I recently moved into a new apartment, and it’s the first time since college that I’ve lived completely alone. Outwardly, finances and my extraverted, never-ending need for community justified roommates, but I suspect there was always a part of me that also chose roommates out of fear. That is, the fear of being alone.
Nevertheless, for four months now, I have lived alone. And in recent weeks, I have been … dare I say it? Lonely.
Not that loneliness results solely from solitude. I experienced some of my loneliest moments in loving relationships, sitting next to him on the couch, daring him to look up from the iPad and see my tormented soul. Certainly I’ve coordinated more than one successful political event where, even amid the buzz of dozens, if not hundreds of people, I might as well have been on a deserted island because of the anguish inside.
There are times that though physically alone, I don’t feel lonely because my soul is well fed. At other times, though surrounded by lively personalities, I’d rather be alone. Then there are times when, no matter the situation, my heart just feels detached, and I feel distant even from myself.
We’ve all been there, haven’t we?
The interesting thing about loneliness is that it is not quantitative; it can’t be counted based on the bodies in the room. Loneliness is qualitative in that it can only be felt. Loneliness is not a matter of solitude or companionship; it’s a matter of the soul.
The recent acuteness of my loneliness caused me to evaluate the reasons why I might feel lonely.
Is Loneliness a Choice?
My college counselor, Dr. Ward, once told me, “Kristina, happiness is a choice.”
At the time, I was in a fierce battle with depression, the result of Hurricane Katrina two years prior. As if losing everything – homes, cars, businesses, schools and all sense of normalcy – wasn’t enough, the initial hurricane was just the beginning of storms to come. The residual stress took its toll, pitting my otherwise happily married parents against each other and me in between them, destroying our financial stability and even contributing to my grandmother’s premature death.
The anger that rose up in me when Dr. Ward suggested that I was choosing to be unhappy was palpable. My eyes cutting and my tone shrill, I responded indignantly, “Do you think I want to be depressed? Why would anyone choose to be unhappy?”
Few statements have so profoundly impacted my life. Though I adamantly disagreed, the idea that happiness may or may not be a choice stuck with me. Over the years I’ve found myself constantly evaluating my life according to that statement.
It is in that same vein that I have pondered whether or not loneliness is a choice.
Loneliness is Pain
When I looked up the definition of “lonely,” I was surprised to find an array of thorough yet saddening definitions:
Lonely (adj): 1. affected with, characterized by, or causing a depressing feeling of being alone; lonesome. 2. destitute of sympathetic or friendly companionship, intercourse, support, etc. 3. solitary; without company; companionless. 4. remote from places of human habitation; desolate; unfrequented; bleak. 5. standing apart; isolated. “Lonely.”
To be thorough, I always like to compare definitions to my Bible’s description of words. In this case, it simply read, “Pain caused from being alone.”
The dictionary’s explanation focuses on what is absent: friendly companionship, company and human habitation. But the definition in the Bible places emphasis on what is present: pain.
Pain. No matter the circumstances, the common thread in all of our lonely moments is that we feel pain.
For the most part, I think loneliness is a derivative of wanting to be genuinely seen and heard by another. And though our hearts may long to be fully understood, in our human capacity we will never be able to fully understand each other or ourselves on this side of heaven. (Proverbs 3:5; 1 Corinthians 13:9,12)
It took me almost a decade to prove Dr. Ward’s theory correct, but as I’ve come to know it in my own life, happiness is in fact a choice. The glass is as full as I want it to be. My perspective changed when I started expressing gratitude for the people and things I did have, whether or not they met my expectations.
I don’t know if I would say that loneliness is a choice. But when I feel lonely, this one thing I do: I focus on that which is present — even if what is present is pain. Because if pain is the only thing present, then my heart must still be beating. And as surely as I’m alive, everything I’ve learned about God remains true. He is always present; He does not forsake His children.
“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” –Deuteronomy 31:6 (NIV)
“For the Lord will not forsake His people, for His great name’s sake, because it has pleased the Lord to make you His people. ” –1 Samuel 12:22 (NKJV)
“I will not leave you as orphans [comfortless, bereaved, and helpless]; I will come [back] to you.” –John 14:13 (AMP)