My dad works at the Lighthouse Mission in Bellingham and every time we are together, he has saved up some stories. They are always poignant and full of humanity. He was with two of the guests recently who remarked to one another, “The holidays suck.” My dad (the most practiced observer I know) teared up telling me that, and we talked about how this time of year is painful for so many.
I am not homeless, poor or grieving a death or divorce. I am not sick or away from home. But I am familiar with loneliness. If we let ourselves listen, that’s the human condition.
Emily and I were talking about loneliness this week, and she said, “I don’t want to be ashamed of it.” Sometimes I feel alone when I’m in a crowd or with a friend. I feel alone when I wake from a dream about loss or failure. I feel alone when my phone is silent for too long. When Yancey is on shift over the weekend, I can go a long time without interacting with another adult, and I’ll think, “Is something wrong with me?”
I’ve heard a few spiritual teachers talk about our phones as mindfulness devices. And they are not talking about getting a meditation app! They’re suggesting that every time we reflexively pick up our phones, we ask, “What need am I trying to meet?” I’ve begun doing this, and often my answer is “I don’t want to feel alone.” I want to know someone is thinking about me. I want to know I matter to someone, that I’m connected, worthy, or valuable.
I could give a lot of tips here for taking the edge off loneliness, and you’ve heard them all. Plan ahead, read, text a friend, listen to music, join the YMCA. This season, I’m thinking of Mary, bringing her baby into the world in a stable. No mothers or mother-in-laws around, no friends rubbing her feet or bringing her ice chips. No meal deliveries, no “Congratulations” to the unwed mother. But she had something that’s available to all of us—a holy encounter, an angelic visitor that instructed her, “Don’t be afraid! Your ordinary life is extraordinary, though you can’t believe it. Don’t pick up your phone, don’t distract yourself, don’t keep track of who has been there for you or not. Just watch and wait, and the miracles will keep happening.” THAT is what our loneliness can summon, if we are brave enough to let it.