How is this level of loneliness even possible. I didn’t truly understand the emotional despair loneliness can usher in until I felt the ramifications of it in my own life and work.
I don’t think I had ever experienced true loneliness until moving overseas.
The most basic and daily interactions lack relationship. I can’t relate to people if we don’t speak the same language. I do all I can with big smiles, gentle laughs and simple words in their language; but we aren’t going to become friends with my language level being below a two-year-old. The people who don’t really speak any English here are the people I see basically every day. They are the people who work in our building, the people in the market and the taxi drivers who take us around the city. My husband and I try our best to use our minimal language skills to make them feel cared about, but we aren’t going to be friends until we can really talk to them. It’s a lonely feeling to not be able to form relationships with the people you see every single day.
The team of two. My husband and I moved here knowing we would live in a large city mostly by ourselves with national worker’s not too far. We knew we would be the only Americans. What I didn’t know was the isolating feeling of not being able to relate to people about how we are doing here. The Americans back home don’t understand fully (and it’s not their fault and it’s not ours) and the nationals here don’t understand because they don’t understand the culture we left. It is lonely and isolating when I feel like very few people truly understand.
Back in the states, I had basic relationships. I had people I would interact with and relate to at work, at Starbucks, in our neighborhood, etc. There were people always around who could understand and I could communicate with what I was going through and what has happened in my day. I had a solid community, fellowship with some of my closest friends and my family was just a two-hour drive away.
I didn’t value how connected I felt until I was disconnected. I live in a place now where it’s me, my husband and God. That’s all I got right now. Those are my connections. So how do I respond?
Initially, I had a meltdown. I tried to ignore my feelings of loneliness. I just full-on pretended they didn’t exist. When reality sunk in and pretending was failing me, I came to the point of acknowledging the loneliness. I began vocalizing my longing for a community to my husband. When talking about it didn’t solve it or provide a community. I had a meltdown. Yup. I sobbed on the floor, face to the ground, arms limp over my head.
Not an awesome moment. Also, not fun for my husband to watch.
I cried and cried at 2 a.m. in the morning. I was tired of feeling lonely. I wanted friends and fellowship. I was upset at God for not giving it to me when I needed it so bad (I am so not a good child of His sometimes, but I am glad our relationships doesn’t depend on my stability). I was upset at my husband for no rational reason other than I wanted him to fix my loneliness.
I slept in the next day, waking up feeling hungover from the night before. I was ashamed of behaving so poorly, remorseful of my terrible display of emotions and just plain disappointed in myself.
I don’t want to sugar-coat what life is really like and what loneliness can lead to, it’s hard, it’s real and it’s something most overseas workers encounter.
However, we serve a God who sees and understands our loneliness. He created us to have a desire to feel connected.
Loneliness was felt by people in the Bible:
“Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted.” Psalm 25:16
God tells us what He does with the lonely:
“God sets the lonely in families…” Psalm 68:6a
God will take care of me in His perfect timing:
“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” Psalm 147:3
Hold onto his promises in the depths of loneliness.