I’ve previously noted that travelling can be a lonely world, but ever lonelier can be trying to settle down after you travel. At least in travelling, loneliness came by choice. But in marriage, in singleness, in settling down and other things, it doesn’t seem to be the case. Lydia Brownback correctly says in her introduction:
“That’s why everyone — young or old, single or married — experiences loneliness. No one is exempt”
But why is this?
One of the most powerful moments in the whole book is a quotation that helped me to really grasp that I often place my treasure in the wrong place. In a world that screams “I’m your oyster – have me any time, any place or anyhow”, comes paralysis. Paralysis in options. Too many of them.
“The god of open options is a cruel and vindictive god. He will break your heart. He will not let anyone get too close. But at the same time, because he is so spiteful, he will not let anyone get too far away because that would mean they are no longer an option. On and on it continues, exhausting and frustrating and confusing and endless, pulling towards and then pushing away, like the tide on a beach, never finally committing one way or the other. We have been like the starving man sitting in front of an all-you-can-eat buffet, dying simply because he would not choose between the chicken and the shrimp.
The god of open options is also a liar. He promises you that by keeping your options open, you can have everything and everyone. But in the end, you get nothing and no one.”
And that “god of options” can be smoothly dressed in a beautiful, Christian (modest) dress, with sparkly shoes. Options about how one invests one’s life. Options of who (or whether) to marry. Options of simply being so nuanced, we never say anything of any importance. It’s a tug that the author feels so well as she sits with us in our loneliness in other chapters:
- Loneliness in Leaving
- Loneliness of Night
- Loneliness of Obedience
- Loneliness of Running Away
- Loneliness of Grief
- Loneliness of being different
- Loneliness of being unclean
- Loneliness of Misplaced Love
- Loneliness of marriage
- Loneliness of being unmarried
What I enjoyed (if I can use that word) about Lydia’s experiences and writing was that it did not come from a place of privilege in some senses. It is fine for me to write about loneliness while unmarried, but ultimately, I have a choice in who to pursue (in conservative Christian circles where the male pursues), and so my loneliness my not be as intense. Equally it is fine for me to write about being “different” and yet so many things are stacked in my favour that do not make me different (me being Caucasian, male, heterosexual etc) that even in my difference, I am similar. Equally in my “obedience” of wanting to embrace the “unengaged/unreached” world, even if it means foregoing some relationships (of all sorts). That’s fine for me, but there are tens of women out there who are foregoing marriage by doing so, for every one male who does.
But ultimately no matter what level of privilege (and Lydia must have a fair bit, given her educational background and ability to write for a major western publisher), she beautifully points us to the fact that Christ is enough. And beyond being enough, that knowing Jesus and being plugged in to his body, the church, will help us to make the most of our loneliness and thrive not despite of but because of our loneliness. Because as she so adeptly says at the start, our loneliness is partly there to point us to the greater reality that we were made for something more.
Made to connect to something greater.
Made to delve into depths of far deeper relational connectedness than this world could ever give us.
This, is a book for travellers. I mean, it’s a book for anyone and everyone, but one especially that connects to the travelling heart and re-orientates our travels towards God.
My only complaint? It was so short that I could easily put it to one side and not let some spiritual “heart surgery” be done. Perhaps I should go back and meditate on the beauty of encountering a Christ who walked our lonely road perfectly before us, and now walks our lonely road with us at all times.
“He was despised and rejected by mankind,
a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.”
And people wonder why a Triune God appeals to me…