Let me start off by asking you an honest question and do not just answer right away, really take a minute and think about it, are you lonely? When we hear the word lonely we think of someone sitting in front of the television with a pint of Bluebell ice cream, some of it on their shirt, some of around their mouth, most of it already in their belly, watching a sappy romantic movie or maybe star trek and wishing they had a significant other to do something with. That is usually the picture modern day media paints as someone who is lonely, but that is far from being the only definition of loneliness. As you think about that question, are you lonely? You might think, “no, I’m not lonely, I have a great spouse, great friends, great kids, a great job, a great social life, a lot of friends on facebook…I’m not lonely.” You might have all of these, any combination of these or even one of these and think I’m not lonely.
In the meditation book I am reading right now Nouwen talks about two types of loneliness. The first being an “emotional loneliness” which is important but more on the surface, i.e. “the need for friends, family, and home.” The second is a little deeper it is one that is there even if we have some or all of the above mentioned things to fill the “first loneliness.” The second loneliness is one that cannot be filled by any of these things because it can only be filled by one thing, the love and intimacy of a relationship with God our Father. As I read the reflection this morning and began to pray, the question that popped up in my heart was, “What am I filling that loneliness with?” There is a natural desire in all of us that when we feel a sense of loneliness to begin to grab at things that this world provides to either distract or numb this yearning that is deep in our hearts. Honestly, I think most of the time, because it has become so habitual for us, we do not even realize that we are doing it to fill that void. It become such a part of our life that whether it is getting on facebook every five minutes to see what other people are doing as not to feel lonely, eating as to fill a spot in our hearts that yearns for comfort, pornography to satisfy our loneliness, empty sexual relationships that leave us feeling more empty the next morning than we felt the night before, the use of alcohol or drugs in order to just completely numb this feeling of loneliness, or it might even be buying things we cannot afford in order to feel excitement and fulfillment, when in two months when the “next great thing comes out” we will need whatever that is too.
The list can go on and on and it is a very personal list. It is something that if we step back from our lives and take an honest look and ask ourselves the question, “Am I lonely” the answer is ultimately a resounding YES. Here the thing though, the loneliness that I speak of is NOT a bad thing, in fact it was placed in our hearts by our loving Father in order that our hearts may always have a longing for Him. Nouwen says in the meditation, “It is important for us to dare to welcome the fullness of our second loneliness…In a way, this loneliness opens us to personally know the true God.” Our effort should be that we begin to readjust our thinking from a fear of loneliness to a welcoming of it. As we begin recognize this loneliness not as a bad thing but as a stepping stone that allows us to touch the heart of God, we can begin to transition “from Fear to Love” as Nouwen put its.
As we end the second week of Lent journeying towards Easter can we stop for a few minutes and take a long hard look at the loneliness that permeates from the inner depths of our hearts and not be afraid of it? Can we be honest with ourselves and really ask the question, what am I filling this loneliness with? And that question is followed by, is it truly working? The priest who celebrated Mass on Ash Wednesday at the Church I attended posed the question, “Will I be the same person on Easter Sunday that I am on Ash Wednesday?” It is during this time of Lent that we concentrate on purifying our hearts and our lives from the things that keep us from truly experiencing the fullness of God’s love and acceptance. May we take this time to rid our lives, not all at once, but a step at a time, of the “things” we are trying to put in place of a true, deep and intimate relationship with our loving Father!