Have you ever met someone who has never been lonely?
Someone asked recently, “Have you ever been lonely?” The answer was brilliant: “Have you ever breathed?” It seems to be very much part of being a human being but is it something that one just has to live with? Everyone seems to have been through it one way or another. Some seem to be crushed by it; while others seem to bounce up to escape from it.
What is it, this thing called loneliness that is common to every human person? Maybe it is the feeling of being with no-one while wanting to be with someone. It is not just being alone, since when one is alone one is not necessarily lonely. Being lonely is different from being alone. In fact, longing to be alone drives many people to escape the madding crowd, while in the madding crowd many confess to being lonely.
What then is loneliness? At a guess it would seem to be close to a kind of fear; a being gripped by a sense of despair that one has no-one to walk with through life, or even just through the present moment. The touching of a deep sense of emptiness – of life having no sense without someone else to share it with. Maybe it’s the feeling of dread at the thought of life ‘signifying nothing’, as McBeth laments – where no companion is to be found for life’s journey. Could loneliness be described as that fear, at times strong at other times weak, that one is quasi-invisible: that one has no visible presence in the life of somebody else? Is loneliness the deepest feeling of the fear of uselessness? What an irony there is here since man despises being used, but longs to be useful in the life of someone else! Is this part of the reason why people – women in particular – endure unjust situations where their bullies rule over them? Do they settle for being semi-useful rather than being cast aside into the darkness of uselessness where loneliness would crush them completely?
Children are wonderful. Remarkably, they too touch the deep recesses of being human simply by being recipients of what’s going on around about them. Like sponges they soak up everything. Trying to figure life out they feel what adults often move past or deny. Children sense the deep space within themselves and wonder at it. They wonder at that which announces their contingent nature, while touching what seems like an infinite depth within them. When it is occupied to a certain degree with the presence of kindness towards them they flourish in the security that love gives. Love, that willing the good of another, is nourishment to their souls. This does not happen by random gestures from adults, but is built slowly and surely through constant repetition. Love ennobles. Constant loving presence allows children to come to reason, and use it properly in the face of the chasm within. That chasm has a magnetic, and at times destructive, pull upon them when the source of loving presence is taken from them. Suffering and death threatens them as much as it does adults. Children too can fall into the abyss of loneliness. Theirs’ seems even more tragic, but the loving presence of somebody (rather than some idea) gives them the confidence to be with others whom they know someday may also be taken from them.
As the powerful forces move within children grow and carry dreams. These are natural hopes. One of these is that someday they too will be a loving presence in the life of someone else. That they may be a life giving presence. The complementary generative faculties of men and women announce to them that being with someone of the opposite sex in order to be that source of life and love is the natural environment in which to live beyond loneliness. Yet for many this natural environment that is marriage has become like C.S. Lewis’s Narnia – a land accessible only to a few lucky ones. How has this come about that the place where loneliness is most easily overcome has itself become less and less common? As it has drifted off the horizon of whole societies has there not also been an explosion in the sense of loneliness? What is the connection between loneliness and the collapse in respect for marriage? These are huge questions yet they touch many lonely hearts. The connection between the rise in loneliness and the flight from marriage maybe more basic than at first appreciated.
Consideration needs to be given to the tragedy of marital breakdown. It can never be underestimated. It’s consequences are profound. Yet, how often has it come from the fact that one of the spouses at some point entered into a profound loneliness and reacted to this in an manner that was destructive to marriage. Men in particular have deep fears that they believe will be satisfied in the company of women other than their wives. The fantasy of being young and free, fit and virile, is perceived to be found in being with someone else. Is it a man’s fear of growing old, facing death alone – in a manner that opens up the chasm within – that blinds him to the consequence of unfaithful acts? Does he see that his life is not absolutely in his own hands and balk against this fact? Does he turn away from what he promised because life has changed while he has not grown mature during the change, but has resorted to his childlike state of feeling loneliness and now looks for the loving presence wherever he can find it?
Then there is the tragedy of young people looking for loving presence and finding that their circle of associates seems to have no-one within it who will accompany them through life. How many men and women come to see that life passes quicker than they realised when they were younger? Being the loving presence for someone in a professional capacity does not hold back the pressure that builds in the face of the spectre of loneliness. There is the longing for being someone else’s. There is the longing for being mother or father to this one or that one, and the professional profile is felt and recognized as shallow in comparison. It has its place but it does not satisfy the heart.
