Madonna House

Are You Ever Lonely?

by Catherine Doherty

We all suffer from loneliness, one way or another.

To begin with, we’re lonely because we’re separated from God, in a manner of speaking. “Our hearts were made for you, O Lord,” said Saint Augustine, “and they are restless until they rest in you.”

We are meant for God. And God thirsts for us: for a personal love affair with us.

Sooner or later in life, we discover that there is in us a garden enclosed, an area of our being where no one can penetrate, a loneliness no one can fill, a longing no one can satisfy.

This kind of loneliness is the Holy Spirit calling to us saying, “In your heart, in your mind’s eye, you are running all over the world. Your desires are on the rampage. Now stop that. Be quiet, stand still, float down within yourself until you rest in me.

“As you meet and embrace me, your God, you will no longer be lonely. I alone can satisfy your heart and save you from disappointment or despair.

“There is a part of you which no human being can enter. It is reserved to me. That is where I live, waiting for you to come down within yourself and meet me, and I will kiss you with the kiss of my mouth.”

Many of us, when experiencing loneliness, seek to compensate by all kinds of false solutions, such as sex, alcohol, food, drugs, or work.

If we are single or celibate, we think that perhaps marriage would fill up that lonely spot. Well, I’ve been married twice, and I can testify that one of the great pains in marriage is that you are never able to probe your spouse’s heart.

There is always a place in his or her heart reserved for God, and the entry to that place is closed to you. My husband had the same experience when he tried to probe my heart.

When you pray you begin to understand that loneliness is a gift; it is God calling you to himself.

So when loneliness comes upon you, when you want to go and hide in some corner, when self-pity tosses you like a huge wave onto a beach full of stones, and you think you are going to be broken up by them, when this happens, close your eyes and repeat to your self: In my heart there is a garden enclosed (Song of Songs 4:12).

This enclosure is for God, and the waves have brought you into this garden where the feelings of self-pity and anger and all kinds of reactions will disappear.

For if you go into that garden, you will hear the incredible sounds that seemingly only one man heard before, the heartbeats of God (Jn 13:25).

God will enlighten you; he will give you the grace to truly believe in his love for you.

God loves us so much. Do we love him back? Are we ready to fall in love with him? Or are we just floating from one place to another like a leaf falling from a tree, wafted by the wind and getting nowhere, but twirling round and round?

God is in love with us. Are we in love with him? The only way to assuage loneliness is love.

We are a fragmented people and need recollection and solitude. Through prayer, through listening to the Word of God, we gather our scattered fragments and become whole again. When my loneliness shares the loneliness of Christ, then his peace invades me and we become one.

Now the question is, how do we approach solitude? Do we always need to be with people or are we mature enough to be alone for a little while?

Once we become accustomed to solitude, then loneliness can be easily tackled, because solitude is a corridor to God. Solitude leads to a loneliness that is a grace of God. It is there that the hunger for him takes shape, that the thirst for him becomes unquenchable.

Interiorly, we move. We arise and go into the oasis of his heart where he feeds us wine and bread that gives us strength to share the loneliness of others and to lead them to God.

Here let me give one caution. Not every loneliness is of God. There is a loneliness coming from his opposite. This is the loneliness which begins with the words “I, me, myself, I feel, I am, I want,” and so on. A most terrible loneliness can occur to the person who is meeting only himself and adoring himself.

I call it the loneliness of mirrors. One is enclosed, as it were, in a kind of mirrored room and no matter where you go, you see yourself and bow to yourself until you go crazy.

But all is not lost. This loneliness can be smashed as mirrors are. A stone can smash them. Even the eyes of a child can smash them. If the person who is so completely wrapped up in self and his or her own ideas realizes even for a split second the horror of this loneliness, you can hear the cracking of mirrors all over the place. The supersonic barrier opens between man and God.

But who wants to be lonely? When faced with loneliness, even the good kind, we run here, there, and everywhere, trying to escape this monster, not realizing that when we accept it, we will learn how much God loves us, and other things as well.

Happiness lies in entering God’s loneliness. There he will embrace you and console you, providing you accept to be nailed on the other side of his cross. If you do, you will know happiness because the cross is the marriage bed of Christ.

True love enters the portals of loneliness, of total surrender, of forgetting one’s self, of thinking only of the other, of remembering that your brother is your life, because your brother is God: Whatsoever you do to the least of my brethren, you do to me(Mt 25:41).

When you enter these portals and offer the hospitality not only of your house but of your heart, and at the same time remain in that loneliness, then you will know happiness.

The loneliness to which God invites us is a creative loneliness. The loneliness of God has nothing to do with being single or married, a priest, a Sister, or a lay apostle, or old or young. It is something quite different.

No one who loves God is exempt from loneliness because it is one of the deepest ways by which God calls a person to become what he really is: a creative restorer, one who brings beauty and new life to his fellow human beings.

God invites us to accept the loneliness of walking alone with him. He says, “Yes, you need help from other people, but first get it from me. Attach yourself to me. I will give you everything you need, for I am the Lord of everything. I will renew and restore you and you will have new eyes and new ears.

“Enter the loneliness of faith and you will become a new person. You will become new because simultaneously you will hear my voice and that of those for whom I died. You will see into their hearts and bring them to me.”

The assuaging of this loneliness is a journey inward. And those of us who try to really love as God asked us to, must be ready to walk that inward journey with our brothers and sisters.

Excerpted and adapted from Dear Father, (2001), pp. 45-49, available from MH Publications