Sunday, 8 September 2013

Loneliness... or solitude... or loneliness?!

I've been thinking a lot about loneliness lately. It's such a tricky thing isn't it?! Even beginning to write about it I'm aware that lots of people will have lots of views which may not be the same as what I'm about to write! But perhaps you'll permit me to just share some of my thoughts and ideas? Feel free to then share what you think too, but let's be gentle with one another!

I want to ponder on loneliness primarily from the point of view of the single person who lives alone. I realise that rules out a lot of you who might be reading this, and I'm sorry. But that's the category in which I find myself and so it's the thing I know most about.

As you read some of the following ponderings you might think they apply to you too. I realise it's possible for married people to feel lonely, and I'm sure all clergy people sometimes feel lonely.

But... with all those caveats, and appropriate disclaimers, here are some of the jumbled thoughts from where my brain is right now...

It's hard when you've had a really tough day to come home and have no one to share it with. That's a pretty obvious statement, and I don't claim to have come up with a new and revolutionary insight there, but hey, I say it like it is! I guess it's harder if you're an extreme extrovert, like me - I don't know what I think about something till I've talked about it and I can't process something till I've verbally downloaded it! So Sunday evenings can be tough, or getting in after evening meetings, with so much racing around my head. Sometimes I want someone to cry with, about the horrid thing someone said, or the stuff I tried that went wrong, or the sad situation I heard about. Sometimes I want someone to laugh with, about the hilarious and slightly inappropriate thing that happened which no one else noticed but I couldn't point out cos it was a bit naughty, or the cute thing one of the kids did, or the crazy bonkers mad thing that happened. Sometimes I just want someone to give me a hug and tell me I did ok. And yeah, I know, I can talk to Jesus, and that's great, and I really totally don't want it to sound like I'm dismissing that because I know what a joy and privilege that is and I love the freedom I have to do that whenever I want because I don't have other ties and commitments at home and when it's a joy it's a beautiful awesome incredible joy. But. Sometimes I just want there to be a human being there in front of me to talk to. And there isn't. And sometimes that sucks. And that is just how it is. And do you know what, that's OK, and Jesus understands that too.

I heard a lovely thing this week from a clergy colleague who's married. He told me that since reading my book he's realised afresh the challenges single clergy face, and he's offered to a friend to meet for a drink after PCCs or other late meetings, to download and debrief. How fantastic is that?! I love that my book has made him offer that. I love that his colleague now has someone to offload to.

Days off are tricky too. Sometimes I want to spend my day off all by myself, just vegging out and pottering and pleasing myself and having a lie in and watching telly in my pyjamas. But mostly I don't. Mostly I want to go somewhere and see someone and do something. But often I'm tired and I don't get round to planning it, or I'm worried that everyone else will already have plans, or I don't have the energy to travel miles to see friends. (Don't even get me started on holidays. I haven't the energy. That's a whole different post...)

At my best, times of 'aloneness' can become times of 'solitude' rather than 'loneliness'. They can become times which I share with Jesus, and which become intimate times of blessing and joy. But that takes energy and effort, and it's a choice that has to be made. It's a really important choice, and one which I often manage to make, and am always glad when I have. But just, sadly, not quite always...

One thing which I totally love in the battle against loneliness is social media! I love Facebook and I love Twitter, and I'm new to this blogging lark, but I'm growing to love it too! Some people mutter and moan about it and say we should just be present with the people we're with and that people share too much etc etc - but for me it's sometimes the difference between sanity and complete mental meltdown! I love that I can post a brief sentence about something that's just happened and get an instant response  - whether it's something funny or sad or crazy or cute, I can get lots of immediate and sympathetic replies and it's fab! I don't feel so lonely, and I'm connected with the world!

The other thing that helps a huge amount is fabulous friends, the ones who really get it. The ones who don't mind when I text at crazy o'clock cos I just want to talk to someone. The ones who notice when I'm not OK (someone texted tonight who made such a difference to how I felt - thank you!!!). The ones who remember something big that's happened for me and ask about it. The ones who let me externally process at nineteen to the dozen before I eventually remember politeness decrees I ought to ask how they're doing too! The ones who make fun day off plans with me. The ones who meet for a quick coffee so that a day which otherwise would have been spent alone involves some human contact! And the ones who have adorable small people who are available for hugs and comedy to cheer me up!

Loneliness can be a horrid, sad, painful thing. We all feel loneliness at some time in our lives. It feels a bit like this post has been more like a diary entry than a blog!! I'm OK, I'm just pondering... But hopefully if you're currently feeling lonely it'll reassure you that you're not alone. And if you're not, it will encourage you to reach out to someone who might be.

