No distraction can cure boredom, just as the company so unceasingly pursued cannot stave off loneliness. The bored person is lonely for himself, not, as he thinks, for others. He misses the individuality, the capacity for experience from which he is debarred. No distraction can restore it. Hence he goes unrelieved and insatiable.
-Ernest Van den Haag, quoted by Ravi Zacharias, ‘Can Man Live Without God.’
Someone once told me “It’s not a sin to be alone, but it is a sin to be lonely.” At the time, I didn’t get it. In fact, I felt further alienated by the comment. My loneliness a sin, how could that be? I couldn’t help that I’d been taken away from true, good friends. I couldn’t help that I hadn’t had any luck finding new friends. I couldn’t help that the friends I did make turned out to be weirdos. None of this could be considered ‘sinful’ on my part, could it?
Now I understand the meaning. My desperation to cure my loneliness was an idol. I desired friendship and community more than I desired relationship and communion with God. I clung vociferously to any kind of company that was available, just so long as I didn’t have to feel alone. As the writer above put it, it was little more than momentary distractions, and no amount could feed the deep hunger.
Once more, in a desperate attempt to cure my loneliness, I went to the place where I had last felt like part of a community. Only this time, by the grace of God, I found no community there. Instead I was literally alone for six weeks. I hated it, I felt cheated and deserted, painfully obvious in my aloneness.
But during that time the hungry beast of loneliness was starved, and put to death. I didn’t feel victorious, but I understood what God had done. And slowly, but surely, God has provided me with true community and a sense of belonging, built now on a firm foundation.
That was long, and perhaps pointless to my reader, but I like to think about that time in my life now and then. I am still filled with so much gratitude, not only for God has given me now, but also for that blessed six weeks of necessary ‘refining through flames’.