Crowds of people may not ease the pain of feeling alone, but understanding that we are inseparable from our creator, God, can actually heal loneliness.
In his book Love and Conflict, the prominent clergyman and educator Gibson Winter speaks of the excessive loneliness that is created by the sort of society in which many people live today, a society largely of the city. He writes: "... It is one thing to be alone in order to be quiet and recollect oneself. This is creative aloneness. ... On the other hand, there is a kind of loneliness which comes from being isolated. ... It is the estrangement of the isolated person who moves anonymously in the midst of crowds." Love and Conflict: New Patterns in Family Life (Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1958), p. 180 . This question of loneliness, the pangs of separation from others, of being cut off from friends and family, needs to be addressed from a spiritual perspective. It's important to approach the subject with the compassion and spiritual understanding that can actually lift individual lives out of these sad states of isolation and estrangement.
Most of us are probably inclined to identify loneliness in our personal lives as simply the case of being separated from other persons. But the very fact that it is sometimes most keenly felt right in the midst of groups or crowds, and that it has often been resolved quite independently of personal companionship, shows that the challenge is not so simple. Essentially, loneliness can be attributed to the underlying view that man is mortal—that he is separated from God and from God's purpose for him.
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When an individual feels lonely or homesick, what that person is really longing for has its origin, its source, in God. Happiness, satisfaction, security, quietness of heart—each of these qualities is fundamentally a gift of God, to be expressed in individual lives as evidence of the presence and goodness of God. This is a profound insight that appears in both the Old and New Testaments. It was this very point that the Psalmist was expressing when he wrote to describe God's action, "He satisfieth the longing soul, and filleth the hungry soul with goodness." Ps. 107:9.
Most people believe themselves to be mortal and thus assume that their happiness and contentment are dependent on their relationship with other mortals. Yet the Bible reveals man to be spiritual, to have his origin in God. The Bible shows that our true nature is safe, that we're made in the image and likeness of God. This spiritual, unchanging relation of man to God is the underlying fact of man's being. And when we begin to find happiness on the basis of our spiritual relationship to God, we find that satisfaction and contentment have an otherwise unknown permanence and stability. They are not precarious or vulnerable.
Perhaps an example would be helpful to show how this relates practically to the question of loneliness. Some time ago, I heard two men discussing an experience that one of them had just had. He was telling about a business trip to New York City and related that at dusk each evening he found an acute sense of loneliness overcoming him. He said that he saw some people going home and others going off together for entertainment, and no matter what he did, he couldn't rid himself of the feeling of loneliness. He described those days away from his home and family as pretty miserable.
At this point the acquaintance who had been listening told of his own similar experience when he too had been doing a great deal of business traveling that had kept him away from home for considerable periods. I say "similar" because his experience paralleled that of his friend only up to a point. He too encountered a sharp sense of loneliness and had been feeling quite sorry for himself. But then his experience took a significant change of direction; he went into a Wednesday evening testimony meeting in a Church of Christ, Scientist, in the city where he was, and what he heard there made a remarkable change in all that he thought and did, and how he felt, from that time on.
The idea of joy was the subject that evening, and it was expressed consistently in the readings from the Bible and Science and Health by Mrs. Eddy, in the hymns, and in the testimonies of healing and spontaneous remarks of praise and gratitude from members of the congregation. The man then went on to relate with great enthusiasm that this awakening to true joy had completely changed his experience. It became clear to him that because he couldn't really be separated from God, he couldn't be cut off from the source of joy and contentment. He concluded his conversation with his associate by saying that in his subsequent travel, this conviction he had gained of his inseparability from the source of joy had been expressed in many ways. Well, this conversation helped the first man to see that he needed to and could acknowledge God's goodness and presence in a more consistent way.
Many people fear what is considered one of the greatest challenges of loneliness—that which arises when a loved one passes on. What is needed at such times is the assurance that God, divine Love, includes every one of us in His constant care in such a way that nothing can interfere with the expression of Life's continuity. It can be very reassuring to find that Christ Jesus' promise to all who mourn was "they shall be comforted." Matt. 5:4. And we can recall that, despite disappointment and suffering, the Apostle Paul could still refer to God in one of his letters as "the God of all comfort." II Cor. 1:3. Surely the Master and the apostle were both speaking from conviction—a conviction that we too can prayerfully grow into.
A woman I know had an experience which illustrates that this can be so. She had been happily married for more than twenty years. Then, while she was on a vacation with her husband and family at a northern Wisconsin lake, her husband drowned. The initial shock was severe and struck hard at what had been such a happy family—one in which companionship had always meant a great deal to each member.
Mere "chin-up" optimism would have been too shallow. But as her thinking rested more and more on God's central importance in their lives she could feel the love of God present with them.
At first this woman thought that she simply couldn't keep going—that she was alone, afraid, and could never expect to be happy again. She had long been a student of Christian Science, however, and she knew that God is the eternal source of man's life. Therefore this life really couldn't be destroyed; nothing about man's real life could be lost—to her or to any member of her family. She was also deeply grateful to begin to recognize that God was, and had always been, the real mainstay of her family; and that, in a very real sense, He could be trusted to continue caring for their needs.
It was the most heartfelt prayer, of course, that led her to see these facts. Mere "chin up" human optimism would obviously have been too shallow at such a time. But now, as her thinking rested more and more on God's central importance in their lives, she found that a deep sense of peace and poise came to her. She said that she could feel the very tenderness and love of God present with them. And as she felt this, all of the anguish of loneliness and loss was removed.
It's important to realize that this experience required something of her—she had to reach out to God in an understanding way, with humble confidence in His presence, in His ability to illuminate what was seen by human perspective to be a dreary and joyless situation. She found it necessary to deny consistently the temptation to surrender her attention to self-pity and morbid dejection. She said she had to pray to God wholeheartedly, with the spirit of the Psalmist, "Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit." Ps. 51:12. As she was willing to do this—to let God guide her into a fuller understanding of His presence—she learned that she had God-given reason to accept "the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness." Isa. 61:3.
Well, to complete this woman's account, even at that point there was still very little that seemed promising humanly. But we can't forget that a deep and living awareness of a relationship to God was at work in that family. And very quickly they began to see the practical outcome of this awareness. All of the many details that the wife had to attend to were worked out properly, without the burden of emotional distress. Now she began to find that whatever was needed—information, new transactions, arrangements of all sorts—was always right at hand. She looked to God as the source of her ability, an ability to undertake a number of detailed activities that had never before fallen to her. She looked to God as the source of supply, a supply that in earlier times she had rather casually assumed resulted from her husband's efforts and income. She looked to God as the source of happiness for herself and her sons. And she found each of these needed things right there at that source.
These two experiences offer to us hints of the profound blessings available in discovering the spiritual answers to loneliness. The answers that these individuals found in the teachings of the Comforter, divine Science, so rightly called by Mrs. Eddy, See Science and Health 55:27-29 . went beyond merely removing the loneliness of the particular situation. For each person learned something more of man's relationship to God. And by learning that joy and poise, freedom and usefulness, have their source in God, they found these characteristics to be unchanging and available.