Thought you might like to read a column I wrote recently for a military wesbite, www.wivesoffaith.org, on the subject of loneliness. Enjoy.
“Know and Be Known”
When my husband Steve and I moved to Bahrain, literally days after we were married, I was all of a sudden transported to a world where I knew no one. And because Steve and I had dated seven weeks before getting engaged and then spent the better part of our engagement apart (me in San Diego; Steve in the Middle East), you could safely say that Steve and I didn’t even totally know each other.
During those first few weeks in Bahrain, I spent long hours decompressing from the hectic pace of my western world and embracing the landscape of my new life. I would pull open the heavy green drapes in the master bedroom of our Persian Gulf-facing flat, and I would stare out at the whipping water and just let the peace of it all seep into my soul. At a time in my life when I should have felt the most alone, and I was truly alone, I didn’t feel lonely at all.
One year later, when Steve and I returned back to San Diego, back to my hometown, I was excited to be returning to a place that was familiar and comfortable to me. Immediately, I was blindsided by how much had changed in just one short year. I assumed re-entry into my former job and former relationships and former church would be somewhat seamless, and I was devastated when I realized how much I had changed and how much “home” had changed in my absence. At a time in my life when I should have felt the most surrounded and known, all I felt was utter isolation.
Loneliness is a strange condition, having less to do with the state of our surroundings and more to do with the state of our souls. Thus, confusing and counter-intuitive. Over and over again, I have learned this lesson.
I’ve been a mother now for just over a year. My introduction to motherhood came in a double-dose with the arrival of boy/girl twins. Certain days, the better days, are an adventure. Other days, the lonelier ones, cause me to feel as though I am death spiraling toward an irrecoverable soul oblivion.
Here is one thing that has helped immeasurably:
I meet with a group of eight women every week. Some are married. Some are single. Some with kids. Some without. The common denominator in the group is simply the desire to know and be known. Somehow this shared pursuit binds us together beautifully, mutually supporting and being supported.
Every meeting, we each spend a chunk of time updating the others on the state of our souls. Though rarely comfortable to engage in this level of authenticity, this practice of truth-telling has become essential to my survival. One of our group members reminded me recently that, “when we share our burdens with others, the weight is divided among the hearers and we are left with so much less to carry.”
The most powerful part of the evening—and this never ceases to amaze me—comes directly after each woman shares. The entire group looks at the woman who has just opened up her soul and says in unison, “We see you. We hear you. We love you.”
A sure antidote to the ache of isolation is the awareness that someone sees me, for loneliness breeds whenever I begin to feel misunderstood, taken for granted, overlooked, invisible, or just plain useless.
Each week, my group of women puts words to the message God is forever whispering to me throughout my day. “Leeana, I see you. I hear you. I love you.” They have become his eyes, his ears, and his heart to me.
On the days when I am tempted to run headlong into my own head and begin spinning scenarios of personal invisibility and irrelevance, I send an email to my group. Just the simple act of reaching out allows these women the opportunity to reach in, and the load begins to lighten the minute I press send.
Loneliness has so much more to do with believing the lies of “you’re not worth it,” “you don’t matter,” and “you’re on your own” than it has to do with the number of people on your speed dial. On the days—and they will come—when you’re feeling that the lies may very well overcome the truth, practice the courageous disciplines of opening up, reaching out, and letting in. Small miracles are surely forthcoming.