Solo parent

Week 3 – Coping with Loneliness

We dread loneliness. The house that’s too quiet; the days when we feel forgotten. Sometimes it’s being the only one in charge. Comforting an emotional teen, dealing with busted plumbing, or being solo at parent-teacher meetings. It’s not that we’re not surrounded by people. We are. But we are no longer half of a unit.

Meanwhile, our culture is incentivized to give us comfort. Escape. It offers distractions. It offers drugs—from the liquor store, street, or pharmacy—to obscure our distress. It offers what it calls “connection,” and we scroll endlessly. It offers sex, pushing porn and promiscuity as a fool’s gold of intimacy and love. But the more we seek to avoid, ignore, or numb our loneliness, the more empty we become.

Centuries before TikTok or anti-anxiety medication, Charlotte Brontë wrote, “The trouble is not that I am single and likely to stay single, but that I am lonely and likely to stay lonely.”

And that is the age-old vibration of human fear. Married, unmarried, or remarried; brokenhearted or innocent; orphaned, estranged, or bonded— when dark chapters of my life’s story unfold—no matter what my status— what if I still feel alone?
What if this emptiness is unmendable?

When there’s something wrong in our body, our body speaks to us. We receive messages from our body constantly, encoded, letting us know what
the body needs. One of the most vivid and urgent messages comes in the form of pain. This needs attention and it needs attention right now.

Loneliness is an ache that too many of us get accustomed to. That’s just me now, we say. This ache is who I am. Like turning forty or fifty and adopting a bad back or insomnia or weight gain as a part of our identity. We seek remedies, from pills to bingeing, and throw our hands up. That’s just me now.

When we’re lonely, we self-prescribe. Drinking. Eating. Porn. Shopping. Anything to dampen the ache. But what if we viewed the symptom—the emptiness—as a red-flagged call to face our fears?

“God gave us loneliness so we would seek out relationships,” wrote Chip Dodd in his book The Voice of the Heart. “Loneliness speaks to our deep hunger to belong and be known.”

As symptoms of dehydration are a prompt to find water, loneliness is a gift with a purpose—not an indicator that something is inherently wrong with you. The problem is not the headache. The problem is the lack of water.

When you start to believe your loneliness is immutable or even deserved, it plays a trick on you. Everywhere you look, you see people you imagine are happily coupled. You’ll see friends caring for each other; husbands and wives that came through a rough patch more bonded than ever; parties full of an optimism and playfulness you’d find impossible to match.

You feel on the outside edge of everything.

What you don’t see, in your isolation, is everyone else’s private fears and disappointments. Shame clouds our vision. All we can see is our own
shortfalls, our own mistakes. Our imagination runs in circles like a mad dog, barking You are the only one alone. But you are not.

Share Time:

When you’re lonely, what lies are on a loop in your mind?

The Deep Work of Solitude

It’s natural to want to avoid loneliness. There’s despair in it. It’s no wonder we cling to anything we can to stay away from it. But let’s consider, now, the deep work loneliness calls us to do.

There’s a wonderful quote from novelist and poet May Sarton. She wrote, “Loneliness is the poverty of self; solitude is richness of self.”

This is the water—and the dehydration—we spoke of earlier. Regardless of our social, romantic, or familial status, we can be in poverty of self. People whose lives we see as idyllic from the outside may feel like life is stacked against them, or they’re desperately lonely, or they’re convinced they’re not worthy, or they’re stuck in repeating negative loops. People you’d never guess are struggling. How you get through your crisis—either through the lens of poverty or richness—depends on the way you respond.

Author Hermann Hesse said our innermost self is “the spirit, God, the indivisible.” If we respond to loneliness as a comment on our value as a human being, or a life sentence, then yes—our innermost self will be a dark cave. But if we take loneliness as a cry to be known, our innermost self can be a refuge. Stop panicking long enough to look around and realize God is there, at the core with you. Hesse says that’s when we relax in the midst of the hustle and bustle of the world, both surrounded and alone, yet undisturbed.
We are indivisible from the spirit.

Loneliness is a pivotal moment. There’s a whole book in the Bible— Lamentations— acknowledging despair. This is your chance to name your feelings: rejection, disappointment, shame, humiliation, and regret. They’ll be with you for quite some time, in one form or another.
Let them exist without judgment.

Once you’ve named your feelings, Dr. Chip Dodd writes that the next step is to share them with God and with others. As a “cry to be known,” loneliness is cured by sharing our innermost feelings and letting others witness us. What will people think, you might be thinking. What if I make myself look like a basket case? What if they see me as weak?

Through each other, we see ourselves. Trust that grief is universal, and know that we either must face these fears or stay stuck.

Feeling undone is a perfect posture for communing in solitude with God, who does not condemn, shame, or reject us for the way we feel. Be as kind and gracious to yourself as you would be to a friend, and know He will meet you where you are. This is your beginning.

Share Time:

What “work” is your solitude calling you to do?
What feelings of yours need to be named?

Emerging from the Cave

Friends and loved ones present an interesting contradiction. They worry about you. They whisper about how withdrawn you’ve been, or how they’re not seeing you as much. They know you’ve been going through a hard time and they want the best for you. But they may struggle to be there for you. When we’re overflowing with anger or sadness, many of us couldn’t help but share the unvarnished truth and were met with minimizing comments, awkward silences, or suggestions. Never again, you might have thought to yourself. Not worth it. And you might have retreated back into your cave.

As clumsy as it was, what you experienced was your friend or loved one doing the best they could to help or understand. Their response might have sounded as trite as a sympathy card. They might have aggravated you by advocating for your ex. They might have squirmed uncomfortably or told you to not be so melodramatic.

As clumsy as it was, they were doing their best. Yes, they do want to “fix” you. They want this to be over for your sake. It’s not easy witnessing people you love writhing in pain.

The Bible reminds us endlessly to practice humility and patience even when it’s not reciprocated. Sometime in the near future, someone may tell you about their recent cancer diagnosis. You may clam up and mutter something about someone you know who survived. You may say it was no big deal. Someday, you’ll let someone down with your lack of grace. Forgive it when it happens to you.

You may have also been surprised by deeply moving, cleansing conversations that came out of nowhere. People in the right frame of mind; people who are exceptional listeners; people with enough distance to respond with clarity. People who’ve been in similar darkness. Stay open.

Share Time:

Have you had a conversation with anyone—a close friend, loved one, or a total stranger—whose insight, honesty, or compassion you didn’t expect?

Leaning Into Loneliness

Your work in the richness of solitude is to acknowledge the things you already know to be true. It’s time to get curious about them.

● What in your life are you unwilling to feel?
● What do you fear most? What are you running from?
● Imagine walking through a park. Wonder about each person you see on the path: What instigated their loneliness? What would you share with them about life in retreat, if they asked you for wisdom?
● Now imagine one of those people is your child, perhaps years from now. What would you say?
● Now imagine one of those people is you when you were at your most devastated. What would you say?

The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek. And when you do enter, you won’t be alone.

“And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love.” —Romans 8:38 (NLT)

Further Action Step:

Take the time to sit down and write a note of encouragement to your child, perhaps years from now. They’ve been struggling. What do you say to them as their loving parent, having had your own chapters of loneliness?

Make a commitment to attend a Solo Parent group this week.