“I can’t seem to make my life work,” Lanie complained to her friend. “I’ve spent years trying, but I can’t find what I’m looking for.”
And it’s true. Over the past decade Lanie has started her life over, three separate times in three different states—new job, new church, new friends, new home. Well-meaning loved ones tell her what’s missing is a husband. All she needs, they say, is a man to love and settle down with. But Lanie has had opportunities for marriage, so in her case that just isn’t it.
Lanie can’t explain what exactly isn’t working in her life, although a pattern is clear. After a few years in a particular place, she gets a sense that something is missing, and a restlessness sets in; so in an attempt to obtain that missing something, she starts everything over again. The pattern has become a cycle—a vicious cycle—because wherever she goes, inevitably there is something missing. Lanie doesn’t connect that missing thing with loneliness, but it is there, and it adds to the viciousness of the cycle. Every time she uproots, she intensifies her loneliness.
So what is Lanie’s chief problem, and what is her real need?
The Loneliness of Freedom
A major contributor to Lanie’s loneliness is, surprisingly, freedom. Never before has it been easier for women to pick up and go. Women today are well equipped; we’ve got financial investments, cutting-edge modes of transportation, and sophisticated street smarts. But the reality is that so much freedom can actually increase our loneliness. Today, because we no longer have to stay in one place and do life with the people also staying in this place, we don’t make commitments. After all, why commit if we don’t have to? Why risk getting stuck in undesirable circumstances, perhaps missing the fulfillment that lies right around the next bend in the road? But this view of freedom—the one thrown at us from everywhere today—actually robs us of the very thing it promises. In earlier eras, when there was less freedom, people made commitments—to a marriage, a job, a place—because they had no other options. And if you do some digging, you’ll likely discover across the societal board that loneliness was less pronounced then, when people committed just because their choices were so limited.
Today we can all too easily follow what Barry Cooper calls the “god of open options.” He writes:
The god of open options is a cruel and vindictive god. He will break your heart. He will not let anyone get too close. But at the same time, because he is so spiteful, he will not let anyone get too far away because that would mean they are no longer an option. On and on it continues, exhausting and frustrating and confusing and endless, pulling towards and then pushing away, like the tide on a beach, never finally committing one way or the other. We have been like the starving man sitting in front of an all-you-can-eat buffet, dying simply because he would not choose between the chicken and the shrimp. The god of open options is also a liar. He promises you that by keeping your options open, you can have everything and everyone. But in the end, you get nothing and no one.
Finding Our Life
This sort of thing has definitely contributed to Lanie’s loneliness. But the root of it is even simpler than that. Take a closer look at Lanie’s dominant refrain: “I can’t seem to make my life work.” Who is she focused on? Who is she living for? It’s all there to see: Lanie has been living for Lanie. But are we—you and I—really that much different? Chronic loneliness and a sense of ongoing restlessness can be tip-offs that we’re more like Lanie than we’ve realized. We, along with Lanie, need to see that whenever our primary pursuit is self-fulfillment, we’re sure to miss it. Conversely, if we pursue Christ above all, we’ll find what we’ve been restless for all along. Self-seeking breeds loneliness; self-forgetfulness breeds fullness. It’s what Jesus was getting at when he said, “Whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matt. 10:38–39).
Self-seeking leads to the loss of real life, and our experience of this loss is often what we de ne as “something missing.” It’s what sends us on a perpetual search for that one next thing. For many of us, that one next thing seems to lie in the relational arena. Single women want to be married. Married women want a better marriage. Childless women want babies. Mothers want happier children. Empty-nesters want grandchildren. For others, that one next thing is more about accomplishing something important or having more meaningful work. There’s nothing wrong with these desires—we’re hardwired to want them. But at the same time, if we live to get them, we’re sure to find them hollow when we do.
Look again at Jesus’s words: “Whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” He is telling disciples that following him is costly, but what we gain is far greater than what we lose.
Choosing Our Treasure
So we have a choice. We can do all we can to hang on to our dreams and hopes and personal goals for life, love, and success in this world, or we can let go of those things as our primary reason to get out of bed every morning. But we will never make this choice unless our hearts grasp what it is we are meant to find instead. This finding comes out more fully in Jesus’s parables:
The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of ne pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it. (Matt. 13:44–46)
Is that how we see the kingdom of heaven? Do we value it as our greatest treasure? Simply realizing that it is our greatest treasure indicates that we’re on the way to finding true fullness of life.
Content taken from Finding God in my Loneliness by Lydia Brownback, ©2017. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, Il 60187, www.crossway.org.