Saturday, February 21, 2015

The Root of Loneliness

Loneliness was not something I thought I would experience in my early 40's.  The loss of my husband, my children growing up, and half of my family no longer living in my home has left me with days that are often filled with solitude. Not that solitude is a bad thing, there are times when I relish the time to think, ponder, study and write.  Solitude has been a healing time for me,  but there are times when the solitude is too much and loneliness encroaches heavily on my heart.  This has cause me to think deeply about these emotions and to question their purpose in my life.

What is loneliness? 
What are the root causes of this emotion?

Loneliness is not the absence of people. 

I have found it to be the absence of an intimate connection. I can still feel lonely even in a large group of people. Conversations can go around around me.  I smile and feign interest, but inside  I am lonely because I feel emotionally isolated. I am lonely when there is something deep inside that I feel I cannot share or that no one around me understands. I believe we have a deep desire to be understood on a level that often defies words.  It is a spiritual desire that is only quenched by relationships that defy the trivial and approach the divine.

Loneliness is not about the absence of physical intimacy.

Although people often equate it with that and attempt to use sex as a substitute to fill the void they feel, physical intimacy without the deep emotional connection is empty and hollow.  It is an act that may temporarily cover symptoms, but it doesn't address the underlying problem.  In fact physical intimacy often makes feelings of loneliness more intense when we realize the act is void of commitment and deep emotional and spiritual connection. 

Loneliness is not necessarily cured by a relationship or a marriage.

The worse kind of loneliness is being with someone who does not emotionally and spiritually connect with you. In my loneliness, I have watched other couples and determined there are plenty of lonely people in marriages. People who feel they are not understood or can't connect with their partner on those intimate levels often silently suffer feelings of loneliness.  They often struggle with fears of abandonment not having a solid, deep, and permanent commitment in their relationships. 

Loneliness is a symptom of an underlying void in your life.  

In order to overcome loneliness, the underlying cause must be address not just the symptoms treated temporarily for the moment.   If left ignored, loneliness can grow and fester like a cancer and destroy the human spirit. So what is the underlying void causing loneliness?  

We are more than just physical beings.  There is an emotional, and spiritual side of us that has existed for longer than we remember.  I believe that void is a spiritually longing for a connection that we formerly enjoyed, something that emerges within us as a faint trace of a memory. It is not completely found in the relationships we form in this often disconnected mortal experience. Long ago we enjoyed this spiritual connection with each other and our Heavenly Father before our birth, when we existed with Him as his spiritual children.  It is that former connection that we long to recreate in the relationships we form here.

Loneliness reminds us that we are strangers here.  

It compels us to seek relationships and try to reconnect with that spiritual connection we once enjoyed. 

Loneliness is a symptom of a the inner longing to be deeply known and understood, it is a symptom of our separation from God. 

In a great marriage, a spouse can be a close substitute for that spiritual relationship we once enjoyed in the presence of our Heavenly Father. The best marriages are those that are triangle relationships between a husband, wife and the Lord.  I know this to be true because I experience this at times my marriages.  

At first, I thought loneliness was caused by the absence of Scott.  I miss him terribly, but as
I have pondered the source of my loneliness, I have realized there were times in our marriage when I felt lonely. Those were times when we were not "one" in purpose, not just with each other, but also with God.

I have come to the conclusion, that to actually heal that void, I have to first develop a deeper, stronger and more sustainable relationship with my Heavenly Father and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Over and over again, I have found relief from grief and loneliness is available as I turn more to God.  

His love, His understanding, His soothing is what I am truely missing. 

Relationships with others that are based on principles of unconditional love help us to feel His love through their hands. The intimate connection I felt with my husband was because he had learned to truly loved me and see me as Christ does. My relationships with my children, other family members and close friends can help me feel that love as well as we work to develop a mutual Christ-like love in those relationships.

My thoughts have been drawn back recently to the experience that prepared me for my husbands death as I was walking with my children a few hours before the accident.  Seeing them together, so happy and enjoying each other's company I had been filled with indescribable peace and joy.  The words had clearly formed in my mind...

 "If something happens to Scott, this will be enough, you could still be happy."  
In moments of intense loneliness, I have thought, "This isn't enough!"  I wished for someone to come into my life to fill the void I felt.  I am learning that this is not true.

I was being reminded that the relationships to provide me with the love, understanding and comfort that I needed already existed. 

I simply needed to continue to nurture them and make them stronger. God was trying to tell me that although I didn't have a husband to demonstrate God's love for me, I had been blessed with 4 amazing children who would still be able to do that for me.  I have been blessed with parents, and siblings and friends who do that on varying scales as well. 
"God gave us families to help us become what he wants us to be.  This is how he shares his love, for the family is of God."
I really am not alone, and even when those people are not actively showing me love, I can always turn directly to God and pray until I feel that love from Him flowing into me.  When no one else understands the unique circumstances of my heart, He does. He listens and He fills me with peace.

I have learned that the only way remarriage will be satisfying and fulfilling for me is if I can find a partner who is willing to work to have mutual unconditional love toward each another.  That will not just take a very special person, but a man who has a very special and personal relationship with the Lord. In order to find that again, I will have to trust God, if it is His will, to lead me to it.  According to His time table, if the opportunity arises for another marriage partner to be those hands, then I will welcome that blessing again in my life, but if not, then I know that my relationship with The Lord will be enough to carry me through the rest of this life. 

