When I was a single adult, as for most single people, loneliness was a presence in my life. The loneliness didn’t come on Valentine’s Day, when I showed up alone to a wedding, or when I saw an engagement on Facebook.
For me, it came while walking through a neighborhood with houses full of families, or when I was trying to make a major decision about my life, realizing the outcome affected me much more than anyone else.
Following Msgr. Luigi Giussani’s instructions in his book, “The Religious Sense,” I used my emotions as “binoculars” to look more closely at my life. Msgr. Giussani, founder of the ecclesial lay movement Communion and Liberation, wrote, “Let us imagine feeling as a kind of lens; the object is carried closer to a person’s cognitive energy by this lens so that reason can know it more easily and securely.”
In other words, I used the feeling of loneliness as a tool to look more closely at my life. What was I missing? What did I long for when I wanted to sit at a full dining room table or when I wished my choices would impact others?
Popular culture, from “How I Met Your Mother” to top 40 hits, suggest that finding “The One” is the antidote to loneliness. Loneliness, in this view, ends with wedding bells.
Without adequate reflection, this view is easy to believe because it contains a small amount of truth. Marriage provides not only companionship, but a clear outlet for love: someone, and then someones, to give to. With marriage and children, this becomes clear: our lives are spent in their service.
When we understand our longing to love, we can begin to direct our love to those around us, from our parents and siblings to co-workers and fellow parishioners. We are made for love — to love and to be loved — but love is not solely synonymous with romantic love. Love desires the good of the other.
Companionship and giving of ourselves to those around us, both in marriage and in non-romantic relationships, lessens loneliness. Nothing, however, can rid us entirely of the feeling of loneliness; our isolation from others began with Adam, Eve and the apple.
Sin created (and creates) spaces between people and from God. Ultimately, loneliness is a result of our broken relationship with God and with each other. It is a fact of our earthly existence.
Just as the distances between people stretch out ever greater with repeated offenses, they can lessen with acts of love and participation in the Sacraments. When we acknowledge our offenses and seek forgiveness, the Sacrament of Confession restores a right relationship with God. In partaking in the Sacrament of the Eucharist, we become one with God and with one another.
Loneliness often makes us fear solitude. It is tempting us to fill it with never-ending social gatherings, television, Facebook, Pinterest, video games and other distractions.
Paradoxically, it is in this often-difficult solitude that we come to know God and begin to mend the rift present since the Fall. It is in solitude that we can reflect on our reasons for loneliness, going deeper than the seemingly obvious answers; here, we can better know ourselves.
Most of all, it is in solitude that we can see our loneliness, not as a something to be “fixed,” but as the beginning of prayer.
Anamaria Scaperlanda Biddick writes from Oklahoma City.