Loneliness, Party Of One
Sparkling lights tucked inside champagne colored tulle draped symmetrically at the end of each pew. The bride and groom, natives of the small Kansas town, were hosting what was proving to be “The” social event of the season.
This day was monumental, to me, for two reasons. First, we were all there to celebrate the union of a sweet young couple. Second, it was the first time since losing my husband that I was venturing out “solo” to a social function.
The usher seated me in the middle of the room, not too close, but not too far away from the action. Wanting to be gracious to those arriving after me, I moved to the middle of the empty pew.
The town folk kept filing in, sitting in front of me and behind me. At one point I wondered if we were all going to fit into the small country church.
I didn’t begin feeling nervous until the music started, it was then that I looked around and realized I was still the only one sitting on my pew, alone. How was this possible? In a crowded church bursting with what seemed like the whole town, how was it that I had an entire pew to myself?
My face flushed, my heart raced, I don’t think I heard a word of the vows. All that was going through my mind was, “I’m all alone, and I need to get out of here now!”
As soon as I heard, “I do,” times two, I pushed my way through the crowd. Narrowly avoiding the reception line, I sprinted to my car and didn’t feel relief until the door shut and I heard the locks click. Finally nestled in my small, warm cocoon I promised my heart I would never put us in this situation again.
Loneliness. Where to begin? The ever present, cursed nemesis of the single woman.
It’s the lie Satan whispers in our ear when we walk into a crowded room alone, “You must not be very special because you don’t have anyone, and why is that? Why DO you not have anyone? There are 7.6 billion people in the world and YOU can’t find ONE?! Wow. Everyone’s looking at you. What group are you going to crash? Who are you going to sit with? This is a bad idea. You don’t need to be at church. You should probably just go home and watch online. Don’t worry I’ll be right there with you.”
It’s the pit that forms in your stomach while walking to your car after work on a Friday night. The smell of mesquite, permeating the air, as nearby restaurants fire up their grills for the weekend crowd. A crowd that you are not a part of. Another sensory reminder that you don’t have plans, and you are going home to an empty house. Alone.
Mandy Hale, author of The Single Woman, recently conducted an informal poll on twitter to find out the biggest challenge we singles face, and by far, loneliness won the day.
For widows, the statistics are sobering. 70% of women will be widowed at some point in their lives. There are over 1,000,000 new widows each year and the average age of a widow today is 59. The most recent U.S. Census indicates 53.2% of all women are single.
What does this mean? It means Satan is a liar! You and I are not alone!
When I was in college I was so shy and insecure I would NEVER go into the cafeteria alone. As you know, college students have varied schedules, so it was difficult to locate my friends at mealtime. As a result, I remember being hungry most of my college career. I ate cereal and Doritos in my dorm room a LOT. It seems silly now that I starved myself of good food only to have a carb fest in the privacy of my own dorm room, usually around midnight.
But isn’t that what we do when we shrink back from life just because we don’t have a plus one? We starve ourselves of joy, friendships, experiences, and opportunities for service when we slip away in solitude and gorge on loneliness.
When I really sat back and analyzed the day of the wedding mishap I realized what went wrong, I allowed fear to be my kryptonite instead of my super power. I guarantee nobody even noticed I was sitting there alone. I’m sure they were too busy admiring the flowers, the bride, and the fairy tale we were there to witness. I know this, because I can’t tell you who anyone else was with. So, lesson one: it’s not all about me!
What I should have done was lean into my fear. I could have taken control of the situation by moving closer to others, or I could have looked around and invited someone to sit with me who was noticeably crowded, OR I could have sat there with my head held high knowing that one silly little seating arrangement does not determine my self-worth.
“Refuse to let fear rule the day, feel the fear, and do it anyway!”
It was months before I attempted another social outing “solo.” I knew I had to do it, but I was dreading it.
The day, October 3, 2015. It would have been Brad’s and my seventeenth wedding anniversary. The thought “Go big or go home,” ran across my mind.
Those of you who have lost a loved one(s) know there are certain dates throughout the year that we dread, anniversaries being one of them. That day I resolved to make a conscious effort not to let fear and grief rule my day. I was going to lean in and be ready for it!
I decided to go to our favorite restaurant. Yes, ALL BY MYSELF! I hadn’t been there since the last time I’d gone with Brad. I got dressed up, put a lip on and stepped out into the night.
While driving there I reminded myself that we serve God, Emanuel, which means God with us. I wasn’t alone. I felt God’s presence with me in the car that night.
Oh, how he loves us widows. He singles us out in His word*. How He must ache for us when our hearts are broken.
Arriving, I felt His gentle nudge direct me out of my car and into mine and Brad’s favorite booth.
Instead of allowing my mind to take me down the familiar path of grief and loss, I scanned the room looking for an opportunity to give someone a gift from Brad and me. I noticed two elderly women in a booth across the room, neither of them wearing rings, they would be my target for the evening.
At the end of the evening, I quietly paid their tab then slipped away. My heart was full. I did it! I stepped away from self and blessed others. It felt like Brad was with me and we did this together!
I no longer dread special calendar dates. I look for ways to pay it forward or do something extraordinary to celebrate a beautiful life and not dwell on death.
It has taken me awhile, but I now know being alone, does not mean I am lonely.
You are always near and dear to my heart,
*James 1:27; Psalm 68:5; Deuteronomy 27:19; I timothy 5:5; Psalm 146:9; Jeremiah 49:11
Question: How do YOU combat loneliness?