Sunday, March 05, 2006

Community of Profound Loneliness

The local church can sometimes be one of the loneliest places on Earth for me.

Churchianity tells us that people are lonely in this world because they are without Christ in their lives. If they would only accept Christ, then they would never be lonely again. So then why is it that for 13 years of being a Bible-believing Jesus-loving church-attending Christian, I always felt the loneliest during the post Sunday service "how-are-you-it's-good-to-see-you-how-was-your-week" coffee and donuts fellowship time?

Perhaps it was the simple surface salutations and greetings. Perhaps it was the lack of connection from these people during the other six days of the week. Perhaps it was the internal heart ache of seeing couples holding hands and being able to share physical affection while I sat alone during the service for yet another week - every "single" week. Perhaps it was the frustration of never feeling completely known by anyone and being tired of wearing the fake "i'm-fine-it's-good-to-see-you-too-how-are-you" plastic smiles. Perhaps it was because I hated the fact that I could get away with that kind of smile and lack of depth because I knew that no one was going to probe deeper.

Before I started this journey of mine last year, I lost count of the number of times I drove home crying after a church service . . . .

Many would say that I created this kind of church experience for myself. I was the one who failed to reach out. I was the one who didn't take the initiative in participating in the "fellowship time". I was the one who was so self-focussed on my own needs that I missed the opportunity of serving other people's needs. I was the one who chose to stay disconnected despite other people's attempts to "connect" with me.

That's what they'd often say when ever I tried to verbalize the disconnectedness that I was feeling within the church. It's my fault, they'd say.

Do I really need to hear that? This tough-love "stop being a victim" approach to addressing my cries for help by simply redirecting my frustrations - away from them and resting on me. It's my fault, not theirs.

They'd say that it's my fault that I'm lonely but they are unwilling to consider that they could possibly make some adjustments as well in order to contribute to a better community.

I can acknowledge that there are things that I can do to stimulate my own sense of community within the church. But the thing that always pissed me off about how some of these people responded was that they never tried to understand why I was feeling so lonely. They never tried to grieve with me. It was the "shake it off, it doesn't hurt that bad" kind of response.

Sure there are things that I could have done to not live in the loneliness, but it was their lack of compassion for my loneliness that fueled my loneliness. Bitterness, even. So then why would I want to share my heart and open up to these kinds of people? They don't get to hear the real reasons why I am so sad.

They don't get to hear that it's often difficult to be in a crowded room being burdened with the thought, "i'm the only one". Is there anyone else in this church that is like me? What will they think of me if they knew who I really am? Why does it seem like everyone else is coupled? Why am I not allowed to embrace someone that I care about? Why doesn't this seem fair? Why are my affections never reciprocated? Why can't I talk about any of this with any of them? Why doesn't anyone want to understand me?

Why won't anyone walk with me?

There is a community within the Church that simply wants to be understood - to be known. We are a community of profound loneliness. All we want is the connection promised to us when we were told that Christ would comfort us.

I am thankful to God that my journey over these past several months has released me from much of this kind of disconnectedness and loneliness. Even though I do not feel this kind of profound loneliness anymore, some of those feelings still linger - it's still tough sometimes to sit through a service as a single person amidst a crowd of people. But the Lord taught me alot about connection during these times of disconnection.

#1: I'm not alone.

Even when it seemed like no one else understood me, no one else was walking with me, no one else stood up for me - there was always Jesus. The One thing that I learned that I could truly count on - Christ, my Friend. It was during the lonely car rides home after church service that I knew that He was there with me. It was in the dark room laying on my bed crying at 3 a.m. that I knew that He was there with me. It was in the shower when I ran the hot water over my head with both my hands covering my face paralyzed to move by the thoughts racing through my mind that I knew that He was there with me. It was on the university campus promenade walking alone with my head down as fellow students passed by laughing with their friends and me wondering if my friends would ever accept me for who I was that I knew that He was there with me. It was at work sitting at my desk listening to co-workers telling tales of times with their girlfriends and me longing to have such stories that I knew that He was there with me. In the midst of loneliness, there He was.

