Speaking outloud to Loneliness

I’ve just finished reading Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine by Gail Honeyman. Have you read it yet? I seriously could not put it down. My husband went out to pickup Chinese takeout for dinner as the book clearly had me engrossed and even at the smell of General Tso’s chicken I had to finish the chapter I was on.

Oliphant is a bizarre character no doubt. Her story is wild, heartbreaking, raw and takes a few minutes to digest. Reviews compare the character to Fredrik Backman’s Ove in A Man Called Ove (now a movie too.) Both characters have suffered trying times that make them a little skiddish towards normal society, whatever normal is.

One theme that captured me is the way Honeyman discussed loneliness,

These days, loneliness is the new cancer—a shameful, embarrassing thing, brought upon yourself in some obscure way. A fearful, incurable thing, so horrifying that you dare not mention it; other people don’t want to hear the word spoken aloud for fear that they might too be afflicted.   (p. 227)

Wow. My heart was heavy. How many people might be lonely all around me and yet afraid to say it? I remember a friend telling me in a moment of raw transparency that she was truly just lonely and missed having someone at home each day. How many of us with families take that for granted? How many might be lonely on our very own street, but tucked away in the prison of their own homes without any contact with others surrounding them? How often do we say, “How are you?” only to hear and almost expect the auto reply, “I”m fine.” What does that even mean? Most men know that if you ask a woman any question and her response is fine….it is not good news. Fine rarely means fine. Often a response of fine is the sanitized response with a body stance of arms crossed, that one gives when not ready or interested to share what’s happening on the inside.

As I’ve been home on medical leave for months now I’ve been overwhelmed with love and support from my family, friends and co-workers. It’s also been incredible to build relationships with neighbors I didn’t see as often or really even know because I  rushed to and fro in the normal rat race. In this time of slowing down, I think a gift of silver lining has been looking to see who might I pour into vs. pouring into self-pity. As most of us do, I have friends in my life who are in tough seasons of their lives. How do I open space and conversation for them to share when they are not completely fine? How do we get more real with one another to share when we feel lonely even when surrounded by social media, loved ones, activity and supposed connection all around us?

“The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” Galatians 5:6

Who might be silently suffering in loneliness that you can reach out and love? Who might be screaming their loneliness in awkward behaviors that you can reach out and love? And how are you, are you lonely? Who can you get real and honest with and let them know you just need a little time of their love so you really can be a little more fine?

It’s my prayer that this little community give you a place of warmth, a reminder that you were created with purpose and a treasured gift that the world needs to have. May you feel loved and able to give love today and know that you really are completely fine.

Here’s a great resource written by Jeremy Linneman on how the church can affect the epidemic of loneliness in our current day.

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