Why then do young men and women not simply enter into that life long bond that is marriage with the first person they meet? Wouldn’t that solve the loneliness question?
It is not so simple. Yes, a man and a woman who are eligible to marry could simply do so – and it has happened in the past successfully allowing the present generations to be! Previous generations had the support of smaller societies that created the conditions in which couples were brought together. Marriage was the expected thing since it is a natural good – the society worked for it and placed it before our forefathers and foremothers. Did they all enter into perfectly, lovely, sweet marriages? Probably not but they were presented with the environment that is marriage – an environment in which it is easier to overcome the threats caused by loneliness. Marriage naturally gives this gift, whether it is received or not is another story.
What is the cause of the phenomenon of so many being unable to find a spouse? I would say that part of this cause is that society does not place marriage above anything else anymore. This is because it does not see children as its greatest treasure. When marriage began to be conceived (pardon the pun) as a child-free reality then it was redefined according to the selfish forces in man. Women were the primary victims since their greatest natural potential was seen as only one choice among many. Contraception in particular has been the feminists own goal – it is afterall a male invention to allow the ‘hump and dump’ (if you pardon my French) attitude of selfish, lust filled, men. The superiority of motherhood was thrown down from its crowning place in society – and in Christian societies this paralleled the rejection in the Sixteenth Century of the Blessed Mother by the spiritual terrorists whose ideas permeate many places today. Marriage and motherhood were degraded by the gnostic forces who claimed to have direct access to the interpretation of divine things. Many people are unable to find marriage because of the absolutization of personal opinion over objective reality.
Societies that do not guard their children from the moment of conception will consider that moment as product to be bought and sold. If that moment is degraded, or despised, in anyway then society turns to self-hatred. The marketing of the marital act, the making of it into something that can be manipulated by the powers of science, leads to a society where loneliness is treated as tough luck. If you are not getting your sex, so the argument goes, it is because you are not paying enough for it. Loneliness is your own fault. Such is the consumer society’s argument. A follow on to this – in an attempt to remove the perceived danger of loneliness – is the Freudian-Marxist mindset, which claims the danger of loneliness is like the danger of thirst. No-one should be thirsty so water is a right; and likewise, no-one should be lonely so sex is a right. From this it is further argued that governments should pay those who provide the necessary “services” to alleviate loneliness. In other words, Freudian education needs to be funded; sex-education needs to be funded; and brothels needed to be funded. Loneliness must be eradicated since it is considered oppressive. Indeed, the Marxist myth of marriage as the first form of oppression leads to the ideological hatred against it, while sexual gratification is elevated to a right that society must fund. This is what follows when children are not what marriage is about. Marriage is turned into a circus for self-abuse, self-absorption, and exploitation.
In such a culture children grow up with a fear that they too will be used rather than loved for all that they are – including the potential to be a mother or a father. When the moment of conception is set aside for sex-alone then the chasm of loneliness erupts and consumes those who should be guarding the mysteries of life. Marriage is pulled down from its throne and those aspiring to it find few willing to enter into the battle for it. As the moment of conception is degraded those aspiring to cherish that moment become fewer and fewer, and their loneliness faces the danger of growing deeper and deeper. Carrying a false vision of marriage (seeing it as a no-children-option or as a form of oppression) generates a fear that marriage may detract from one’s freedom. This leads many to avoid that which is the natural way of companionship and service.
The real trap is the subtlety of thinking at an early age that married people are miserable. With the increasing destruction of many families due to divorce this error is compounded and personal experiences elevated to being the sole judge of reality. It is perfectly understandable why someone coming from an unhappy family would think that every family, and every marriage, is similar to his own. It is understanable also why many children grow envious of any happy families they come across. Parents who decided to walk away – even after the children have grown up – leave behind them a sense of betrayal that many are unable to articulate. Every past experience is placed under suspicion since the love that was perceived to be there by trusting children is now seen as being fraudulent. In the child’s heart – even if now a young adult – trust is almost mortally wounded. Those most loved and honoured (father and mother) have inflicted a wound that is humanly impossible to heal. Children are crushed by the revelation that is divorce; the young are attacked in the arena of hope; and the wider family and society is trapped between false understandings of justice and mercy. All of this, yes, all of this compounds the struggle with loneliness and exacerbates the hesitancy to enter into marriage based on being for children.
