The Grace of Loneliness
The following entry is an old personal blog written in 2013 in Journey of the Heart. It is a reflection about the story I share in podcast Episode 10 - Turning Our Loneliness into Solitude. Listen to it here.
Perhaps to help me experience the longing of Advent more keenly this year, God decided to send my husband away for a month-long work trip half the world away. I don’t think I’ve even allowed myself to acknowledge just how much I miss my best friend and spiritual companion.
In all my life I’ve always had an aching and yearning emptiness in my heart – a deep abyss that can never be filled.
In all my life I’ve always had an aching and yearning emptiness in my heart – a deep abyss that can never be filled. For years I had tried throwing many things into that abyss in an attempt to fill it – relationships, food, knowledge, fiction, movies, TV series, hobbies (cooking, photography, contract bridge)… and always showing the world the facade that I’m ok. When I used to live overseas, there were periods when I was alone and I would fill the apartment with music or keep the TV on so that my senses continued to be stimulated. I would keep myself busy and occupied till I was tired enough to fall asleep…. but then there were those times when my addictions and compulsions would keep me up way past fatigue too.
There is an inner voice that beckons me to enter my loneliness instead of fleeing it. There is a gentle desire beneath the sorrow and anxiety to surrender more completely into the hands of God.
In the last week that Henry has been away, I have again detected in myself the temptation to keep busy, to work or stay out later, to read compulsively and perhaps even to start looking for entertainment that I have long since found to be unsatisfying. It’s not that I don’t enjoy being alone, yet at certain times during the day or night I will find myself once again being tempted to react compulsively to still my restless heart.
There is a warm certainty that it is in that dark abyss that my Love wishes to embrace me.
How wonderfully strange then, that although I still have this thorn in the flesh, there is now also something new. There is an inner voice that beckons me to enter my loneliness instead of fleeing it. There is a gentle desire beneath the sorrow and anxiety to surrender more completely into the hands of God. There is a warm certainty that it is in that dark abyss that my Love wishes to embrace me.
I have always willed that Christ be my First and Deepest Love. But in reality it is always easier to grasp what is tangible and concrete. And it is only in times like this when Henry is away for a length of time that I realise just how much I still substitute him (and other people and distractions) for God. Every time Henry goes abroad for work, I feel that God is teaching me to love Him more deeply, more truly, and more wholeheartedly.
Perhaps it is this infinite longing to know and to be known, to love and to be loved, that keeps me straining so insistently for Christ’s embrace.
God once told me when I was adoring the Blessed Sacrament that this deep abyss in my being is His greatest gift to me, and that it was to be the source of my greatest joy. Perhaps it is this abyss that gives me my insatiable thirst for God. Perhaps it is this infinite longing to know and to be known, to love and to be loved, that keeps me straining so insistently for Christ’s embrace. And perhaps this cursed sensitivity in my soul is what makes me responsive to the Holy Spirit’s whispered prompts.
So tonight on this first day of Advent, I open my arms in welcome to everything that awaits me from my Beloved. The journey is still long from here to eternity, and there is still so much in me that needs purifying… why should I slacken my pace? Indeed, thank You, Lord, for the grace of loneliness, for it is only when I have known hunger that I will know the joy of having that hunger satisfied!
"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. This requires not only courage but also a strong faith.
As hard as it is to believe that the dry desolate desert can yield endless varieties of flowers, it is equally hard to imagine that our loneliness is hiding unknown beauty.
The movement from loneliness to solitude, however, is the beginning of any spiritual life because it is a 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