On Love and Loneliness
I am a nurse. Often this means my days are long, busy, and exhausting. I am on my feet running from room to room with cocktail cups of drugs while alarms echo in the fluorescent lit halls for 12 hours. Most days, that is the extent of those twelve hours. I go to work, give medicine, chart, turn people, lift people, talk to doctors, chart again, and leave. Some days, though, are much more trying. Some days, like this past Sunday night, I sit beside a dying man and his family. Two weeks prior this man was up and talking, making jokes with me, and telling me his oxygen cannula was in his way – and that he really didn’t need it. Then, he got worse, and I spent the next five shifts caring for him and his family, along with my other three patients. He had been my friend, his family knew me by name, they made sure I was their nurse when I was working. It’s a strange thing to be wanted by a family experiencing death. During the early morning hours, after a long night shift, this man’s son came out to find me. He was crying. I knew. I knew I would have to go in and listen to a hollow, empty chest. I knew I would have to feel for a pulse that was not there. I knew I would have to page the on call doctor, who did not know this patient, so he could sign a piece of paper saying “Yes, death happens.” As we waited for the doctor the patient’s son said to me, “Thank you for being here. I know you have to deal with this all the time. That must suck. I’m so sorry.” His words broke me a little. He was apologizing to me because I have chosen a profession that handles the whole spectrum of life. He was sorry for me that I was young, watching people die, and crying at work.
I replied, “We see a lot here. We see death and healing and we see a lot of families. Watching your family has been a blessing. I don’t often see families who love each other so well. Families who have been loved and have reason to mourn. Thank you.” I had to leave the room to take care of paperwork, he was left alone in a room of solitude and grief.
Nursing can be a lonely job, but it has been teaching me so much about the power of love. Love observed, love given, love rejected, and love returned. Yet, as I learn about love I am realizing it is a lonely endeavor at times. There is much to glean from being lonely and much more to glean from being loved.
Recently a friend recommended Lysa Terkeurst’s new bestseller “Uninvited.” She walks through the lies of loneliness, rejection, and defeat to bring the reader back to His Truth. Using personal hardships and revelations Lysa teaches the reader the struggle of loneliness, how it is perpetuated by the sin in this world, and how the Truth combats it if we’re willing to seek Him. Halfway through the book Lysa talks about the gift of loneliness. She states,
This [being lonely] will develop in you a deeper sense of compassion for your fellow travelers. But in addition to the blessing of compassion being developed in me, those lonely times also seem to be when Jesus lavishes His most intimate compassion on me. (pg. 111)
How true is it that in our moments of deep loneliness, deep darkness, the Lord brings forth great blessings? One example Lysa brings forth of this compassion is the Samaritan Woman. If she had not been alone, outcast from her town, she would not have been approached by Jesus at the well. They would not have had a private, intimate conversation in which she was blessed, convicted, forgiven and loved. Often, in our loneliness, we have time to build up lies and shame to keep compassion at bay. We can tell ourselves we don’t deserve love, we’re not good enough, we’re too different, too screwed up. We can simultaneously tell ourselves we’re too good, we’ve done too much good to repent, we’re too strong to open up, we’re too solid in our faith to admit our flaws.
We’re too solid in our faith to admit our flaws.
I’ve said that to myself before. I’ve told myself all of those lies, time and time again. I have in the same day said “I’m not worth His time or His grace. He will forget me” and “I’m too good to get down on my knees. I know too much about the bible and theology to admit my own sins to anyone else.” The first lie is easily discounted. The Lord loves. That’s it. He loves and He forgives the repentant heart. He loves to comfort and console. He loves to hold the broken heart and make it whole in Him – because that’s the only place it can be healed. The second lie is pride with a lot of fear. When I tell myself that lie, I’m terrified if I start to admit my sins I’ll suddenly realize I’m not saved at all, my sins are too great. I’m terrified people who listen to my struggles, people to whom I confide, will doubt my faith. They will doubt my knowledge of God and His grace. So I keep my sins to myself, do good works, and keep everything in line.
And the loneliness grows.
A few weeks ago my husband and I went to visit some relatives in the mountains of eastern Tennessee. The setting is always lovely and welcoming, and this visit was particularly gracious. It has been a rough season in our lives. We’re constantly battling our own sin as we try to fight for the other’s good. We find ourselves exhausted, and exhaustion leads to miscommunication which leads to tears (on my part) and frustration on both sides. We needed a space to be vulnerable, to be honest, to be messed up, and to be loved. The Lord provided that for us. We were given such good counsel. The most poignant piece of conversation for me was, of course, a Harry Potter reference. As a friend and I were discussing different lies that cloud my mind and make life nearly unbearable, she brought up the illustration of Ron Weasley stabbing the Horcrux with the sword. When the heavy, evil, toxic locket opens a Horcrux Harry and Hermione appear. Ron’s worst fears and greatest insecurities are laid out for him in dark poison. He lifts Godric’s sword, stabs the locket fiercely, and obliterates those false images. She encouraged me to, in a similar fashion, use the Sword of Truth to stab at the lies that feed my loneliness. The devil’s loneliness says you are not loved, not able to be loved, and not at all good at loving others – and that statement should be stabbed with the tender, honest truth. To wash yourself in His Word is to bring yourself into His presence each and every day – and in the presence of our Maker, with the promise of eternity, how can our hearts long for more?
