I have become an expert in loneliness, in solitude, in finding ways to do the job of many; maybe not all done expertly. Caroline, SME of Loneliness. You may have thought I went to school for economics and finance, but the school of hard knocks has given me a doctorate in death, illness, betrayal, and a morbid sense of humor. It has also given me a hunger to seek the good, the silver lining, the hope, the lesson, the meaning; because it is in meaning that suffering ceases to be suffering (thank you, Victor Frankl). It is a subject that I have discussed ad nauseam with God, shaking my proverbial, and sometimes literal fist at him for implanting within me a clear trajectory that would be compromised should I take matters into my own hands and resolve my loneliness. I share. I over share. Sometimes I am embarrassed that I have so much to share, that life has not been easy when I longed for simple goodness. I share, because somewhere, someone may read my words in a place where all they feel is despair, and these treasures of pain that I have been given to carry and grapple with, to make sense of, and then give willingly to my Father’s hands, they may be a glimmer of comfort to that aching soul that is longing to be known. If I do not share my agonies, I feel I am robbing this unknown precious soul of comfort that has been bountifully given to me through the written word these past decades. My words are for you, my friend, my brother or sister in Christ, who finds yourself in a place you never imagined possible, where light is dim and life seems cruel. I promise you, you are not alone, that through dimensions of space and time there is a friend who is closer than a brother. He hears your crying, and I implore you, that while you cannot hear him, please trust that his hands are at work.
Just prior to Christmas in 2013, I received news that would take my already shaken world and smash it into a million fragmented pieces that would take years of many silent nights to piece back together. It was less than a week until I would be reunited under the same roof as my then husband who had been in the hospital for months, and prior to that, Afghanistan and training. It had been over a year of anticipating some semblance of normalcy, of waking up next to the man I had adored, started a family with, and waited for with eagerness. It was heavy enough to walk out “in sickness and in health”, fearful I was losing my love to an early death. And then the fateful call came, and I was faced with lies and betrayals that would wretch my heart and gut into disbelief, creating questions for God and anger born from immense pain that my Heavenly Father received with grace and faithfulness. I had thought my lonely nights would be over, and nearly a decade later, I see that they were only just beginning.
Last night after a particularly grueling work week, I found a sweet gift in my mailbox from my neighbors. A box of Ferrero Rocher and a Christmas card. I opened it in my quiet house, void of the sounds of my children, and I grappled with gratitude for these neighbors and their consistent kindness, and the silence that overtook my house yet another night. The weight of the day and days prior brought me to my kitchen floor, and I wept, once more. I longed to be held, to be reassured. My heart didn’t want chocolates, it longed for arms to hold me and catch my tears that would be permitted to flow freely without judgment. What is that like, to be held and to feel safe? Nobody answered. The tears dried more quickly than they had in years past, a solemn recognition that my solitude feels more normal than I had ever wanted it to. Bouncing back is easier, more swift, a quick return to the business of doing life alone.
Silence has been the script even though I tried to write a story of rooms full of joyful laughter, big family chaos and camaraderie. I strove to pull together that picture of the big family I had longed for, and as their dad came back in the picture for my children, my days and nights became more quiet with the absence of my children, and the knowledge that the man who had betrayed me was living out my dream of family with his most recent wife, stepchildren, and the children I had never abandoned as he had. And God feels silent.
Silence became less deafening with the passage of time. Of course it was not the silence that was deafening, but my thoughts grappling with the injustice, strategizing how to retain every ounce of my family that I had not yet been robbed of. Thoughts that were loud when there were no little ones to guide or feed, to drown them out. That was until I realized that the silence was becoming a true silence. I had stopped fighting it and without noticing slipped into the comfort of silence. I slipped into the comfort of refining myself, loving myself, valuing the functionality of this body I had neglected to care for but now could, now that my family was no longer present in my everyday life; a bittersweet tradeoff. I fell into the silent nights where God met the abused child I once was and reassured me that I had only been a child, undeserving of the brutality that had reared my early days. I fell into a rhythm of having nobody to share my epiphanies with, my hopes, my heartaches, but for a whispered prayer or a loud cry to my Heavenly Father who didn’t always respond, but somehow in his silence assured me of his steadfastness.
I have been reading through the Gospels, slowly, asking with each word that God would teach me a little bit more about himself than I knew yesterday. As is often the case, he meets me exactly where I am, and on a silent Christmas Eve morning, he gave me the promises of the ever present Holy Spirit in John 14. Read it. Read it over and over, until you believe it for yourself.
This Christmas will be another silent night as I pass my babies on to their father and his new family. I will sit in my house that a year ago was entirely quiet after the passing of my sweet dog, and perhaps this year my new kitten will play with discarded wrapping paper and I will get lost in her innocence, her ability to be completely present. I will wish that I had arms to hold me, an embrace that I would eagerly return, perhaps there will be an ache in my heart and tears that come quietly or loudly. And I will think of the expanse of the universe, a knowledge I have hungered for, needing to know with certainty that these present afflictions are fleeting in light of eternity. And like a warrior in a battle for the mind, I will honor the feelings, I will let them run their course, I will sleep and wake, trusting that the morning will bring me word of His unfailing love.
Perhaps you are facing another silent night, or an entire season of silence. Will you trust me to lean into the silence? They say that in order to be considered an expert in anything, one must have committed at least 10,000 hours to the practice of it. Trust this many times over expert in loneliness, there is good to be had. There is a lesson to be learned, a past hurt to be healed. Visualize the master craftsman carefully chiseling away only that which is not helpful to you. It hurts to pull off the decaying flesh, but once it is gone and the healthy flesh is able to thrive unhindered by the constant combat against the decay, there are no limits to where that temporary pain may lead. These silent nights are not punishment, they are a hospital room that while quiet and lonely, are an opportunity to heal and to grow. And as seasons tend to do, it will change, and the healing pains of today will be your fortitude of tomorrow. I am whispering to you, dear friend, hold on for one more day, one more hour, one more moment; this life is worth living. Find the hunger for it and fight with the certainty that one day, all will be made right. Quiet your soul, turn to the greatest love letter ever written, the scriptures that have turned wicked men into valiant warriors for good, and know that there is no moment of pain that you experience that is meaningless. While he may feel silent, God’s hands are at work. Lean into the silence, so that you might see a glimpse of his masterpiece being designed before your very eyes. I am sending my heart to you, that while I do not know the details of your isolation, my prayers for complete peace and restoration would find you, wherever you are and whomever you are, in this your healing silent night.