With thanks to Thomas Nelson for sponsoring this post.
I’m not sure if I can point to a single time in my life where I didn’t feel a little bit lonely–a little bit like an outsider.
And yet, the more I talk to other women, the more I hear the same thing, over and over again. We all feel like outsiders. Recently I was sent Stasi Eldredge’s new book Defiant Joy: Taking Hold of Hope, Beauty, and Life in a Hurting World, and I just gobbled it up. The book, which launched this week, spoke to a lot of the things I’ve been feeling lately–that honest recognition that you could be quite satisfied with your life, and not really want to change anything, and yet still feel tremendously restless, tremendously tired, tremendously like there’s not something quite right. Stasi was so real in the book, talking about different periods of struggling with addictions in her life, with depression, with health issues, with busy-ness. But the loneliness chapter made me tear up. And I really wasn’t expecting that. She writes:
I have also been on the other side of the plate-glass window from other women, noticing as they share glances and inside jokes of connection and friendship and wondering at their intimacy. Friends respond to invitations on Facebook to parties I was not party to. People speak of movies and books they love that I have tried to watch or read but, too often, after the first few minutes have shaken my head in dismay and walked away. I do not share many, oh so many, of my friends’ and family’s experiences. I don’t fit. I’m outside. Something must be bent and broken within me… I recently shared this with my husband and sons, about so frequently feeling like an outsider to my world, to them, even to myself. They nodded their heads, eyes filled with shared self-recognition. I was surprised to realize that they, too, were acquainted with that feeling in the different phases of their own lives. Oh. It isn’t just me. It isn’t just you either. feeling “other”, feeling “apart,” feeling that we don’t “quite fit” is the human condition….We humans are a mystery. We are not meant to be a stranger unto our very selves, but feeling like a stranger in our world, even to those closest to us, is often a commonplace experience.
I wonder if part of the problem is that a truly intimate, life-giving friendship is difficult on this side of heaven because it requires two things that are often elusive–we have to truly be able to give willingly of ourselves, despite our busy lives, but in order to do so, we also have to be honest about who we are. We can’t be intimate if we don’t share; and yet can we honestly share? I’m not so sure, because so often I spend my time wrestling with myself about what I really think. If I don’t know myself, how can I honestly share that with someone else? Perhaps it’s no surprise, then that we often feel like no one truly knows us. That’s what Stasi writes:
Feeling alone is a sorrow we share, and being alone is the first thing God named as “not good”….Yet we do feel alone. Isolated. Not understood and too often not wanted. It is not merely your condition; it is one we all have, and one that we feel compelled to run from. Numb. Escape. Ignore. It is a difficult thing to long for connection and meaning and live under a burden of futility and an emptiness that mocks…. We have an ache. It is a valid one. Of course we long to be endlessly loved; we are made in the image of a God who is endlessly loving. We ache with desire because we are meant for a life that is not yet ours.
This life is not perfect and it’s not meant to fully satisfy. We hear that from a lot of Christian books. But what I like about Stasi is that she doesn’t try to turn it into a guilt trip (“if you’re unhappy, it means you’re not really yearning for God!”) No, the first step towards joy comes from being honest about our life.
“Ignoring reality does not breed joy. Pretending that what is true does not exist is not holy defiance. The seeds of joy can only be firmly planted in the pungent soil of the here and now while at the same time being tethered to eternity. Joy is fully rooted in the truth. Joy embraces all the senses and is fully awake to the laughter, the wonder, and the beauty present in the moment as well as the sorrow, the angst, and the fear. Joy says, “Even so, I have a reason to celebrate.”
A week and a half ago my husband and I were in New Brunswick for a family reunion on his side of the family. One conversation that melted my heart was between Keith’s aunt and his uncle. For a bit of history, in 1963 Keith’s grandmother was driving a car, with her niece sitting next to her and her sister-in-law in the passenger side. In the backseat was Keith’s grandfather, Keith’s uncle, who was 11 at the time, and a great-uncle (the husband and father, respectively, of the other two in the front seat). That car was hit head on by a drunk driver. All three females died. All the males survived. The cemetery where they are buried is dedicated to them, with this plaque as you enter:
Keith’s uncle was injured in that accident, and walks with a limp (though that doesn’t stop him from exploring Fundy with us! He’s very active.) At the time of the accident, Keith’s dad was 18, and his aunt was 15. The aunt sort of took over the running of the house, and that involved raising the uncle. About six or seven years later, Keith’s grandfather remarried, to a wonderful woman who was loved by all.
During that conversation 10 days ago, Keith’s aunt, who was busy clearing the table and serving the rest of us, apologized offhand for being so bossy and not much of a sister in those days. Keith’s uncle, with a twinkle in his eye, piped up and said, “I always tell everyone that I had the privilege in my life of having three wonderful mothers. You included. Not many people can say that.” I had to turn away from my sisters-in-law as my eyes started to well up. It was a tiny moment, amid the bustle of a large family dinner. But it was precious. Keith’s Uncle Allan has a beautiful soul. I had just read Defiant Joy the week before, and it hit me in that moment that this gentle but strong man was defiant. He was a fighter. He had lost his mother in an instant; he had become permanently injured. And yet Uncle Allan chooses to see the beauty in the world–and when you are in the same room with him, you see it with him. I love how Stasi defines this kind of attitude in the midst of the ugliness of life:
“Defiant may not be a word we would normally associate with the living God, but it can actually be quite fitting. Defiance means resistance, opposition, noncompliance, disobedience, dissent, and rebellion. And when it comes to things that would destroy our souls, that is exactly the right response.”
Don’t ignore the fact that the world is ugly. Just engage in the fight!
This Saturday is the anniversary of my father’s death.
I told you about it last year, as it was happening. My father and I had never had a close relationship (I’m not sure if we ever had a truly intimate conversation our entire life). When I watch some movies or TV shows, I have true “Father Hunger” (I’m a sap for Blue Bloods. I so want Tom Selleck to be my dad.) I’ve always felt like somehow that was wrong, like I had to get over that or something if I’m going to be right with God. And in reading Defiant Joy, I have a much more lighter attitude about it. There is nothing wrong with my Father Hunger. In fact, I can see it as a joy, because it can be the catalyst to drive me closer to God. I don’t have to defeat it. I will just find that, as God is revealed more and more, it matters less.
Sadness does not mean that something is wrong with us, but rather than something is wrong with our world.
That was a good lesson to me. And so I invite you into a journey of Defiant Joy. Not in ignoring the reality of what you are going through, or in having to do some sort of spiritual jiu jitsu to pretend that you don’t feel what you really do feel. No, it’s just that in those feelings, you fight. You yell. You wrestle. You don’t push them aside. Instead, you let it all hang out as you turn to God.
And there, in the midst of the real honesty, is where you will find Him.
I really enjoyed the book. It was real and raw, and it didn’t ask us as Christians to turn ourselves into pretzels or else God will be mad at us. It just instead invited us to admit that life is difficult, but in the midst of it, there really is great joy because of who God is, and how He made us. And so we can be defiant in the midst of those pains. We can fight for freedom. If you’re lonely or scared or sad, then, I invite you to be defiant, and join Stasi on this journey. It really will be a life changing one.
Do you think loneliness is universal? Why is that? Let’s talk in the comments!