There is a promise at the end... If I live true and faithful, The Lord will welcome me back into that "oneness."  A oneness that will exist with Him and with other family members, especially my dear sweet husband. I look forward to and welcome that future day, but today I will work on my individual and personal relationship with the Lord.

A Caution and a Way Out: 

With the void felt from the loss of a spouse either through death or divorce, a very real danger exists.   The temptation to simply try to fill the void with another relationship can be intense.  People often prematurely begin dating and find themselves in unhealthy relationships. Moral judgment can be set aside in the moment. The temptation to temporarily fill or mask that void can be extreme. Sex, alcohol, drugs, even food are just that... temporary band-aids that leave the void all the more raw when the indulgence is over.

Furthermore, they can develop into dangerous patterns of addiction. I have friends that I have watch spiral into this trap.  I have watched as these choices have bread additional sorrow, feeling of regret, remorse and more intense loneliness.  Fortunately, for those that have fallen into this pit, I can testify that there is hope. It is escapable. I have watched friends turn to Christ and emerge from this entangling trap, but it has been a long and difficult climb for them.  My advice... even if you are intensely lonely, is to avoid them at all costs.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

The Pain of Sacrifice Lasts only for a Moment

Remembering this quote in those pivotal moments has often given me the extra energy to make a correct decision or to push through a period of trial or suffering. It is helps me to be patient with the learning process that involves the sacrifice of things that I want right now. 

The pain of sacrifice last only for a moment....

Then that moment is gone... 

It's in the past.

Whatever pleasure I would have taken from the indulgence is over as well.

This relates to so many areas, but I see this a lot in my daily exercise.  
When I'm working out that hour is hard... 
I'm tired...
I hurt...
But when it's over, I'm so glad that I did it! The pain is in the past; however, the rewards are in the future. 

Giving up the pleasure involved in what we want now in favor of sacrificing for what we want in the future is key to growth

When we finally realize that sacrifice does not last forever... 
that we can do anything for a fixed period of time... 
then the temptation to give up diminishes.  

We can develop a resolve to push through the period of sacrifice and to obtain the long-term blessings. Some efforts in our life are late harvests. 
I have found those efforts yield the sweetest fruit.
Waiting, sacrificing, suffering, and working until that harvest time takes patience, faith and trust in God, but it always yield amazing results. 

I am going to suggest something that on the surface seems completely backwards and crazy...
hear me out, 
trust me, 
I promise it works!
If you will honestly and sincerely try it out, I promise you that you will see results.  

The next time you really feel down and are suffering, instead of "taking a break" or doing something for yourself like having a bowl of Ice cream or going shopping, sacrifice something new for a whole day.
Here is the principle that I have learned to be true...

Turning away from self opens you to receiving
 peace and light from God. 

Yesterday, after teaching my early morning class, I just felt blaaaah.  Just blue and sad and lousy.  I tried reading my scriptures like I normally do. I went to lunch with a friend and tried to cheer her up, but nothing was changing my mood. These are the things that I have learned to do regularly to keep that feeling of peace with me, but for some reason, yesterday peace was alluding me.  I racked my brain to see if there was something that I had done wrong that was causing the withdrawal of this feeling of peace.  I checked my motivations, my desires, my behavior and I couldn't really find anything.  I prayed and I asked God to forgive me and to show me what I needed to change.  I thought about those things again and nothing major came to mind.  Then very quietly the thought came, you should fast.  
(For me, fasting is going without food and water for 24 hours.  I also try to devote more time to spiritual study during this period.  Fasting is very helpful in quieting my thoughts and subduing my desires so I can better be in tune with the Lord.)
But I had just fasted 2 days before, so I immediately tried to rationalize that thought away.  Even so, I didn't eat or drink anything after lunch.  I continued arguing with myself about whether or not this idea was an actual prompting of the spirit. I called a friend and she suggested that maybe it was just "a bad day."  But that just didn't settle right.  I was still in a bad place when I picked my kids up from school, and so with no other recourse to change how I was feeling, I decided that it wouldn't kill me to follow that thought. 

"Sacrifice only lasts for a moment...." 

or for less than 24 hours in this case.  

I told my kids that they were on their own for dinner and spent last night working on my seminary lessons and studying.  We had our family night lesson and family prayers.  I didn't feel relief immediately, but before bed I noticed a slight difference.  This morning my lesson went amazingly well.  I had great conversations with two of my students discussing the lesson, and this whole blog post came while I was doing inclines on my tredmill. 

"The pain of sacrifice lasts for a moment." 

The connection was back,
the peace was back,
and all it took was me humbling myself before God, asking Him what I was to change and then doing it.  

In the end, choosing to turn away from self by sacrificing gave me the peace I desired, plus a whole bunch of new understanding that I hope will not only benefit me, but many of you.

That help comes because we are turning away
 from self-pity and towards Him. 

It comes because we are using a trial as
 an opportunity for growth. 

So look out for an opportunity to try this out.  You may not be sacrificing food; maybe it will be tv or social media, maybe it will be a bad habit, but as you sacrifice, replace that thing or time with turning more to God.  Replace it with prayer, scripture study, service to others, quality one-on-one time with your kids. See if this helps you get through those hard times. 

I would love for you to share your experiences with this, so please post back.