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A lasting solution to feeling lonely
I�ve learned two important things about loneliness over the years: 1) That being with people isn�t the solution; and 2) that being strong and independent on your own doesn�t solve the problem, either.
The only solution is a deep, settled sense of living in God�s universe, cherished by divine Love and held in right relationship to others.
When God gave His creation dominion �over all the earth,� it wasn�t just over physical forces, disease and the whims of a human economy. Dominion also includes authority over our feelings.
As much as every day feels like an invitation to be swirled around by the vagaries of human thinking, our real feelings correspond to God�s omnipresent, benevolent love. God blesses life with the kind of goodness that satisfies the heart. Christian Science teaches that we have the freedom to challenge destructive emotions, just as it teaches us dominion over other physical sensations.
Loneliness can feel like a hidden sadness that makes one withdraw, or it can come to us like a raging bull, causing us to recklessly indulge in every wrong kind of action. But whatever form it takes, loneliness must be expunged in order for us to find the true peace of life.
The disappointment that keeps rehearsing the reasons for unhappiness is a far cry from the spirit of praise and worship that clarifies our relationship with God and others. It�s from the standpoint of gratitude and satisfaction that we can bring peace to relationships, knowing that we have something to give instead of chronically waiting for someone to give to us.
One of my greatest battles with loneliness came shortly after my younger son learned to drive. My boys grew up with broad interests, so my single motherhood meant that most of my non-office time was spent shuttling them between meetings, music lessons, rehearsals and social events. I was ready to stop being a taxi driver�but was surprised at the significant emotional adjustment this change required.
Suddenly I needed to find companionship outside my children. It was a huge shift to have long hours by myself in the evening, and large chunks of time on the weekend. I felt very self-conscious and disconnected, and I prayed to know how to make the best use of the time. But too often a mental darkness and idleness would interfere with my prayers.
The turning point came one Friday night in the living room, when I was dozing that weird sleep that accompanies boredom. All at once I found myself standing upright and almost shouting, �Loneliness, get out!�
I was surprised at the vehemence of my words, but knew I couldn�t sit one more hour sinking into uselessness and self-pity. Standing in the middle of the room, I prayed to understand my authority.
I realized that to think of myself as isolated was to misunderstand who I was. My real identity was not �single female with empty nest and empty social calendar.� My oneness with God put me in perfect right relationship to each of God�s children. God, Spirit, defined my being, not physical location. Divine Spirit fills every hour with goodness and purpose and joy.
I could see that the feeling of loneliness was a deception of the physical senses. It was no different from other sensual pulls that excessively orient thought to the body. Just as my identity was not dependent on the fluctuating patterns of the weather, so my happiness wasn�t dependent on the fluctuating nature of human circumstances.
The firm foundation of happiness was in knowing that my expression of God�s nature in my life was uninterrupted. In the same way that I expected my children to move into new horizons of thought and experience, I also needed to cultivate a greater expectancy about this next chapter of my life.
I�m not sure what happened after I left the living room that night, whether I called a friend or went for a walk, but that evening still stands as the last time I agreed to the feelings of loneliness. The feeling had been chronic and too easily indulged. Now it was rare and quickly dismissed through prayer. I was no longer fooled by hypnotic feelings that argued against divine Love�s fullness in my life.
Shortly after that healing, a church friend and I were talking about a movie we�d each seen separately. She asked who was with me at the movie. I told her I had found the freedom of going to movies alone.
She rebuked me and said, �That�s ridiculous for you to go to the movies by yourself. Do you have any idea how many people would love to do things with you?� I was very surprised at her strong tone, and realized I had some more thinking to do.
Did I really agree with her viewpoint that I could be a good companion? Was a subtle sense of worthlessness preventing me from welcoming others into my life? With a more secure sense of identity in the spiritual qualities God expresses in me, wouldn�t it be natural to see God�s qualities in others?
Immediately, I saw that there needed to be a greater spirit of hospitality in my home. Simple meals became opportunities to include neighbors and friends. Sometimes people said no to my invitations, but that didn�t discourage me. Other ideas came for including people in walks and movie-going. There was a growing confidence that I could offer companionship that was genuine and fun.
In general, I could feel my heart for humanity being prepared to love more universally. Soon, I was asked to represent my church on the local ecumenical council, which led to active involvement in the soup kitchen ministry in my community.
Then, another friend at church told me about a widower who was struggling to put his life together. I felt I had something to share from the decade since my husband had passed on. After starting a friendship, we had a lovely dating relationship for about three months. Then it was obvious to both of us that the conversation was complete�we�d said all we needed to say and it was time to stop dating.
Over the next five years, there were other opportunities for companionship, and I found how much I had to learn from people my own age, both male and female. Having found the rhythm and balance of being single and happy, I was surprised when I met a remarkable man at church to whom I was soon engaged and married. We are now learning how to share our new home together with others.
Marriage, though, is not a solution to loneliness. In fact, there are times when married people are so distant from their spouses that they can struggle with loneliness just as much as if they weren�t married. Part of staying mentally active about relationships means cultivating a sense of welcome and approval�and treasuring the goodness of each man and woman God created. It is not possible to practice these qualities from a standpoint of self-absorption.
The key thing I�ve learned about the human experience is that it is a laboratory for discovering how perfectly we fit in God�s creation and relate to others in it. Jesus gave us two great commands�to love God and to love our neighbor.
Spiritual discipline in prayer and study requires that we find the peace of being alone with our thoughts. But this discipline has the natural side effect of catapulting us into constructive relationships that bless, inspire and heal others.
Mary Baker Eddy wrote of the struggle to �enter into the perfect love of God and man,� and offered this encouragement in achieving that balance in life: �The infinite will not be buried in the finite; the true thought escapes from the inward to the outward, and this is the only right activity, that whereby we reach our higher nature� (Prose Works).
It�s powerfully reassuring to know that, as children of God, �thought escapes from the inward to the outward.� The promise of finding our spiritual freedom is that we will be less and less self-conscious, and more and more God-centered�in ways that defend our peace, as well as our relationship to others.
Lois Rae Carlson
Reprint permission from the Christian Science Sentinel
Lois Carlson is a Christian Science teacher and practitioner in Chicago.