It might seem counterintuitive, but life in community can be one of the loneliest places on earth.
Loneliness is something we all struggle with at one point or another (or so regularly that it comes to define us). Loneliness does not make you strange, it does not make you odd, or broken. Loneliness is a signal that something is wrong, something needs to change, but it doesn’t make you anything other than human.
You can trust me. I live with 400 people in a metal box and I still get lonely.
There are different kinds of loneliness. When I moved to Paris, I was lonely because I lived by myself in a part of town that was 30 minutes away from my friends. When you spend 90% of your time alone, and being a hermit is not your natural predisposition, you are bound to feel lonely. Couple that with some depression or some serious struggles, and you’ve got a potent combination to face.
Move to a place where you literally cannot escape other people and you might think you’re home free. How can loneliness exist in a place where there are meetings, outings, worship nights, small groups, game nights, movie nights, and more right in your face all the time?
When you withdraw into yourself, the warmest place on earth can turn cold within hours.
I have spent some of the darkest, loneliest hours of my life surrounded by people who cared for me. Who would have taken care of me if I had only let them. But that’s the key: I didn’t let them.
I know it can be really hard to make friends, even for someone like me who appears to make friends within moments, it takes time to really build bridges. It takes effort to bring people into your life, and to earn the right to be in theirs. But if you shut down, if you keep people out, you cheat yourself (not to mention them) before you even get started.
You might be saying that it’s not you, it’s them. That could be true, but it’s not all of them. What friendship requires is honesty, and more than that, it requires vulnerability. If you’re struggling with loneliness, if you want to connect, maybe you need to take the first step. Find someone who you enjoy, who you want to get to know better, and let them know how you’re really doing.
Don’t do this in a forced manner unless you’re doing really poorly. Just strike up a conversation, let it go for a while, and take the plunge.
Don’t take too big of a risk. I’m talking about cliff jumping where you know how deep the water is, not just picking a random piece of coastline and chucking yourself over. Find someone you think is trustworthy and you genuinely want to be friends with and start talking.
One last note: this isn’t a license to word-vomit all over someone. No one likes getting puked on.
Friendship is a two-way street, even if you’re struggling. Sometimes the best way to get into your own struggles is to ask after someone else’s and actually care. Even if they aren’t sure they want to trust you yet, and they withhold at first, when they ask how you’re doing and you respond honestly it may very well open just the right doors.
Someone has to take the risk. If you’re really struggling, and you really want to make it out alive, maybe you should be the one to take it.