I've learned two important things about loneliness over the years: 1) That being with people isn't the solution; and 2) that being strong and independent on your own doesn't solve the problem, either. The only solution is a deep, settled sense of living in God's universe, cherished by divine Love and held in right relation to others.
Loneliness can feel like a hidden sadness that makes one withdraw, or it can be a raging bull, causing reckless indulgence in wrong action. Whatever form it takes, loneliness must be expunged in order for us to find the true peace of life.
It's from the standpoint of gratitude and satisfaction that we can bring peace to relationships, knowing that we have something to give instead of chronically waiting for someone to give to us.
One of my greatest battles with loneliness came after my younger son learned to drive. I'd spent most of my non-office time shuttling my boys between meetings, music lessons, rehearsals, and social events. I was ready to stop being a taxi driver, but was surprised at the significant emotional adjustment this change required.
Suddenly I needed to find companionship outside my children. It was a huge shift to have long hours by myself during evenings and weekends. I felt self-conscious and disconnected, and I prayed to know how to make the best use of the time. But too often a mental darkness and idleness would interfere with my prayers.
The turning point came one Friday night in the living room when I was dozing that weird sleep that accompanies boredom. All at once I was standing upright and almost shouting, "Loneliness, get out!" I was surprised at the vehemence of my words, but knew I couldn't sit one more hour sinking into uselessness and self-pity. Standing in the middle of the room, I prayed to understand my authority.
I realized that to think of myself as isolated was to misunderstand who I was. My real identity was not "single female with an empty nest and empty social calendar." My oneness with God put me in perfect right relation to each of God's children. God, Spirit, defined my being, not physical location. Divine Spirit fills every hour with goodness, purpose, and joy.
My happiness wasn't dependent on the fluctuating nature of human circumstances. The firm foundation of happiness was in knowing that my expression of God's nature in my life was uninterrupted. In the same way I expected my children to move into new horizons of thought and experience, I also needed to cultivate a greater expectancy about this next chapter of my life.
That night was the last time I agreed to feeling lonely. The feeling had been chronic and too easily indulged. Now, it was rare and quickly dismissed through prayer.
The key thing I've learned about the human experience is that it is a laboratory for discovering how perfectly we fit in God's creation and relate to others in it. Jesus gave us two great commands - to love God and to love our neighbor. Spiritual discipline in prayer and study requires that we find the peace of being alone with our thoughts. This discipline catapults us into relationships that bless, inspire, and heal others.
Mary Baker Eddy wrote of the struggle to "enter into the perfect love of God and man," and offered this encouragement: "The infinite will not be buried in the finite; the true thought escapes from the inward to the outward, and this is the only right activity, that whereby we reach our higher nature" ("The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany," p. 159).
It's reassuring to know that, as children of God, "thought escapes from the inward to the outward." The promise of finding our spiritual freedom is that we will be less and less self-conscious, and more and more God-centered - in ways that defend our peace, as well as our relationship to others.
Adapted from the Christian Science Sentinel.