Fr Rodney Kissinger, S.J.
It is not only the Maytag repair man that is lonely. Psychiatrists tell us that loneliness is the most common complaint they hear today. What a strange phenomenon it is in a world concerned with over-population and equipped with the most sophisticated communication media ever devised by man!
To be human is to be lonely. It is one of the deepest and most profound experiences we have. It clearly reveals that our most radical need is to love and be loved. But despite its universality most of us are reluctant to admit our loneliness, even to ourselves. And even when we do admit that we are lonely it is with a feeling of shame and weakness. The cost of this self-deception is very high. But loneliness can also be a very creative and humanizing force. If it is accepted it can make us compassionate, sympathetic and understanding and move us to a greater depth of openness to God and others and lead to a fuller life.
Loneliness is not just being alone. It has to do with feeling lonely, feeling the absence of a meaningful human relationship. The fact that loneliness has something to do with feeling lonely suggests a remedy. Our feelings are amoral, that is, they are neither moral nor immoral. Therefore, we can acknowledge them and talk through them instead of keeping them bottled up within. Our feelings change quickly and constantly. It is our faith that is constant. Therefore, we should live by our faith and not by our feelings. Our faith tells us that we are never really alone. God is closer to me than I am to myself. “In him we live and move and have our being.” We are all members of the Communion of Saints and each one of us has a guardian angel. We have the greatest support group in the world.
One cause of our feeling of loneliness is rooted in our culture. We live in a highly competitive society in which everyone is striving to be number one. This generates rugged individualism, independence and isolation. Even if we succeed we discover that it is very lonely at the top. But loneliness is rooted essentially in the human condition. We are social beings who live together in society. We are all interdependent, no one exists alone. This is very evident in the beginning and the end of life. The newborn infant left to itself dies, and the very old person left to himself dies. And in between the entrance and the exit there is more of the same. Assisted living is not reserved for the beginning and end of life but for our whole lives. It is by these relationships that we identify ourselves, mature and become the unique person God gave us the potential to become.
When we isolate ourselves from these relationships we feel lonely. One of the things that isolates us from these personal relationships is a negative self-image, an inferiority complex which generates a fear that we will be rejected, a fear that we are not loveable.
This is absurd. To
be a person is to be loveable because a person is an act of the love of
God. Each person is created in the image of God and has an intrinsic,
core goodness that nothing can destroy. Each person is unique, unrepeatable,
indispensable and gives God a praise, love and service that no one else
can give. In spite of their faults and imperfections each person is loved
unconditionally by God, so they are loveable.
As creatures we are essentially dependent on the Creator. To experience this transcendent neediness is to experience loneliness. From the moment the umbilical cord is cut I am a separate person, I am alone. I stand alone even in a crowd. The experience of loneliness comes also from our uniqueness. No two people are alike. Each person is a mystery, even to himself. The unique mystery of our person is incommunicable. No one else experiences the world as I do. Therefore, no other person can understand me. But we all have this need to be understood and accepted for the person that I am. Only God understands and accepts me as I am.
Besides being very painful loneliness can be a very dangerous experience. It can make even the most gifted feel inferior and inadequate. It can lead to depression, discouragement and loss of perspective. When we are lonely we can begin to waver in our commitment and become prey to the temptation to give up. The general reaction to loneliness is to think that something is wrong with me. But if we recognize it as an essential part of the human condition, accept it with humility and equanimity and learn to cope with it, loneliness can be a very beneficial experience.
The loneliness which results from our experience of being a creature can make us realize that we are not absolutely self-autonomous and save us from pride which is the greatest of all sins. It can convince me that I am not God but that there is a God who is the ultimate and adequate explanation of the mystery of myself, of others and of the world. And this will save me from agnosticism and atheism.
Loneliness can also drive us to the depths of our heart and be an invitation to draw near to God in prayer. Loneliness that comes from our uniqueness can help us to identify ourselves. It can reveal to us our weakness, our goodness, our conflicts, our hates, our loves, our hopes and our fears. It can also drive us out of ourselves into the service and love of the neighbor and in so doing help us to mature into a fully developed Christian. Loneliness can also be a powerful means of purification. It can help free us from inordinate attachments and keep us from throwing away the real values of life for passing tinsel and bauble. Loneliness can also lead us to the apostolate of befriending the lonely and changing loneliness to friendship.
We could reap even greater benefits from our essential loneliness if each day we would set aside a few minutes for quiet time, stop the treadmill, get out of the “rat race” and spend some time in silence and solitude, in mystical silence. We all have a need to be alone with God to find some meaning to our human experience, to experience God as the beginning and end of our lives and the fulfillment of the insatiable desires of our heart.
There is only one love and that is the love of God. The love of God is the only love there was in the beginning, the only love there is now and the only love there will ever be. We are not creators we are only receivers and transmitters of the love of God which is poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit who is given to us. The next time we feel lonely we should realize that it is an invitation from God to come aside and receive this love, let it permeate our live and then radiate from, filter through and over flow to others. Then we will realize that the cause and the remedy for loneliness is expressed very clearly in the saying of St. Augustine, “Lord, you have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless till they rest in Thee.”
Finally, the remedy par excellent for loneliness is to attend Mass. To assemble with the loving, caring People of God and through the reception of the Eucharist to be united with God and with them in a bond of love, peace and joy and so change the lonely crowd into a Christian community.
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