#2: There are blessings around me.

Sometimes, I'd focus my attention so much on receiving the affection of a single person that i'd miss out on the blessing of appreciating the many other people in my life that actually were present. These were the people that God placed in my life - people for me to connect with. I would sometimes fixate on the one while ignoring the many. As a result, I would connect with no one. It's at these moments when He showed me that I had set up an idol in my heart. The relational idolatry was bound to make me feel perpetually lonely and disconnected because it was an illusion that I was seeking - a fantasy of perfect connection with what is in reality imperfect. I had many friends around me that I could have invested the time to develop depth so that I could be known if only I would acknowledge the fact that they are indeed there.

#3: Be the kind of friend that I want.

I can't change other people. I can't make them be what I want them to be. Doing this is simply manipulation. I realized that I had to be willing to take the initiative of being the friend to others that I wanted for myself. I realized that I don't simply find "true friends" as if stumbling upon them by accident. We develop "true friends" by investing the time to create history of memories and trust.

I'm learning to apply these three things that Christ taught me during my loneliness so that I can experience freedom from it. I discovered choice. I didn't want to be lonely anymore. He showed me that I didn't have to be.

Now, eight months or so into this new season of my life long journey, I don't feel as profoundly lonely as I used to. I have friends that I feel safe enough to be real with. I have friends who are still friends even after knowing about me. I have family that support me. I am now trying to be more intentional about developing depth in my relationships. I'm extending the invitations for lunch or to go out for coffee or tea. I'm extending the invitations to join me for a movie. I'm extending the invitations for others to tell me more about themselves. I'm extending the invitations for small dinner parties where friends from different circles can come together and make new friends.

Sometimes I think how ironic it is that God uses me to be a bridge builder within His Church and in the community. It's not like i've perfected those three lessons - i'm still trying to figure it all out, trying to live it out when i'm lonely (and I am still lonely many times). I figure I've got to be the wrong man for this type of work because what do I know about connection with people?

I suppose it's His sense of humor.

Leave it to God to use a socially awkward introverted gay lonely man to stimulate connection and unity in His Kingdom.


Dawn said...

You may want to consider, if you haven't already, to start a house church or bible study if you will. These are house based gatherings where it is less formal, more personal and people seem to feel more connected to each other.

Personally, I think this is what is going to be taking off in the next few years as the 'mega' churches become more political or water-down their preaching.

Eric said...

Thanks Dawn. I think you're right in terms of the next few years . . . actually the next 25 years. Take note of my posts on my "paradigm of Church" in the right side column of this blog. I talk alot about that.


Juliabohemian said...

You are welcome to attend my non-judgmental, non-denominational Christian church in Fullerton, California "University Praise"

On a side note, though. I think you should consider the fact that you may be partially responsible for your own lonliness. People aren't necessarily going to see that your lonely and flock to you. Sometimes you have to go and get involved on your own. You sound depressed -just examining some of the phrases and words you use. So, it's possible that your outlook may be slightly jaded. BELIEVE ME I know all about that. Just don't allow yourself to be a victim in this world. You are not a victim. You are in control over your own happiness.

Check out my site
Talk to me...

Chuck said...

I can truly identify with what you have said. How can one shake this loneliness?

Eric said...

thank you for the invitation julia. i appreciate that.

it sounds like you may not have been taking the entire post in as a whole.

the loneliness that i speak of in this post is primarily a reflection of the past of how it felt when i was in the closet and attending non-inclusive churches.

while i still understand loneliness, i'm at a very different place now. i am a part of inclusive churches, i have vision and direction for the future (as previous posts indicate), and i've learned much about what I can personally do to not experience such loneliness (the whole second half of this post is all about this!).