With battling loneliness comes generously giving love. I’ve always been a huge proponent of the idea of love – you can ask any of my friends from high school and they’ll tell you I was in favor of love. As I’ve grown older I like to think I’ve grown wiser but I never want to reach a level of cynicism that keeps me from loving others, and loving them well. Unfortunately, I think I have much to learn in the area of loving. My husband loves me well. He loves me well because he refuses to let me turn my dejection and loneliness into bitterness and anger – which I do more often than I really want to admit. When I’m rejected, hurt, or slighted, I all too often bottle up my victimization. It shows its nasty, putrid self during outbursts of vile anger. When I’m hurt and lonely and all too consumed with my sin I say the most terrible things. My husband doesn’t stand for it. He doesn’t address the issue I say I’m angry about, he asks me what’s really wrong, what’s hurting. And then I fall apart, the loneliness, the scars, the refusal to accept grace all comes tumbling out of my trembling mouth. He holds me close – a reminder of God’s grace never letting me go. He loves well.
We all need that. We all need the space to be a sinner, because that’s what we are. We all need someone firmly reminding us that we are broken but we are also forgiven. We all need a mountain top garden to feel vulnerable and safe. I tell my husband frequently, if I had control of any room at any given moment I would tell people to recognize that we are ALL sinners, we have ALL been hurt and we have ALL hurt someone else (probably in that same room), we are ALL recipients of the same love, same grace, and the same command to give that love freely. No strings. No expectations. No bitterness. Just love. Of course, I don’t think I’ll be brave enough to stand on a chair some day and make people talk about their issues and then make everyone bond over the intimacy and closeness that comes with honesty and a strong pot of tea – but if I do you can bet I’ll write about it.
Love is hardest when it involves the people in the same room. It’s easy to love strangers – or it should be. It should be easy to look at the world of broken people and love them, because we too are broken and loved. It should be easy to love those so vastly different from us – politicians, the ‘other’ side, radicalists, whoever – because they too are people. They aren’t just figures on our screens. They are plagued by Satan’s attacks day in and day out. Some have given up fighting for good and have been taken by the world. Weep for them. Pray. Love.
It is much more difficult to consistently love those closer to you – your friend who’s been hurtful (or even hateful), your spouse when life isn’t too peachy, your fellow church members who don’t know you, or those family members you don’t know how to bond with very well. It’s too easy to say “Of course I love them! They’re family/friend/etc.” It’s even easy to hug people and say “I love you” and walk away with no commitment. It is gut wrenchingly difficult to look at people’s hurt, their sin, their past, their loneliness, their struggles with Satan’s lies and share your love with them. It’s desperately hard when you feel rejected, ignored, or dismissed. But we must keep loving. We were created by a loving God to be a loving people.
Jesus looked on those close friends who would desert him, deny him, betray him – all much worse than anything I’ve ever experienced – and He loved them. He didn’t hug them, give a thin lipped smile and say “Yeah, love you.” He gave His life for the ones throwing rocks in His face. He loved us so that we might love others. He loved perfectly so that we may learn how to love well. He loved in the midst of heartache and loneliness so we might know we are never too hurt, too discouraged, too exhausted, too rejected to love others. He is infinite love. He loves us infinitely, when we seek that Love we have a source that cannot be depleted – it must be shared.
Now, I’m not an expert. I’m not in seminary. The bible classes I took at university were required, and they weren’t very interesting. You might read this and think to yourself that I know nothing of love or life or faith. You may be right. I’m only twenty two, I’ve only been married ten months, I’ve only been a nurse for a year. I have so much to learn about love, forgiveness, and the Lord. But please don’t dismiss all of this because of my age or inexperience. I know loving others does not fix them. Love will not bring back my patient or fill his void. Forgiving your friend doesn’t mean she’ll call you back. Reaching out to family does not mean they want a relationship with you. Being honest does not mean you will be liked. But loving people is obedience to the Lord. Loving people well is a reflection of His great love and mercy. I write this only as reminder that while there is much to do, much to accomplish and much to say in this world there is nothing greater than love.
I love thee Lord, but with no love of mine,
For I have none to give;
I love Thee, Lord; but all the love is Thine,
For by Thy love I live.
I am as nothing, and rejoice to be
Emptied, and lost and swallowed up in Thee.