Lonely Runs Both Ways

It’s been far too long since I’ve written. The busyness of the summer was part of it–I traveled every other week until the semester started. But I think there’s a more fundamental reason why I haven’t written in a while. I primarily see this blog as a two-fold project: to keep y’all informed about how my life in Charlotte is going–which, of course, includes how I”m “doing”–but to do it in a way that is edifying to you so that you can come away from my posts a little bit more human, a little bit more whole. The problem, of course, is that for the past few months, I haven’t had many edifying things to say. Truly, the past 6 months have been some of the worst months of my life (which might say more about how good of a life the Lord has blessed with me than how bad these months have been). And a public blog just isn’t the place to share those sort of things. But I’m writing now, not necessarily because I feel much better about life, but because I’m beginning to come to grips with some of the things worth holding onto in the midst of a very difficult season in Charlotte.

* * *

C.S. Lewis says that one of the first marks of a budding friendship is the moment when two acquaintances share the realization, “you too?” When two people recognize a shared love or passion or experience, they are drawn to each other and a deep connection is made. Without this mutuality, people are hard-pressed to really become friends, but if two people connect on the level of interest or experience, something deep and spiritual happens. And a form of love awakens.

I’ve never been without that form of love before. I met my best friends when I was 6 months old, and they never left. And along the journey from age 2 to age 22, I just added more. Every stage of life brought with it more “you too?”s, more mutuality, more friendships that only got deeper and more real as I became deeper and more human. And then I left it all behind and moved to Charlotte.

* * *

I don’t think I ever knew what it meant to be truly lonely until this year. I’d had plenty of lonely seasons in my college years, but most of those were of my own making–I was just too busy to spend time with my friends. But now, it seems, people are too busy for me. For the first time I’ve struggled to find friendships like I enjoyed, sometimes so thoughtlessly, all those years growing up. And with that has come a depth of loneliness I’ve never had to bear before and a longing to return to the place where I am truly known.

So I go around talking to people, trying to establish a connection, a mutuality, a “you too?” But I can’t connect. I can’t find the keys to unlock that understanding, that resonance. But sometimes I tell people at church or the seminary about my experience and struggle to connect. And as I talk to people about that feeling of loneliness and distance, suddenly a connection is made as they look at me and say, “you too?” For they, too, know that loneliness, and they, too, wish they were known. From 45 year old family men, to 30 year old married seminary students, to 25 year old single guys and girls like me, I’ve heard the same struggle, the same loneliness, the same desire to be known and loved. And they can’t find it.

What makes it even harder is that we all think everyone else has. We look around us, and all we see are chipper people chatting away. We ask people to hang out, and they can’t–we assume, because they’re with somebody else. We visit our Facebook feed to see pictures of people with their friends and family. And when we go to social gatherings, it only reminds us of our own existential loneliness as we are constantly reminded with each awkward interaction that we are not really known and the comfort of friendship is as far away as our bedroom blankets.

church-loneliness

They say that the essence of the coffee shop is a bunch of lonely people coming together to share a space and not talk to each other. Most days, I don’t think it’s just the coffee shop. Most days, life in the real world seems to be a place where a bunch of lonely people share a space and don’t know each other. And many times we put ourselves out there, hoping that if we open up and remove that shell, perhaps someone will come in, will take the opportunity to know, to discover the “you too?”, to take ownership of a new friendship, only to be disappointed, ignored, or used.

* * *

I imagine Jesus was the loneliest Person who ever lived. No one ever really knew Him–and whenever He opened up, begging His best friends to understand what He was going through, the burden He bore, the cross He was about to carry, they couldn’t stop bickering about who was the greatest or keep themselves awake for an hour to pray with Him. I imagine as He rose from His deep times of prayer with His Father, He left with a deep sadness, knowing that He had just gotten a taste of what He had left behind to become man, and that He had to leave that place of deep relationship, of being truly known, to meet another day of serving and teaching needy people who wouldn’t understand what He was trying to tell them. I imagine He struggled with knowing that many of those people He served and talked to and laughed with would run away at the time of His greatest need–knowing that He could love them and serve them but never truly entrust Himself to them because “He knew what was in man.” And I imagine that He was hurt many times whenever He got close.

But in these imaginings, I take comfort. Because as I think about what our Lord’s life was like when He was on earth, I can look Him in the eyes and say “you too?” For I know that He knows. And He doesn’t run away. He’s walked this road before, and He’s happy to walk it again as the Friend who sticks closer than a brother.

And as the loneliness has only intensified over the past six months–during which a lot of other hard things have been going on!–Jesus hasn’t left Himself without witnesses in my own life, to walk with me as His representatives. More than ever before, I’ve learned to cherish a dinner with a thoughtful couple, a lunch in between classes with a fellow seminary student, a spare evening with a few people at my house. And I’ve come to realize that during certain seasons, we may not have many deep friendships. But a man is truly blessed to have those people who are present, and when they see a glimpse of his mess, can look him in the eye and say “let’s do this again sometime.” For sometimes the friends you need are the ones you have, and you realize that the journey you thought was yours alone to walk, is actually being walked by so many others who need to know the same thing.

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One thought on “Lonely Runs Both Ways

  1. Hey Nathan – Last week in worship the Lord spoke to my own thoughts about sadness when our pastor read from Psalm 126 about sowing in tears and reaping in joy. As a child that verse meant one thing: that greater joy was coming! Somehow I totally skipped the “in tears” part, mostly appropriate for a child in a sweet family who loved and served the Lord. As an adult, it has come to mean so much more. While there have been plenty of years of sowing in joy and reaping in joy, in the(se) years of tears, it has been such a comfort to me to know that God has considered my sadness and asked me to continue sowing, and to keep crying as needed. But to keep sowing. And hoping (solid Christian hope, not feel-good hope) that the songs of genuine joy will remain for longer than the few hours a week that I bring my cares to the Lord in corporate worship or personal devotion.

    Here is another of my favorite pastors on it: http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/talking-to-your-tears

    I can see that you are still sowing, and I thank you for that and honor you for that. AL has been so blessed in your hx/lit class and hears with her whole heart what you are saying.

    Keep sowing, brother.

    Like

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