In terms of me being depressed . . . the whole post ought to be considered in context, not just the beginning portion where I talk about the lonely experience. Consider the three lessons that I mentioned and how i've been applying them. I talk about how i've been taking the initiative to connect.

As for me being partially responsible and allowing myself to be a victim . . . I mention both of these things in the post as well and how it had always pissed me off every time they continued to redirect the focus on me rather than what they could have been doing to be a better community.

My point in this post was that, yes, i do have the ability to choose not to be lonely and that i was sharing ways on how those of us who are can not be lonely.

But my point was also that the people in a church community can't simply say, "hey, okay, you're lonely, get over it".

I'll say this part again: "...but it was their lack of compassion for my loneliness that fueled my loneliness".

perhaps i failed to articulate myself well enough. i'll reread and edit....

nevertheless, thank you for your encouragement!


Chuck said...

I have a post that you may want to read

The Big Cheese said...

Good luck. You are dealing with some heavy issues.

Dawn said...

Thanks for the links, I especially liked the 'take a bullet' post.

Matt said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Matt said...

One of the reasons I gave up on belonging to a church many years ago was that I felt like an outsider. All the couples, with children, fueled that feeling. I knew I would never have what they have. I was very closeted at the time, knowing that I would not be welcomed if they knew I was gay.
I also know loneliness all too well. I thank God every day for the few close friends I have, but they all have their own lives. I remind myself, as one poster above said, we have control over how we feel: choose not to be lonely. It's a challenge I face every day.

Zeke said...

The church today has a major comfort addiction. It's generally unreceptive to change and only accomodates emotional responses within a certain range. The "nicey-nice" talk before and after service sets the whole tone; "we'll be keeping things safe today, thanks."

Anonymous said...

Hi Eric,

Thanks for the post. I like that you're letting out your anger.

After-church coffee hour is hard in some ways because there's sort of an expectation that everyone will be nice to each other, but not really 'let loose,' because it's not like an actual party. And people have their routines and their usual friends. My church is very gay and not that big, yet I felt some of the same things you did until I'd been there about two years. You and I are a little the same. For people like us, it just takes time and effort.

Good luck, and enjoy your new, inclusive churches!

Juliabohemian said...

Sorry, I have Adhd and a tendency to read things quickly. I'm glad you're connected. I get frustrated with people who cry about feeling lonely in their church but who make no attempt to connect with others. It's a common American concept that people are supposed to flock to you and make you feel better. It just doesn't happen, even in a place like a church. People are in their own zone and not always paying attention to who looks lonely.

You are still welcome to come by our church though. (:

Eric said...

Hi Julia,

Not a problem! I love your encouragement and your heart. I'd love to still come visit your church's service. Maybe we can go to lunch afterwards! =)

You're right, people are typically in their own zone and not paying attention to who may be lonely. My call on the Church is to get out of "their zone" and into the Hot Zone where God's people are wrestling with life issues.

Let's live out the compassion that Jesus modeled for us:

"When He saw the crowds, He had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd." (Matthew 9:36)

and in His own words:

"...I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them away hungry, or they may collapse on the way." (Matthew 15:32)

Anonymous said...

I can share many of your sentiments

God Willing :
We will learn our life lessons and
a good lighted path will be shown.

Jean-Marc said...

Thanks, Eric, for your sincerity. It's the first time I read your blog (I've heard about it on GCN). I appreciate your willingness to be real with other christians. I'm glad to be a member of an inclusive church in Paris, France, where I can meet and kiss other gays after the Sunday service ! And we have a LGBT minister too. God bless you ! Jean-Marc (French!).

Kiturgy said...

I liked Dawn's idea. Also, you might want to do some church hopping/shopping. See if you can find one where people are more welcoming, and where there is stuff you want to do with the church during the week. YOU can make the choice to worship in COMMUNITY, or not.

Anonymous said...