What then is to be done in the face of an ever growing fear over living for tomorrow’s generation if loneliness is a major factor in closing the way to the future? The answer involves pain and suffering, but the alternative is also pain and suffering but of a different kind. If the reality of loneliness , and the factors that are causing it to be multiplied, are not faced then greater and greater misery will ensue for future generations. If, however, it is faced – and the causes addressed in the light of reason and supernatural faith – then the way to Christian perfection will be seen as the answer that many lonely souls are longing for. Much has been said in recent times about the need for mercy, but how often have people come to see that one does not need to go to a soup kitchen or a far flung country to find souls in need of loving presence. How many people do I encounter each day – even if only in thought? They are the ones who need the loving presence of Christ, and I may be the one who can carry this presence to them. Be they rich, or be they poor; be they male or be they female; be they young or be they old – my prayers for them may help them climb out of the abyss of loneliness. Those who are lonely need more than physical companionship. It is a soul mate (even someone far off) who can give them the words of Christ: “I am with you always. Yes, even to the end of the age!”
Another suggestion is that of going out to the most basic periphery of society: the family. It is the family today that is the outcast. Even where this not the case, there is never a family that has it all made up. Mothers often need a simply helping hand; while fathers need to be encouraged to keep fighting against the culture of death as it stalks the family. Suggesting the fathers should not combat those forces that are attacking the family is equivalent to suggesting to those who feed the poor that they should give them stones instead of bread. Fathers need to learn one thing if loneliness is to be benefitted from, and it is that time is the families strength. Without the family being placed first with regards to his time then a father runs the risk of being a stranger to his children. Strangers cannot give to children what they need.
Families often need help; and families can often give help. Is not the tragedy of homelessness because many people have failed to raise a finger to help families carry their burdens. Support the family and homes will not be less, but more welcoming.
Who helps parents that are exhausted with constant hours of work – both day and night – involved in raising their children? They are not asking for a sympathy vote, but practical help on a regular basis may just help them avoid physical and mental breakdown. It is not government help they need but friendship. Befriend and family and children will flourish away from loneliness. Children suffer when parents are exhausted. Serving the family in a practical manner seems like common sense, but pride stops the foolish from suggesting help or from taking help. There’s no glory in going to the store or shops; there are no encyclical written to address the cause of people abandoning their home. Giving oneself to the life of the family – holding the baby while mom stops for a five minute nap – get very little news coverage. The claim that one has no time to do such a thing is lame for if one has no time for the family then one has no time for one’s neighbour. You might aswell set up more homeless units – you’ll need them.
Finally, there is the need for Christ. He is not a panacea for the lonely, but rather the Way from loneliness into the very mystery of the Blessed Trinity. Only He can fill the abyss in man that erupts in pain when natural loving presence is absent. Only He can bring supernatural life to where there has been death in the soul. Without Him man is condemned to the misery of self-absorption. The family, and marriage as its foundation, finds its fulfillment in Him alone.
What then of society and the march towards despair? Only Christ is the answer. Suffering is part of man’s lot in this vale of tears as a consequence of Adam’s sin, but it is not something that anyone is permitted to inflicted upon anyone else. Destroying the natural foundation on which humanity lives and breaths – the natural foundation that is marriage – will never bring happiness to anyone. This attack is guaranteed to do only thing: increase loneliness. On the other hand, following Christ, and living in His loving presence, is the guaranteed way to overcome the feeling of having no-one to love, or of not being loved by anyone. His loving presence is divinely guaranteed to those who love Him. Being alone in Christ is non-existent. Instead, He permitts us to share in His loneliness on Calvary. From there His presence overcomes all that threatens our way to Him. It was He who said: “Come to me all you are weary and overburden, and you will find rest for your soul.” The command is to unite one’s sufferings of loneliness to His suffering for the salvation of souls. His promise is built on who He is – Love Incarnate. He Who can never deceive nor be deceived. In loneliness or in contentment one’s marching orders are the same: trust in His Goodness!