“Why are we so afraid to be alone?” my friend asked on the other end of the phone. I had just moved into my apartment in Louisville. Boxes covered the floor. My babies played in their high chairs next to me while I loaded the dishwasher. Her simple but loaded question stopped me dead in my tracks. I casually responded, “I don’t know” and pondered to myself “Why am I afraid to be alone?”
The first two weeks in Lou had been hell. Just to put it bluntly. Both of my kids were sick, we didn’t have internet, we didn’t have TV and we barely had any furniture. To top it off we had absolutely zero friends or family close by and I had just transitioned from being a full-time working mom to a full-time mom. For the first time in a long time, loneliness and I were staring each other face-to-face. The deafening silence only intensified our strained relationship. It had been a long time since I had met with this old, but familiar figure and the feelings it brought when it came to visit. And yet, we both knew we were about to become very well acquainted once again.
“Why am I afraid to be alone?”
Granted, I wasn’t totally alone. I had my boys, and my dog and Jon at lunch, during the evenings and all weekend. But, all day, every day, I pretty much was-and still am-alone. Alone with my thoughts. Alone with the “real” me. Alone with my fears and anxieties. Alone with my choices. Alone with my past.
I spent a lot of time on social media when I first moved here to feel less alone. But it ended up over time making the loneliness worse because it made me feel left out and let go more than it made me feel connected. Once close friends now lived lives I wasn’t in, acquaintances quickly moved on to the “next” person or thing, and quite frankly life kept moving. Except for mine. I felt like mine had suddenly stood still. Loneliness pressed in closer.
I resisted it for a while. I fought it. Wrestled with it. Dared it to come near me. And then, after getting involved with our church, and feeling slightly more cared for in my new environment, I began to welcome it. I turned to face it and invited it in. Instead of fighting with the feelings it brought, I faced them and discovered a lot of things I had imagined about this longtime enemy of mine were false. Contrary to the lies I fed myself, I wasn’t a lunatic at heart. My mind was capable of thinking good things when it wandered rather than just bad. My soul stirred and soared when listening to music-and didn’t just sing along to the words mindlessly. Instead of suffocating me, the loneliness offered me oxygen. It gave me room to breathe. It cleared space. It prioritized. It cleansed. It brought back to life parts of my heart that I had tried to bury. It planted seeds of hope. It whispered dreams that I was too scared to ever let myself think about before. It came in and wrecked havoc on my soul…in the best possible of ways.
I now savor-and hold sacred-this gift of loneliness. I am no longer afraid of being alone. When we are alone, and our world minimizes to the things we can actually see, we begin to hear the voice of God. And all of the sudden, He becomes very, very personal.
In the past 10 or so weeks, I have walked more intimately with God than I have my whole life. I’ve not done it totally alone. He has brought many new friends in my path-Camille, Chelsea, and Emily to name a few specifics that have literally carried me through some of the hardest and most uncertain days. They are tangible proof in my life-during this season- that God provides. I have family back home that has visited. I have a few sweet “old” friendships that still hold strong-even 200 miles away. And though I am “totally out of the loop” for the first time, maybe ever, I’ve never felt more aware of the important things.
With the announcement of a global pandemic, following news of devastating storms back home, it’s very easy for me to cave to anxiety. I’m medicated for it-which I’ve not been shy about sharing-and it’s also not something I make light of. (I know that I ended that sentence with a preposition, just deal) There are many people in my life and around the world that struggle with a physical reaction to stress whether in their mind or body or both. Those people need medication as much as someone with diabetes needs insulin. I am one of those people and my family can testify the “normalcy” medication has brought back to my life. However, I also firmly believe that anxiety cannot be “cured” or even maintained when only addressing the physical implications. Anxiety is every bit as much a spiritual battle and it’s one I fight daily.
This pandemic is bringing out lots of “buried” feelings for a lot of people as well as a lot of new anxieties. Collectively, none of us have experienced anything like this before. Schools, businesses and restaurants are closed. People are being forced to work from home if work from home is even an option. Some people have lost or will lose their income for an extended period of time. And the most surface level and most widespread panic for most is rooted in the thought of being “trapped” “alone” with their families or in their homes for an extended period of time. Social media is full of conspiracy theories and the nightly news is full of death tolls.
In short, there’s no escaping the reality of what’s outside our doors. But, instead of shutting down, it is possible to welcome this time of uncertainty as a treasured gift. I’m not trying to sound super spiritual-I literally got diarrhea today over the news report. (TMI for some-I get it-but ya get what you get with me and this is what ya got. ) I’m just as freaked out as everyone else and if I think about it too long or stare at a screen for more than a few minutes I begin to spiral. I know. But from someone who has intimately walked in the lonely…the quiet…and the disconnect.. for several weeks now, I also know that it is possible to discover incredible gifts during this time of uncertainty and inconvenience.
I still don’t know what happens with Jon’s job. I still don’t know what happens come May. I don’t know what happens tomorrow to be honest with you. But I do know these things: I am loved. I am taken care of even when I cannot care for myself. I am not God. And that makes all of these really scary things, seem a little less scary. Even but just for a moment.
Listen, God and I wrestle a lot. A whole lot. And I’m not trusting of anyone really so I’m especially hesitant to trust a God I cannot see. But every single day that I have been in Lou I have sat with him. And every single day he has shown me that He is good. Even when things are bad. Even when I don’t understand. Even when I’m scared. Even when I do not believe Him. Even when I tell him I do not believe him and ask for help in my unbelief (which is often). He is still good. Because that’s who he is. And his goodness is not dependent on my goodness.
I can’t force you to believe that. And you can panic yourself into an ulcer in the coming weeks. I cannot guarantee you that I won’t because I’m human just like you. But I am facing this differently than I ever have anything before because of these past 10 weeks that I have spent alone. I have lived alone and uncertain this whole time and I’m now facing an international pandemic with no more knowledge of my circumstances than I had on January 2nd. But, because of this time alone, I have a heck of a lot more knowledge of who I am and what I believe and the things I find important and that is a gift I never would have received in the hum of everyday life before.
So, this is me, asking you to invite the lonely inside. Sit with it. Welcome it. Lean into the feelings it brings and realize that you-by yourself-with your people is enough. You don’t need all of the “stuff” to make you who you are. You’re enough. Totally and completely alone. In sweats, with no makeup, lighting a candle, watching reruns of old favorite TV shows-that’s enough. Catching up on laundry, playing board games, eating ramen, praying for the sick-that’s enough. Reading Psalms, watching the sunrise, drinking your coffee, petting your puppy, rocking your baby-that’s enough. And in realizing those moments are enough-you realize how real and how personal God has been all along. And y’all….trust me when I say…that’s enough.