I think a lot of it comes down to FALSE EXPECTATIONS of church people.. I mean what we are talking about here is people not a 2hr community club

I mean ask yourself this.. When you go to work, do you expect people to come up to you everyday and say.. Hi, how are you blah blah.., do you expect people to come up to you when you go to the supermarket.. Of course not!..

We have placed false expectations on the church in general. Jesus didnt come to create a 2hr service on a sunday where people could be patted on the head.. there there.. everything is going to be ok..

Now im with you on the whole thing of SUPERFICIAL cheesy grins and the sense that some people greet only to do what they feel is their duty... But one thing I have learnt is that we dont know whats going on in a persons heart when they greet someone...

Its like.. your damned if you do and your damned if your dont.. meaning.. if you dont get out of your comfort zone and greet people.. there is a group of people who want to belly ache about it... and tell you maybe you should think about..

then there is a group of people.. who want to belly ache if you do greet people, as they want to say its false..

Listen.. if you go along to a church at all its to Worship God together with other believers, and to encourge one another..

not to place false expectations on people..

Also in regards to you being Gay.. sorry but I disagree with that lifestyle and do not believe it is what God has intended.. If he had.. he would of at the dawn of creation created

2 males or just 2 females.. or he would have made it very clear.. yes I have no problems with homosexuality.. But he didnt

he created a man and a women and hes made it very clear in the bible that being given over to lusting after each other

Romans 1:27

The males in the same way also left natural sexual intercourse with females and were inflamed in their lust for one another. Males committed shameless acts with males and received in their own persons the appropriate penalty for their perversion.

There is a big I suggest and recommend you read its called " Wild at Heart "



Eric said...

Jean Marc - Bonjour! welcome to my blog! i'm glad you are a part of an inclusive church that welcomes you.

Kiturgy - thanks for your comments. I have chosen to worship in community and i have built relationships with those in the Church that are very welcoming. Note my comments to Dawn and the links in right column of this blog regarding my Church paradigm. Bless you!

Jon -

you said,"I think a lot of it comes down to FALSE EXPECTATIONS of church people.. I mean what we are talking about here is people not a 2hr community club

it's not that i think Sunday "church" service needs to be a 2hr community club, it's that people need to stop confining their interaction with the church community to merely 2 hours every week at a "service".

you also said, "Its like.. your damned if you do and your damned if your dont"

I'm talking about connecting with people during the week - valuing and living out a Kingdom value of relationships. If the church "community" were interacting as a community, then it doesn't matter how "deep" Sunday is because it's simply another point of connection - not the sole means of connection.

You're not 'damned if you do and damned if you don't'. You're just missing the point if you think all lonely people are wanting is to be connected with at that 2 hr service and not during the week.

Too much of a burden? Can't connect with EVERY single person at church during the week? I'm not saying one has to. But how about connecting with the ones that seem to need it.

It's not a false or even unreasonable expectation to have for people within the Church community to value depth of relationships. We are called to walk with each other.

"But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it." (1 Corinthians 12:24-26)

Additionally, I'll reiterate again. In this post, i acknowledged that there are profoundly lonely people within the Church. These people simply can't be ignored by saying that they are just placing false expectations on all of us non-lonely people. The Church ought to have compassion on these people who are obviously in need.

My other point was that these lonely people can't simply expect other people to do the connecting with them. Lonely people in church need to take the initiative to connect with other people and to let their needs be known (to safe people). I know its a risk but they have to choose not to be lonely anymore. This is what I talked about at the end of the post.

As for the Gay thing, i appreciate your perspective, Jon, regarding those Scriptures. I shared that perspective for 13 years. I have since wrestled through it in prayer and study and reading and I have a different perspective regarding the interpretation of those Scriptures. It's not compromise because i simply want to enter into lust. That would be minimizing the wrestling process I went through and the journey of life with Christ that i'm on. I am walking with the Lord. The fruit speaks for itself. This blog chronicles some of that process.

I do appreciate your perspective.

Blessings all!