Loneliness: A Reflection
Father Guido Gockel MHM writes a monthly column for the diocesan newspaper in Sabah, Malaysia.
Loneliness is a universal experience. It may affect everyone, the rich and poor, the healthy and sick. No one can take away their pain and suffering. What people go through in loneliness is often unimaginable, as we have seen during the Covid epidemic. At this time, people were cut off from dear ones, relatives and friends. No contact, no smile, no touch of comfort and compassion. One was utterly left to oneself. Many died alone, away from their loved ones, spouses, relatives or friends. Thus, this epidemic showed us the cruelty of loneliness, and how it can lead to despair to the point where one wants to take one’s life.
“No one is an island”! This saying calls to mind that we are made for community. In Genesis, we read that “it is not good for man to be alone” 2:18, and thus God created a helpmate for him. Marriage is a form of community, which intends to develop naturally into an even larger community, the family. There it does not stop. God’s plan for these families is to grow into a community of people, the Church. Also, single people are called to this community life as monks, priests, nuns, sisters and brothers to play a vital part in building up the Church. It is not part of God’s plan for anyone to be alone and experience isolation.
Convinced of this absolute truth, I try to understand why people from all walks of life feel so often utter loneliness. How many husbands and wives even in seemingly “happy marriages” are suffering loneliness? How many children, even in what one would call “model families”, go through depression leading sometimes to even destruction? Is it true to say that this problem has only increased in our world, affecting even teens? Why is this?
I know a priest who from a young age felt called to monastic life, the communal life of monks. With great enthusiasm, he did his studies, made his profession, and worked and participated in the life of the monastery. However, after many years he left the monastery and started working as an ordinary priest in a diocese. When I asked him what had let him decide to leave the monastic life. He confided “it was loneliness”. I never felt so lonely as in the monastery even though we shared everything. This loneliness became unbearable and thus I had to leave. Now I live by myself but no longer feel lonely.
His experience is not foreign to me. Although I looked for community life, I was always appointed to be on my own. As we shared our common experiences, we saw that “people never talk about the desire of their hearts”. Even in “religious community life” people talk about many things – news items, politics, TV and films, complaints, gossip etc. – but they seldom talk or share what is deepest with them.
To share “the desire of our hearts” is crucial for a life of happiness. You see it in couples who take time to share from their heart what is inside them. For those who are too busy and don’t find time, happiness is slowly replaced with “loneliness”. They do not know the desire of their hearts. If I ask someone, where do you want to go? What do you want to eat? usually, they will say “whatever!”, “you choose!” When a boy or girl asks me whether they should marry or become a priest/nun, I ask them “what do you want”. Invariably they answer, it is not what I want but what God wants. They cannot believe in this stunning truth that God created them with “free will”, i.e. they must choose and decide the direction of their lives. If they know what they want, “God will fulfil the desire of their hearts?”
This is at the core of the problem of loneliness. In marriage, family, and religious life people often talk about banalities but seldom share the desire of their hearts, beautifully expressed in this hymn “O Desire of nations, come!”To drive away the darkness of loneliness we must share what God lit within us.