And as church, let's try, shall we, please, to commit ourselves to trying to eradicate loneliness - to making sure each and every person feels welcomed and loved and valued and included, and always has someone to talk to, someone to laugh, cry and pray with, and somewhere to go when they need to not be alone. Everything would just be so much better if we tried that.


  1. That is a very balanced post I think Kate. I feel most of what you write. I felt it when I in ministry too. I feel it now. I hate living alone. I have to be honest. I find it hard.

    I too find social media a lifeline for exactly the reasons you mention. I find I get very depressed when I spend too much time alone (which has been a lot recently) and then I lose motivation to get out and do things and everything gets worse. It takes so much will power and energy to make myself go out somewhere.

    I saw Esther Ranzen on ITV's 'This Morning' and she said these words about loneliness(I don't remember who she was quoting) " =You can always find someone to do something with, but you have no one to do nothing with'. Sometimes I want to be at home and do nothing but do it with someone else.

    Then I remember friends who have small kids and I know that they have no time to themselves and have the opposite problem to me. I remember then that our lives are differently difficult.

  2. Ha - this (as an academic, rather than a vicar!)!

    "Days off are tricky too. Sometimes I want to spend my day off all by myself, just vegging out and pottering and pleasing myself and having a lie in and watching telly in my pyjamas. But mostly I don't. Mostly I want to go somewhere and see someone and do something. But often I'm tired and I don't get round to planning it, or I'm worried that everyone else will already have plans, or I don't have the energy to travel miles to see friends. (Don't even get me started on holidays. I haven't the energy. That's a whole different post...)"

  3. good overview of how things are and the challenges of coming home to an empty house.

  4. Amazing post Kate, you give such fantastic insight and help me think about how I can change to help others more. Thankyou.

  5. Hi ... good post and echoes a lot of what I experienced in my 6 years living alone as a parish priest.

    I once heard a single vicar saying that sometimes living alone was great, but that sometimes it was "excruciating" and I can't think of a better word for it.

    In the years since I stepped down from parish ministry I've consciously chosen to live with others to begin to undo the damage (yes I chose that word deliberately) of living alone:
    ... the empty head with thoughts rattling round
    ... tending towards selfish habits and self-absorption
    ... finding it hard after long periods of aloneness to be with people
    ... the lack of all kinds of human interaction and touch as you describe (and as Lynda put it above) having no-one to do nothing with
    ... the gnawing feeling of unmet human needs after pouring oneself out for others
    ... the crap days off
    ... etc etc.

    On balance I'd gladly trade the annoyances of communal living - the banging doors and noise, different standards of kitchen hygiene, not always having use of rooms etc for those 2 min "how was your day" chats in the kitchen; having to cooperate with others on common living matters, and just having to live outside my head and consider other people.

    Of course this won't echo everyone's experience, but we are all wired differently, and this is how it was for me. I know that now and am making choices accordingly. Living with others has brought out the best and worst bits of my personality, but that's healthy (if handled well) - we're meant to come out of ourselves and live openly before God, others and the world, and having nowhere to hide is part of the healing journey.

    I decided that living alone is something I will never do again as long as I have that choice, and I think there must be other ways for people to find their own space within a communal living environment where there is a balance of solitude and togetherness that makes for a balanced, growing, healthy life.

  6. Great post Kate. I'm married and as you know my husband works away during the week. So from Monday to Friday I'm a single parent which can be difficult with lots of teenage hormones running around and it can be very lonely not having someone to share things with. After reading your book I realised that I need to put effort into not feeling lonely by organising time with friends, family and activities to help dissipate the loneliness. Thanks Kate

  7. As a 51 year old, never-married singleton, I feel the spectre of loneliness looming and I DO fear it.

    My housemate of 22 years died suddenly and tragically last year, and it was no longer financially tenable for me to carry on living in the house we had been renting. God provided for me wonderfully, two close church friends offered me a room in their house and I moved in after the New Year. This has worked out really well.

    But it has also underlined for me the fact that I really, REALLY don't want to live on my own. :( It's OK when, as you say, one is motivated to cultivate fruitful solitude in our walk with God - that kind of solitude is a beautiful and creative thing. But there's also a dark side to being on one's own, and I feel that too.

    Thanks for this, Kate.


  8. Thanks so much everyone for your comments. Glad this post has been helpful to so many.

  9. Interesting post, and also interesting that I would probably describe myself as an extreme introvert, and yet so much resonated with me. Thanks for sharing.