I have been lonely for a while.

I’ve been on a quest for the perfect community for about nine years now and have still been left wanting. Come to find out, it doesn’t exist. I’ve had so many good friends; I’ve even had some best friends, but in the end I’ve been left with a void that hasn’t been filled by any single person or group of people. Henri Nouwen says it perfectly when he says, “No friend or lover, no husband or wife, no community or commune will be able to put to rest our deepest cravings for unity and wholeness.”

After reading this it hit me like a ton of bricks that I’ve been putting so much pressure on my relationships. I’ve been looking to friendship and intimacy to fill the innermost gaps in my life; placing messianic expectations on each new relationship, all of my friend groups and even my marriage. God hasn’t called me to the perfect community and He hasn’t called me to a life-completing best friendship. God has called me to Himself. He is beckoning me from loneliness to solitude. I used to think of solitude as a group of monks in the mountains of Tibet humming a single tone for hours on end, but now I see that it’s something completely different. God hasn’t just been calling me to solitude; He’s been gently nudging me towards it. One after another, my friendships have failed me. Don’t get me wrong, I have some great friends that I would step in front of a bullet for. But they haven’t completed me. Nouwen says, “To live a spiritual life we must first find the courage to enter into the desert of our loneliness and to change it by gentle and persistent efforts into a garden of solitude.”

The idea of embracing my loneliness is not an easy one for me. You see, I’m a people person. I’m good with people. I like people. Most people like me. But still I’m lonely. So, like Nouwen suggests, I’ve decided to embrace it. I’m choosing to put in the work of embracing my loneliness. I know what’s true here is that only God can provide me with the inner peace that I’m searching for. Only God can bring me to a place where loneliness turns to stillness turns to peace turns to contentment turns to acceptance and finally leads me to solitude. I’m working to find a place where loneliness doesn’t haunt me, but becomes a threshold instead of a dead end, a meeting place instead of an abyss, and a new creation instead of a grave. Then I don’t have to live in a place where my mind is always on what I’m missing, but it’s satisfied in what I already have; a quiet inner center. This quiet inner center is very different than monks in Tibet who hum “mmmmh” all day. Although I’m sure they’re great people who live very interesting lives, that does not sound fun to me! An inner peace or quiet center can be achieved in a crowd of people. It can be achieved on the stillness of a mountain top or in the busy streets of New York City.

For me it starts with a true and honest survey of what I need. At the end of the day, I need God. He made me, He saved me, He sustains me, He gave me my gifts and personality and He knows my shortcomings. God is walking with me all day and every day. Solitude isn’t escaping from people, but it’s discovering that God is leading me to love and serve people out of a fullness that can only be achieved by Him. God fills me up so that I can be complete in my relationships with other people. Nouwan says, “without solitude of the heart we cannot experience others as different from ourselves but only as people who can be used for the fulfillment of our won, often hidden, needs.” It’s a sobering thought that I saw myself as such a good friend; when in the end, it seems that I was just using people. I was using them to fill a hole in my life that they could never fill. I gave them an impossible task and then blamed them when they couldn’t add up. I want to begin to approach relationships in my life differently.

The gift of friendship is special and a group or team working together as one is an exceptional joy, but it doesn’t define my worth. I know that seasons of friendship and depth of friendship ebb and flow and that’s ok. At the center of it all, God the Father gave God the Son who left God the Spirit to be with us. My Creator knows what I need and He knows when I need it. I can now see that He has been patiently leading me through seasons of loneliness waiting for me to wake up to the freedom He has prepared for me in solitude. Here’s the ironic thing: the deeper I sink into the garden of solitude, the more water I dump into the desert of loneliness. I don’t want to be lonely anymore. I want to continue in my pursuit of inner peace. I know that the kingdom of God in my life is not a switch to be flipped, but a seed to be planted. I am going to continue in the heart work of pursuing God through my moments of loneliness; knowing that He has so much more for me in community than I could imagine for myself. I may or may not have the “perfect” earthly community in this life, but I daily walk with a Creator who knows my inner most thoughts and every hair on my head.

 

Austin Tullos

 

 

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Habits of Grace

Looking for ways to deepen your relationship with God? Growing and maintaining a relationship with God boils down to a few key concepts that Dr. Doug Cecil would love to teach you, plus more of what he’s learned in his own 47 years of walking with the Lord. The Habits of Grace class will meet on Sundays, beginning April 7 at 11 a.m. at the Fort Worth Campus. Click here to learn more.

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