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.