The question that we received from one of our readers is relevant to many of us today. What might we say to someone who is feeling lonely, and suffering from it? We referred this question to a member of our clergy, Father Sergius Nezhbort and asked him to share his thoughts.
This is not an easy question, as loneliness is different for everyone. Our feelings of loneliness are often the strongest when we part with someone who matters to us when we lose our loved ones, or after many years of looking unsuccessfully for a kindred spirit or a spouse. We might feel lonely when we look for understanding, but realise that nobody is listening. We experience loneliness differently, and general or universal advice can often be irrelevant or useless.
“Unhappy? Pull yourselves together,” we are told. “Lonely? Spend time in the company of others. Find yourself an occupation that you will enjoy and that will distract you. Keep yourself busy with work,” we hear. Does it work? Not always. Even the best party will end at some point, friends will leave, and no one can work without rest. Inevitably, there will come a moment when we are alone. During these moments of solitude, the pain comes back, rendering us sleepless, tearful and unhappy.
Someone wise said that if we cannot change our situation, we might work with our perceptions of it. – As Christians, we see our life events not as accidents, but as signs of God’s providence for us.
God’s plan is not to punish us, God punishes no one. And it is not to cause us pain just to make us suffer. He loves us. His purpose is to leads us towards light and purity, to help us value the right things and know their worth. A break-up of a friendship may bring us to give more value to human relationships. As we experience pain, we might learn to be more compassionate towards others. The demise of our life values and ideals often leads us to find and rethink and find new goals in life.
But how can we trust that our pains can be for our benefit? That they could be an expression of God’s love for us? Let me use an example from my own life to explain. I use a dirt road to drive to my home. One day, it had rained heavily, and a huge puddle formed in the middle of the road. I stopped in front of it wondering if I should drive on, and if so, how I should pass it. I turned left, and my car stuck in deep mud. I could not get out. I was late home. I had to get a tractor to pull me out and take my car to a garage afterwards. But as I was trying to get out, I left a deep pair of tracks. The road dried up, they became visible. I had blazed a trail for the other drivers, and they began to use it. I got stuck, I had waited for hours in the mood, and my car needed repair, but I made way for other people. Something similar may happen to us in our lives. We may suffer pain and sorrows, but give others an example of resilience and faith, and inspire them. We would show thousands of others the way to go. That way, our experiences would become very meaningful and salvific.
Here is another example, this time from a recent film. Its hero had just lost his beloved wife. He was grieving so much that life lost all meaning to him. He saw no end to his suffering and decides to take his life. Yet he cannot act his resolve. A family of Iranian refugees settled next to him, and every time he was about to make an attempt, someone would always be around. The family has many children and is in great difficulty. He begins to help the family and eventually overcomes his loneliness and returns to life.
Both examples teach us that loneliness – just like all our other sorrows – is always meaningful, and God will eventually reveal its meaning to us. When this happens, we meet God, know His will and obtain relief. The way to resolve our difficulties is to look for such a meeting. With God, we can stand firm against any sorrow.
How can we remember this when we are most vulnerable and weak? The Lord is merciful and wise. In the world that He created, the day always succeeds night, and bright and sunny days always come after a spell of rain and gloomy weather. There will always be spring after a grey and cold winter. We may be lonely today, but we can always look forward to a fresh spring, a new sunny day and a clear sky.
With His sacrifice, the Lord affirmed the sanctity of man, achieved in the fullness of his life in God. Loneliness can be a step towards our sanctity if we see it as our God-given opportunity to turn to Him in prayer and to restore our unity with Him.