There I was. Surrounded by friends. And none of them were mine.
I watched the people standing in line for food, sitting or standing at tables, and milling and talking. I didn’t know a soul.
Okay, I did know a soul. I saw two souls I knew—casually. I said hello and they greeted me in passing. Then I was alone again.
I filled my “Tim Scott for Senate” tumbler with watery pink lemonade and then wandered again around the adjoining rooms looking to see if there were any familiar faces I may have missed. Nope.
So I got in one of the lines—knowing only that there was probably food at the front and that I was starving. I made small talk with the lady in line behind me. She was running for school superintendent. I wished her well.
I filled my plate with cold BBQ pork and meatballs and then went in search of a place to sit. There were several empty tables outside, so I made my way to one. Another couple soon approached with their plates of food and asked if they could sit across from me, and I readily agreed. But between the stiff breeze and the blaring speakers behind us, it was evident that any attempt at conversation would be no more than a futile shouting match. So we ate and listened to the blaring music.
It was hard to guess exactly how many people were there at this fundraiser for Tim Scott for Senate, but from my table, I could see that the parking lot was full and overflowing—people were parked on the grass and kept coming.
All the politicos were here hobnobbing, I guess. Like I said, I didn’t recognize any of them. I felt alone, but it didn’t bother me that much. I was about to finish my plate of food and head for home where my dog was going to be better company than this entire crowd.
When I thought about it, I realized although I was a nobody in this group, I was probably not the loneliest person here. In fact, it occurred to me that perhaps the loneliest person here was Tim Scott himself. Now I need to qualify this, because I don’t know. In fact, I really have no idea.
But think through this with me. Imagine having thousands of people in your life. Thousands. And they all want something from you. You stand for hours while different people come to the front of a line to shake your hand and take their picture with you. You make small talk with each one as they come up and try to act interested and excited to see them. Then they walk away. And you greet the next one.
If you hear from any of them again, it’s going to be, “Hi, I’m Joe. I was a sponsor of your Charleston fundraiser. I’m having this problem…I think Congress should…” And that will be your relationship.
Mind you, Tim Scott is well liked in South Carolina and on this planet in general. So he probably has it better than most politicians. But even so, how many real friends does he have? I wonder. And how much time could he possibly invest in those relationships with his real friends to keep them healthy?
What kind of relationships do you create when every email that goes out with your name on it is begging for money? When even your birthday party costs money to attend?
Perhaps he is also thinking right now “Here I am, surrounded by friends. And none of them are mine.”
The fact is that loneliness is not a rare occurrence. In fact, I’m convinced that everyone is lonely sometimes—whether single or married, rich or poor, introvert or extrovert. I’ve heard moms talk about the loneliness of being around little people all day; fathers confess the loneliness of the pressures they face; teens feel lonely because they have no friends they can trust; college students moan about the loneliness of dorm life; graduates talk about the loneliness of the transition into the work force; I even recently read an article about the loneliness pastors face.
Perhaps the puzzling part is not that so many people struggle with loneliness but that we assume so many people do not. Loneliness is no respecter of persons and has nothing at all to do with the number of Facebook friends you have. I believe it has to do with the availability of another understanding soul that we can connect with on a deeper level.
Some of us choose loneliness because we have bought into the lie that somewhere out there is another human being that we will be able to bare our soul to completely who will not judge us in the smallest way— but just listen to all the good and all garbage we want to spew and then knowingly make some wise and loving response that fixes everything. And raise us up so we can stand on mountains.
Some of us have realistic expectations, but we find ourselves lonely because we either don’t have the time or the energy to invest in healthy relationships with people that we respect enough to make ourselves vulnerable.
Regardless of the reason, loneliness is…well…it’s lonely. It get it. Believe me. It is incredibly painful.
Loneliness itself is not a sin—I even wonder if Jesus was lonely at times. But it can lead to sin. It can lead to discontentment, to bitterness, to jealousy, and generally to unhappy, unfruitful living.
But it doesn’t have to.
I think the greatest service that loneliness can perform is to teach us our need for our Savior. King David was thoughtful enough to record for us some of the times that his lonely soul took refuge in his shadow of our Savior’s wings. When you have no time and no energy for anything else, start there. Read Psalm 34, Psalm 103, and Psalm 63. Earnestly seek God. Let your thirsty soul look for water where the springs of living water flow.
But even that is not an instant or permanent cure…which may sound heretical on its face. But I believe that even though God wants us to draw near to Him, He doesn’t encourage us to live lives in isolation. It isn’t healthy. It’s like the difference between fasting and starving. One can be constructive, the other will kill you.
So that leads me to what is perhaps the second greatest service that loneliness can perform—to teach us to compassionately care for others. It can make us more patient. More kind. More considerate. It can teach us that life isn’t about us. There is a world of people out there that God created to be part of a community who are also starving for companionship.
I complained to a friend that I was lonely and they surprised me by saying, “I can’t fix that for you.” Bummer. It wasn’t what I wanted to hear, but they were right. The best cure for loneliness was seeing past myself into the needs of others and exercising the initiative to build bridges into other people’s lives.
Be a friend—because there are those who need your friendship as much as you need theirs, maybe even more.