23 Oct Loneliness or Solitude?
My posts have been scarce the last couple weeks because I am now 17 days away from getting married. November 9th will mark the end of my vocational discernment, and the beginning of a whole new way of life for me. Everyone has a unique and perfectly planned path to get to this point, and God led me through some really amazing experiences to prepare me for this.
I think one of the most important lessons He’s taught me is that my beautiful fiancée will not satisfy the deepest longings of my heart. That’s right, I know what I said, and no she won’t be mad that I said it. In fact, she feels the same way about me! Don’t get me wrong, she is the most amazing woman I have ever met. I could not write enough about how wonderful she is, and I couldn’t have imagined a more perfect companion to journey through life with. The fact remains; we won’t satisfy the deepest longing in each other’s heart.
There are so many posts, magazine articles, and even journal articles in the psychology literature talking about loneliness and the search for satisfaction in sex or relationships. It doesn’t matter if you are reading your favorite Catholic blogger, the media headlines, or boring atheistic “science,” EVERYONE IS SAYING THE SAME THING! The overwhelming consensus is that we are not happy here. Not really, not in the deepest sense. Even the happiest married couples can talk about the times they went through a “rough patch.” One couple I used to see went 7 years being disgusted with each other!
So what is going on? What is that loneliness in the depths of the heart you might feel when you wake up at 3am, regardless of whether or not there’s a spouse sleeping next to you? John Paul II called it “original solitude,” and mankind has been trying to escape it since day 1. This is a heavy teaching but it has to do with the fact that we are ultimately created to be in an intimate, infinite relationship with God. JPII says we are made to be a “partner with the Absolute,” in a “unique, exclusive, and unrepeatable relationship with God himself.” I think St. Augustine simplifies things a lot by saying, “Our hearts are restless, oh Lord, until they rest in You.”
So here we are, stuck in this state of life, with restless hearts created for partnership with the Absolute. Until we are in Heaven, we can’t enjoy that partnership in all its glory. Instead we get hints, tastes, and reminders. Everyone experiences loneliness, even if they don’t believe in Heaven. Believer or not, if it’s real it’s real for everyone, and so the restless hearts idea makes a whole lot of sense. It also makes sense why people from every belief and perspective write about it, and it also makes sense that there are very different ways to deal with it. Some people try to satisfy that longing with temporary things. They might feel satisfied for a time, but quickly feel empty and realize they need more. They might expect something even as good as marriage to take it away, but ultimately come up short. Some people might try to repress the longing. They try to pray their longings away, pretend they don’t exist, call them evil, or even adopt a Buddhist or Stoic mentality. There is a third option though. If we realize why we have that restlessness, we can look forward to its ultimate fulfillment and prepare ourselves for it. This is how we can turn loneliness into solitude. By accepting our solitude, we can then appreciate the hints, tastes, and reminders for what they are and not expect them to give us the satisfaction that we are ultimately seeking. We can then really love our spouses and realize that vocation is ultimately about giving, not getting. We can then, in some way, enter into that ultimate relationship even while we are still here in this life.
I think a lot of us know the truth in our heads, but we forget it in our hearts when that loneliness hits. This can be especially true for single people who haven’t yet met their spouse, and for married couples who face the cold hard reality that marriage didn’t take the deepest loneliness away. With my own marriage fast approaching there is so much to prepare for. Most importantly though, I hope and pray that I never expect my wife to satisfy the deepest longing of my heart.