Sunday, April 5
Today was the fourth Sunday in a row that we have been part of a church service online, rather than in person. During the service that we were watching, the pastor asked everyone to go on Facebook Live and type the words, “You are not alone.”
I read the words scrolling quickly up my screen, and I was amazed at how much better they made me feel. I didn’t know most of the people typing at home on their phones and computers. A few of the names I recognized. Some were friends.
The message was repeated, over and over:
“You are not alone.”
Isolated at home with my family in the living room, the words made me feel like I was part of a whole community of people struggling through the same feelings of aloneness that I was experiencing.
But the reality is that being alone on Sunday morning isn’t something new for us that just began in the past four weeks. This coming Sunday, which is Easter Sunday, will mark the beginning of a year that has included a lot of change when it comes to our Sunday morning church-going experience. Throughout the past year, I have struggled with many Sunday mornings of feeling both extremely lonely and alone.
I’ve learned that there is a big difference between the two. Just because you are alone, doesn’t mean you are lonely. And you can be surrounded by people and still feel very alone. I’ve found that although I believe we are made to live in community, loneliness isn’t something to avoid or fear. It’s not something I need to run from. Sometimes, it’s best to just sit in it and experience the pain it can bring.
I’ve learned a lot about myself, about my faith and about life during some of my deepest moments of feeling lonely.
I’ve also learned not to rush through my quiet moments alone or try to fill them with noise to break the silence. Some of my best thoughts, ideas, inspiration and refreshment in life come when I am alone.
Here are a few other things I’ve learned about being lonely vs. being alone:
I love being part of a community, especially if it means being part of something bigger than myself. When I stepped away from my role in ministry at a church, I went through a season of mourning the loss of so many experiences that I loved. I also learned that my instinct was to fill the void in my heart with people, rather than seeking God. Having so many things stripped away this past year left me feeling vulnerable and useless. But it also pushed me closer to God. I can be extremely self reliant, so I’m thankful that circumstances have pushed me to seek God in a deeper way.
I have found that loneliness for me isn’t a result of being alone. It comes from knowing other people are together while I’m by myself. This is even worse when people you love and miss are together, but you can’t be with them. I have been less lonely during social distancing because everyone is alone. Knowing other people are alone makes me feel less lonely.
This fall, we began visiting other churches. For so many years, our family made a big effort on Sunday mornings to reach out to people who were visiting our church. It was incredibly awkward to be the visitors. This has given us a completely new perspective. We were arrogant in the past to think we were so helpful to talk to people who were new. We now know that being brave enough to step into a place that’s new is far more difficult. We have so much more compassion for people who are alone than we did before.
Finally, being surrounded by people can still be incredibly lonely. Strangely enough, going to church online can be easier than physically going to church when you don’t know anyone. It’s been a safe space where we can worship as a family without the awkward feeling of walking in somewhere that we are unknown. This will be something we will have to work through when the time comes to resume life in community.
Well, those were some deep thoughts on Day 23 of our social distancing. If you are alone today, I hope it gives you some comfort to know that you aren’t the only one. And if you are lonely, I also want you to know that, for what it’s worth, I’ve been there and you are not alone.
Read my past posts: