontaneous hangouts and self care activities. When I came to live in the city I was blessed to spend my first year living with wonderful friends who were also the only people I knew who lived in Toronto. This definitely helped make my transition from Muskoka to city life a bit easier.

My second and third year were not so easy. Even though I found a church, joined a small group and did what I thought was necessary to try to build community and make friends, it seemed as though no one had time to actually do life together! To try to see a friend once per week was asking too much due to such busy and varying schedules. Only a romantic partner got that much time out of someone’s week.

In the midst of everyone trying to achieve as much as possible as fast as possible, this busy-ness was robbing many of the ability to regularly connect on a deep level. What I wanted was depth, and what I saw were a lot of social events which only added to the stress of “keeping up with ______”, so that relationships felt productive.

For some weird reason busy-ness seemed to be synonymous with success in the culture of city living. I didn’t agree and I resisted the urge to become busy as best I could, saying no to opportunities so that I still had time to cook and bake, go to the gym, run by the beach and go exploring new places. As an introvert, I connect best in one-on-one settings. A “small group” at church consisted of 10-15 people, which is not what I see as small or intimate. This was really hard for me, and not sustainable.

You can be doing all the “right things” and seeing lots of people throughout the week in various social settings and still have a deeply profound sense of being alone in the world. In the Canadian Social Survey for August and September 2021 more than 1 in 10 people aged 15 and older said that they always or often felt lonely when asked. I would venture to estimate the percentage of lonely people is even higher than that.

How is it that in a city of millions of people living so close together we are so emotionally cut off from one another? I think modern culture and social media plays a huge role in undermining real face to face, heart to heart connections. Spending hours aimlessly scrolling, sending and receiving “likes” and posting content has given people the false sense of having community in their lives, while in reality relationships are growing more distant.

Screens are a mask behind which we can hide, posting only carefully filtered snippets of who we want the world to perceive us as. If no one ever sees the real us then all of these “likes” are only affirming the shrunken down edited versions of ourselves that the online world is seeing. This does nothing to satisfy our desire to be deeply known, accepted and loved for all of who we are. Our screens are also dangerously addictive and rob us of in-person quality time with others.

Perhaps the root cause of loneliness is spiritual poverty; a disconnection from our Father who desires a deep and intimate relationship with each of His children. If we’re going learn to live at a pace that makes room for deep heart and soul connections with other humans, we need to also make time for deep spirit and heart connection with our Heavenly Father.

If we aren’t at peace with Him and ourselves, then it will be difficult to sit still in the quiet place and just be for any amount of time.

I remember an evening when I had a new friend over for dinner. 85% of the time he was on his phone, checking his online sales, reading or sending messages and making plans with other friends for later. While he might have been physically present with me, his mind was elsewhere; perpetually distracted. I wondered why I had bothered hosting and cooking when he couldn’t be fully present.

In John Mark Comer’s book The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry, I read this: “Corrie ten Boom once said that if the devil can’t make you sin, he’ll make you busy. There’s truth in that. Both sin and busyness have the exact same effect — they cut off your connection to God, to other people, and even to your own soul.”

Comer also quotes famous psychologist Carl Jung saying, “Hurry is not of the devil; hurry is the devil.”

I can’t say I disagree with those statements.

As someone who recharges by being alone, I honestly do enjoy hours of solitude without feeling lonely. I have many life-giving hobbies I love spending time on that don’t necessarily need to include other people.

When I am intentional about being aware of God’s presence throughout my day and inviting Him into it, I feel even less alone. Meditating on who He is, His truths found in the scriptures, and hearing Him speak to me in various ways helps me to know that His eye is on me and He will never leave me or abandon me.

I also know that the times I have felt most lonely were when I was not spending daily intentional time with Jesus. During these times I felt overwhelmed with university, commitments and trying my best to stay healthy and sane! But the apathy in my spiritual life had a direct affect on my feelings of disconnection with God and others.

This apathy made me feel ashamed, and shame has a way of silencing us and stopping us from reaching out for connection. It puts a barrier between us and everyone else, including God. We desperately need daily reminders of God’s true love to throw off the burden of shame.

I once heard intimacy defined as “into me see”, and I have not been able to read the word the same since. Openness to intimacy is an invitation to let others see into our hearts and know the real us, including the parts we are not proud of. It involves risk, trust, and vulnerability. Yes, this opens us up to be misunderstood, hurt, rejected and betrayed.

Connection is risky.

Love is risky.

It’s also worth the risk. Only when we are willing to risk opening our hearts to others do we get to hear the comforting words “me too” and, “I understand” or “I’m here for you.” Intimacy is the road away from loneliness and towards authentic connection.