Here’s a silly fact that you probably don’t know about me: I have always loved snow globes. Not that I collect them or anything. I just can’t resist the urge to pick them up from the store shelf, give them a little tilt and watch the glittery dust slowly fall. At least once.
I’ve been through seasons of life where it felt like I was watching life happen from inside of that globe. Face pressed to the glass, trapped inside and watching others connect, but feeling like a bystander who is rude for staring. Not chosen. Uninvited into a circle with invisible lines.
Loneliness. Not like boredom or just wanting someone to keep you company. I have learned that you can be surrounded by mobs of people and still feel alone.
Lonely in the sense of not feeling seen or known. Like really really known. Not just for the facts about my life that any observer could gather from a scroll on my timeline. That I’m a mom. Check. I’m a writer. Check. I like coffee and books. Check check. We did this exercise as a way of fostering connection at a recent gathering I went to. “If you really really knew me”….and then you would reveal something vulnerable that others would not know unless they really know you.
Our daily surface exchanges are necessary and even protective at times, but can be damaging when there is never anything more. We long to be known and loved for who we are, even in spite of who we are. For the hidden and the uncomfortable stuff buried in the back of the closet that we meant to get rid of a long time ago, but still remains. Like insecurities, feeling inadequate, fear or trust issues.
We long for deeper than the superficial and artificial. For connection with someone who sees the good and bad and chooses to stick around for both. To feel like we belong.
One time a complete stranger opened up to me on an elevator. Sometimes I feel like I’m a magnet for awkward moments. She must have felt the pull.
She saw my name tag for the job I held at the time. Social Services. The catch all job of helping people and rarely feeling like you’re doing enough.
She snapped me out of my silence and caught me off guard with this question: “Where were you 5 years ago?”
“You wouldn’t want to know, “ I thought to myself, but didn’t say aloud.
She smiled, almost like an attempt to lighten what she was about to say next. “I tried to kill myself,” she confessed, and then she smiled again. “I’m a lot better now though.”
Her transparency to a stranger shocked me a bit. “I’m glad you’re still here,” I managed to say. I meant it. And with that, she exited the elevator.
We all desire to be seen and known for the truth that lies beneath our smile.
Even that stranger you meet on the elevator.
I went through a season of tight knit friendships that were something more like a sisterhood.
But then that season came to an end and my sisters and I ended up on different parts of the map, in different chapters and eventually in completely different books.
Life will teach you quickly that seasons and chapters end, whether or not we’re ready for them to. And loneliness arrives on your doorstep like a package you didn’t order.
Lonely seasons can leave you feeling like you’re being punished. Like maybe you’re just bad at relationships. Like maybe there’s something wrong with you. Like you’re too much of this or not enough of that.
I do think it’s true that we are responsible for our happiness, for the health of our relationships, for creating the life we want and being the thing we long for. But I also know there are times when you can check all those off your list and still find yourself waiting and longing.
Loneliness is indescribably painful and hard. But it gave me a gift like that package on my doorstep that I didn’t order, but instead was ordered for me. I needed it, even if I didn’t want it.
It taught me how to recognize loneliness in another person, when maybe I wouldn’t have noticed before.
It taught me how to be okay with myself. Like really okay. How to sit with boredom and my flaws and my unanswered questions and to be content with all of it and not try to fill it with something that will leave me with more emptiness.
And the real truth is that we are deeply known and loved, even when we don’t feel it. Like in the book of John when Nathanael meets Jesus for the first time and Jesus puzzles him by telling him a fact about himself.
“How do you know about me?” Nathanael asked. Jesus replies, “I could see you under the fig tree.”
In other words, before you were found, I saw you. When you didn’t feel known, I knew you. He sees you standing there under your fig tree too.
I was reminded of this the other day when I was at the library and a little boy I don’t know ran up to me and threw his arms around me. Children are perceptive little creatures, aren’t they? I thanked God for the simple reminder that even in moments when I feel lonely, I am seen and loved.
If you find yourself in a season of loneliness, I pray that you will be reminded of the same.