Crowded Loneliness

CoolBabyThingThe other night, I told BabyThing to go take a shower. He started up the stairs, then came back to the dining room. “But I feel so alone up there,” he whined.

I wasn’t going to let him get out of taking a shower. Seven year olds can have some stinky aromas at the end of a hot day! So I said, “Ummm, you’re supposed to feel alone in the shower. That is one place you should be alone!”

He finally did take that shower. Alone. And he survived the five minutes of torturous solitary confinement required to bathe.

But I think he’s onto something. We’re not really made to be alone. Oh, we’re made to enjoy enough solitude for bathing. Like a long, hot bath with candles and a Ray LaMontagne playlist and no children knocking on the door. We’re made to thoroughly enjoy some of that. But we’re not made to be alone for long. Even introverts need other people.

Years ago, I heard someone at a conference use the term crowded loneliness. Those words jumped out at me. Crowded loneliness. Isn’t that the truth? Wal-Mart is filled, crowded even, with lonely people. Our shopping malls and football stadiums and convention centers, our skyscrapers and factories and truck-stops, our schools and parks and, sadly, even our churches are all filled with lonely people.

We have more opportunities than ever to connect with people — Facebook, Twitter, Skype, email, text messaging — and even the internet is crowded with lonely people. I think sometimes all that surface connection stirs up a greater longing for real, meaningful interaction. We long to know and be known. We are made for this — to know and be known, to belong in community, to be part of something larger than ourselves.

Those of us who follow Jesus are part of the Body of Christ. We are a part of something and Someone larger than ourselves. We’re supposed to have a lot of other body parts connected to us. So why are we so lonely?

I once heard a woman say that she had memorized the hairline of a man a few rows in front of her at church. She knew how tall he was from the shoulders up, above the pew. She knew what he had worn the week before. Yet she had never had a conversation with him. Each Sunday, I know what faces will appear in which seats in my church auditorium. But I haven’t actually spoken to many of them. I don’t know their voices, their names, their stories.

And I know it’s not realistic for me to be BFFs with everyone in my church or everyone in my neighborhood. But I do know that I need to find real connection with some people. Today, I am finding that in small groups — growth groups at my church, a handful of moms I have breakfast or lunch with, a group of ladies who do regular Girls’ Night Outs together. These are the people who share their stories with me, the people who are helping me know and be known. We are intentional about belonging to each other, doing life together. Each interaction we have dissipates loneliness.

Church, one of the greatest blessings we have to offer people is belonging. Community. We belong to Christ, but also to each other. One conversation, one connection at a time we can chip away at the crowded loneliness surrounding us.

It’s good to be alone in the bath with a good book or a cup of cocoa. It’s not good to be alone in life.





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