As a gay and celibate Christian, Wesley Hill frames a unique perspective on loneliness often drawing wisdom from Henri Nouwen. In Chapter 2 of Washed and Waiting, Wesley shares with us an email he sent to a friend:
The love of God is better than any human love. Yes, that’s true, but that doesn’t change the fact that I feel---in the deepest parts of who I am—that I am wired for human love. I want to be married. And the longing isn’t mainly for sex (since sex with a woman seems impossible at this point); it is mainly for the day-to-day, small kind of intimacy where you wake up next to a person you’ve pledged your life to, and then you brush your teeth together, you read a book in the same room without necessarily talking to each other, you share each other’s small joys and heartaches…One of my married friends told me she delights to wake up in the night and feel her husband’s foot just a few inches from hers in bed. It is the loss of that small kind of intimacy in my life that feels devastating. And, of course, this ‘small intimacy’ is precious because it represents the ‘bigger intimacy’ of the covenantal union between two lives.” (105)
As I read Wesley’s book, I was struck by his vivid description of loneliness as a single person and a position with which I can well relate. However, as a heterosexual who has been married and divorced twice, I also know the reality of being lonely while being married.
Friends have shared similar thoughts of how devastating it is when you want to delight in the small kinds of intimacy with a spouse, but instead the marriage has devolved into competition, judgment and shouting matches. Instead of glorifying God with the union, the intimacy of marriage fulfills Satan’s plan to destroy two individuals at once. We are conflicted that the marriage was wrong from the start, but we have children to raise or are not in a position to declare financial independence, so we continue in a union that is anything but covenantal. We pray for things to change, we even pray to be changed, but the destruction continues. Once the relationship is tenuous, other sins creep in of greed, anger, lust and revenge. The marriage has not brought us closer to God as individuals, or as a union of one.
In a requiem for a friend, Alfred, Lord Tennyson writes,
“Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all.
As a single or married person, true love is only manifested when it is given to the other, expecting nothing in return. It is when God’s love overflows in us, that we can truly love another. Love from another can never fill the “loneliness gap”.
On loneliness, Henri Nouwen writes in Reaching Out: “What does it mean to say that neither friendship nor love, neither marriage nor community can take that loneliness away?...Why not follow our desire to cry out in loneliness and search for someone whom we can embrace and in whose arms our tense body and mind can find a moment of deep rest and enjoy the momentary experience of being understood and accepted? These are hard questions because they come forth out of our wounded hearts, but they have to be listened to even when they lead to a difficult road. This difficult road is the road of conversion, the conversion from loneliness to solitude. Instead of running away from our loneliness and trying to forget or deny it, we have to protect it and turn it into a fruitful solitude.”
I pray that any loneliness you feel will become a fruitful solitude and bring you closer to God.
Blessings, my friend,