Everyone experiences loneliness at some time or another. Adam experienced it in the Garden of Eden. Jesus, on the cross. Many saints even experienced loneliness. No one is immune, but there are ways to combat it. In his book The Catholic Guide to Loneliness: How Science and Faith Can Help Us Understand It, Grow from It, and Conquer It, Kevin Vost explores loneliness in terms of science and faith and guides people through the difficulty of it.
Loneliness can help you grow in virtue
Would you believe that you can grow in holiness and virtue through loneliness? It’s true! Loneliness can be a prompt to grow in the virtues of temperance, fortitude, justice, prudence, faith, hope, and charity.
On fortitude, Vost writes,
“For one thing, it can help us take the kinds of risks in reaching out to others that might put an end to our loneliness. Recall how the experience of loneliness may warp our thinking in various ways, leading us to ‘awfulize,’ for example, and fear the worst if we reached out and someone rejected us. By training ourselves to rethink such situations and refusing to awfulize, we can bolster the virtue of fortitude in ourselves by being brae enough to make those initial overtures to another person that might make all the difference.”
Vost further reminds us that, “The virtue of faith is also foundational to a Catholic approach to loneliness. It holds open the door to the highest and mot important of all human experiences, our connectedness with our heavenly Father and with our neighbors on earth as our brothers and sisters in Christ. In this way, it is our faith in God and in the teachings of his Church that can provide us with the wisdom and strength we need to defeat or endure loneliness.”
Alone but not lonely
Just because you’re alone doesn’t necessarily mean you’re lonely. You can spend a lot of time by yourself in solitude without feeling the pangs of loneliness. Sometimes being alone can be a very good thing and provide rest and refreshment from the busyness and chaos of life.
Vost reminds us that even Christ spent time in solitude and many early Christians did, as well.
“Inspired by Christ who, after his baptism, was led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness, where he fasted and was tempted by the devil, many men and women in the first centuries sought seclusion in the deserts of the Middle East, in modern-day Egypt, Syria, Turkey, and other lands, where they too might fast and pray as Christ did. Some had experienced great difficulties living the life of Christ in the world and were instructed by the words of St. James: ‘Unfaithful creatures! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself and enemy of God’ (James 4:4). They interpreted this in their own cases as a call to remove themselves from the hustle, bustle, and noise of the world so that they might heed God’s voice in solitude” (page. 65).
Christ, our true friend
Sometimes it seems like such an obvious thing to say, that Jesus is our friend, but in this simple truth lies something more profound. We are never alone, even if we experience feelings of loneliness, because Christ is with us and in us. That doesn’t negate the real feelings of loneliness, though.
“Although there will be no loneliness in heaven in the company of God and the great communion of saints, God provides us with real remedies for the pains of loneliness while we live out our lives here on earth. St. Thomas notes that ‘if we speak of the happiness of this life, the happy man needs friends.’ Thankfully, God has given us the capacity to form bonds of friendship with one another that can heal and lighten lonely hearts. Scripture abounds in praise of earthly friendships and provides some wonderful examples, most notably, perhaps, the friendship between David and Jonathan in the Old Testament and of Christ and His disciples in the New. They provide examples of tremendous mutual care, support, and even tenderness, as when the beloved disciple John, at the Last Supper, recline in sin Jesu, ‘close to the breast of Jesus’ (John 13:23). The wisdom literature of the Old Testament, especially Proverbs and Sirach, also abounds in rich sayings that sing the value of human friendships.”
Help each other out of loneliness
In the final chapter of his book, Vost devises thirty practical ways to help each other out of loneliness. They are say, pray, display, play, smile, reconcile, greet, eat, please, ease, write, invite, reunite, show insight, be polite, delight, ask, task, think, thank, thunk, admit, submit, slow, go, listen, glisten, use, abuse, and choose. He’s kind to readers in that he gives a rhythm and sometimes a rhyme to these ways so that they are easier to remember.
Loneliness can sometimes feel debilitating and like a curse, but it doesn’t have to be. Loneliness can be a vehicle for so much growth and there are also many ways to make use of it and overcome it! For a more in depth look at loneliness, its benefits, and ways to combat it, pick up a copy of Kevin Vost’s book The Catholic Guide to Loneliness: How Science and Faith Can Help Us Understand It, Grow from It, and Conquer It.