On loneliness and love
I rushed home after work to exercise before it was time to cook dinner. On my walk, I talked to a friend and the conversation shifted to loneliness and how it feels when friends and lists are not filling up our time, leaving us ragged. It seems everyone is too busy, too tired, too maxed out–but what about the times where life slows down?
There was a time in my life where I was not busy. I lived in China by myself and my only obligation was class every morning from 9-12. I slid into my ‘house shoes’ each morning, made instant coffee and breakfast, and rode my bike three miles to class. We had a 15-minute break in between lectures, and most days I bought crackers from a vendor who parked her cart in a familiar spot in the shade.
At noon, I would linger after class chatting with my teacher or my classmates and then weave around street vendors, other bikers, beggars, students, and a sea of umbrellas to make my way home. I learned the hard way that eating Chinese food everyday wasn’t the best option for my waistline (or self-esteem), so each day I ate a salad back at my apartment–shut away from the clamour of 13 million.
About a week into this new adventure, I was fed up and ready to get a job or write a book or try to “evangelize” on campus. What was wrong with getting a job or writing a book or going on a massive evangelism escapade? Absolutely nothing. But I had this strong feeling that God was asking me to stay “un-busy”. I knew that I could fill my time with other things, but would they be the right things?
This question led me to a lot of silence, stillness. I spent hours every day on my porch reading, praying, writing, and asking God what He wanted for me over the next year. I read books on forgiveness, recognizing I had a lot of forgiving to do if I wanted to make room for joy to inhabit every part of my life. I journaled thoughts about some things in my past that didn’t seem to ever leave me alone. I prayed to meet the right friends, the right people. (I wrote about one of those people here.)
Sometimes I would get tired of introspection and would plunge into seasons of Grey’s Anatomy that I bought from a man on a bike or wander around the city. Being alone with my thoughts felt dreadful some days. I did have friends, so my evenings were often filled with laughter over hot pot or wandering around campus arm in arm with a friend. But overall, I was pretty darn lonely.
As my time progressed, I realized busyness made me feel worthwhile. Busyness distracted me from working on the dark areas in my character and grieving the past. Busyness had become my identity, and I was lost without it. I felt like an addict, where stillness and solitude while gut-renching were the only way to sobriety. I also knew that busyness with the wrong things, even if they were good ones, would distract me from the right ones–the experiences and people that would ultimately change my life.
A lot of things happened on that porch. But the one that I’m reflecting on today was that I met our good Dad for the first time. Sure I grew up in a pew, but “God loves you” didn’t quite fit with my story. It was in that pew that I also learned that God punished people for sin. So when my life seemed tragic and small, I thought I had done something terrible.
It was like I’d been hanging around with and praying to the wrong person for the last decade or so. God wasn’t a cruel Father, waiting to punish me when I messed up. He wasn’t rolling his eyes at my failures. And He wasn’t hardhearted.
In my respite from busyness, I had opened myself up to being loved.
So on my dusty porch, I stopped gritting my teeth and performing for this cruel Father and let someone else come near. I met Dad and let Him embrace me–even in the places it hurt the most. And if I had allowed busyness to flood in and assuage loneliness, I may have missed one of the sweetest parts of my story.
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