I spent the past weekend with about a hundred Jesus-sisters at a retreat center a few miles south of our farm. We call it The Hill. For three days we hang out in a retreat center, set among the trees. We drive up there — up from our valleys — seeking to set our hinds’ feet on high places.
I have been in a very busy season of speaking at retreats, but for the first time in a long time, I never once held a microphone over the weekend. I had come to this retreat only to serve our guests in a support role. Which means, I prayed a lot. I washed dishes and served meals and swept floors and knelt on a prayer bench and slept on the top bunk and giggled ridiculously loud and stayed up far too late and nibbled on dark chocolate. I cried. I danced and jumped so much that I wish I had brought Depends. I reconnected with old friends in meaningful ways. It was all good — except for the Depends part.
I texted a friend about my weekend this morning. Like me, she’s an author and speaker at Christian events, and knows both the blessings and the pitfalls of being the speaker in the spotlight, especially in this culture of “Christian celebrity” — two words that couldn’t be more dangerously paired. My friend told me that my weekend was “kind of like a vaccine against developing a diva heart.” I loved that.
But here’s what else it was: a vaccine against loneliness.
I don’t like to talk about it, but over the last several years, I have experienced painful seasons of loneliness. And during those seasons, the enemy makes me think it’s because I’m not “enough.” My inner critic buys into the lie that I’m not fun enough, kind enough, friend enough. And there have been painful disconnections from people in my local life who treat me differently than they used to because I wrote a book and speak about Jesus as a part of a growing and active ministry. I have fat tears rolling down my cheeks as I write those words. Because the separation hurts. (I am tempted to delete those words. We’ll see if they stay in the final draft.)
I want you to know this. I am still me, the same Jennifer who desires deep heart connection. I am still me, the same Jennifer who needs someone to encourage her, just as I pour out encouragement to others. I am a human with real hurts and heart needs. I am still me, struggling with brokenness, and like you, I need girlfriends to sit down with me in my mess, and help me pick up the pieces. Just because I hold a microphone and talk about Jesus, doesn’t mean I’m any different from you. I don’t have all the answers.
I desire deep connection. Like you, I need someone who will ask me how I’m doing, and then stick around to hear the long answer.
I learned this weekend that I’m not the only one who needs heart sisters. Through tears, so many women I met are feeling a hollowness on the inside. They feel isolated and cut off.
Loneliness envelops people in their beds at night, and then first thing in the morning. It strikes them in the silence of their marriages, and the noise of their toddler-filled house. Loneliness sits beside women on the back pew, the gymnasium bleachers, the holiday parties.
Pastors’ wives and women in ministry feel loneliness in profoundly painful ways. I talked with one woman in ministry who said that friends will sit with her at the baseball game, but won’t invite her and her husband to the gathering afterward because beer or wine might be served.
Like all of us, she wants to be invited.
Just because we love Jesus, doesn’t mean we will judge what’s on your table or poured into your glass. And in fact, we might actually enjoy the wine you serve!
I learned a few things about loneliness this weekend.
1 – Feeling lonely is pervasive. I heard those words again and again: “I feel so lonely.” We are living in a time of a strange, relational paradox: We have more opportunities to be networked than ever before, but are feeling more disconnected than we’ve ever felt. Our web of connections grows ever wider … and ever shallower. And what people see of us is our carefully managed, projected identities. I wonder if vulnerability might be the first step out of loneliness.
2 – Feeling lonely is not Facebook’s fault. This is not something that Facebook is doing to us; it’s something we’re doing to ourselves. This isn’t an external problem, but an internal condition that we THINK Facebook can fix. You can have a thousand Facebook friends, and be the loneliest person you know. You can be standing among 100 people and still feel miserable and unseen. And your inner critic will tell you it’s because you’re incapable of contributing to the conversation, or being the kind of friend that someone would seek. Don’t believe the lies. Believe again that you are beloved.
3 – God does not desire for us to feel lonely. God, in his His nature, is three-in-one community. While he wants us to turn to Him first in those times we feel alone, He is the author of community. Friendship was God’s idea! “This is my command: Love one another the way I loved you. … I’ve named you friends because I’ve let you in on everything I’ve heard from the Father.” (From John 15:12-14, The Message)
4 – The cure for feeling lonely is “going first.” We need to be the friend that we desire to have. Instead of waiting to be invited, we can be the inviter. Instead of wishing that we were at the table, we can invite someone to ours. We can Go First. This year, I’ve adopted an unofficial self-care project called “52 Lunches.” I am having one lunch with one person, every week, for the year of 2015. This isn’t called “52 Women.” That’s because I will likely have lunch with the same woman multiple times. The project is more about depth, than breadth. I desire deep connection, just like you.
5 – God sees us. God hears our prayers, even when we feel very alone. So can I pray for you?
Dear God, I thank you for the person reading these words today. You know her needs, her heart, her own feelings of disconnection. I pray today that You will draw her close, and that you will bring people into her life, face-to-face. I also pray that you let her know that her loneliness is not because of some personality deficit. We all feel that hollowness! We all long for connection. Give each of the women reading these words today the courage to go first. Someone is waiting for these women to go first and make the call. In Jesus’ name. Amen.