Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Owner of a Lonely Heart

Originally published January 20, 2009

There are so many things in my life that could potentially make me feel like a loser. My tendency to drive a little too fast. My inability to get the laundry done in one day. Heck, I'm a parent of teenagers--the way I pour my cereal could qualify me for loser status on any given day.

And don’t even get me started on the many times I’ve embarrassed myself, usually because I have two body parts that should never be brought together—a foot and a mouth. Thankfully, now that I’m a parent to teenagers, I’m over embarrassing myself and have moved on to embarrassing them.

But I digress.

I’m usually pretty good at shaking off that down-on-me feeling, but there is one aspect of stay-at-home-motherhood that really gets to me that I have never admitted. Out loud, anyway.

Which is why I was so glad my friend put words to it last week as we sat down over coffee.

We had just arrived at our favorite little French coffeehouse, where the tables are tiny and close together and the coffee is strong and served in little china tea cups. (So not like us, but we like to pretend were “ladies” every now and then.)

“I’m feeling kind of lonely lately,” my friend started out our conversation.

I could have reached over the table and hugged her. Tightly. And it wasn’t because I was feeling sorry for her either. I was just so happy that I’m not the only one who feels this way.

“Really?” I asked. “Because I feel lonely a lot, but I’ve never told anyone.”

We got to talking about our “profession”—motherhood—and the feelings of loneliness that go along with it. It’s hard to think of a lonelier profession than motherhood, especially if you have young children. You spend hours on end at home, hardly ever encountering another human being except for the ones you are caring for. And they aren’t exactly fodder for interesting conversation.

But there's something else to this lonely feeling, and my friend confirmed it. It’s a feeling that everyone else is out there doing something and I’m missing out. Or that all of my friends are getting together and having fun behind my back (I think that’s called paranoia). Or that I’m not doing enough—if I were busier I wouldn’t be lonely. But I know that’s not true; even women who work outside the home feel lonely.

In my heart I know it’s none of these things. I’m probably not missing out on anything. My friends are loyal. I’m busy enough.

As we talked about the reasons for our loneliness, my friend and I realized that it’s a heart longing. A longing to connect—with friends, with our spouse, with God—that we can’t seem to meet. A longing that will never be met while we’re on earth.

So why don’t we women admit our feelings of loneliness?

My friend and I decided that to admit to someone that we’re lonely sounds desperate. Like saying “Will you be my friend?” like we did in kindergarten. And we decided that admitting we’re lonely is kind of like admitting we have leprosy—nobody wants to be around that.

I’ve been thinking about that conversation a lot over the past week, and I’ve decided a couple of things. First, everyone is lonely every now and then. No matter what you do or what stage of life you’re in, everyone experiences these feelings. And realizing that should make me a lot less lonely.

But the other thing I’ve realized is that loneliness is false. When I’m going through a lonely phase, all I have to do is look around at all the people God has put in my life—my husband, my kids, my friends, my family—and realize that I may feel lonely sometimes, but I’m never alone.

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