Each one of us has a deep, complex, emotional, intellectual, spiritual makeup. We can know one another, but only to a point. There is a sense in which all of us are alone. Tim Keller says that this is what it means to be human – “The movements and motions of your heart are so complex, so inward, and so hidden, that there is an irreducible, unavoidable solitude about human existence. No one will ever completely understand you.”
Proverbs 14:10 says it this way, “Each heart knows its own bitterness, and no one else can share its joy.”
Consider your closest friends. I have a wonderful friendship with my older sister, Rebekah. We grew up together. We’ve read much of the same literature, we enjoy the same music, have a similar sense of humor, and we understand each other’s personalities. Our shared life experiences have given us some overlapping perspectives. We can reconnect after months of little or no communication (we live in different cities), and yet we always pick up where we left off. Friendship like this is truly a gift, and we should seek it out.
However, it won’t suffice. Even after connecting with others, even in the midst of great fellowship, the underlying sense of loneliness returns. In fact, none of my closest friendships can relieve me of this – and they weren’t meant to.
C.S Lewis, in grieving the death his wife, laments this aloneness even in marriage:
“It is incredible how much happiness, even how much gaiety, we sometimes had together after all hope was gone. How long, how tranquilly, how nourishingly, we talked together that last night! And yet, not quite together. There’s a limit to the ‘one flesh’. You can’t really share someone else’s weakness, or fear or pain. . . the mind can sympathize; the body, less. . . We both knew this. I had my miseries, not hers; she had hers, not mine. . .we were setting out on different roads. This cold truth . . .is just the beginning of the separation which is death itself. And this separation, I suppose, waits for all. . . She used to quote ‘Alone into the Alone’. . .Time and space and body were the very things that brought us together; the telephone wires by which we communicated. Cut one off, or cut both off simultaneously. Either way, mustn’t the conversation stop?”
And so it will go for each of us. All of our conversations, our experiences, our relations to one another, will end in this life- all the “telephone wires” cut, and some sooner than others.
A good friend of mine, reflecting on a season of depression in his life, said this: “I realized I was becoming a burden to all of my friends because I was looking to them to cure my loneliness, my struggles, my pain. I was looking to them to give me a kind of life that even the best of community could not give. And then it hit me, and this signaled the beginning of the end of my depression – I needed someone with an infinite capacity to listen to my problems, with an infinite love to work through them with me. The answer was before me the whole time – Jesus!”
God’s Word tells us that “He will never leave us nor forsake us” (Hebrews 13:5). We need community, and close friends we can share life with. We need to encourage, challenge, and confess to one another. But Christ is the ultimate companion. He is the great counselor. He went to the cross, and endured separation from God – true aloneness – so that we would not have to. Let your relationships with others be fueled by your relationship with Christ, and know that ultimately, Jesus is the only one who promises to walk with us alone into the alone, the only “wire” which won’t be cut, even to the end.
“I am with you always, to the end of the age” – Matthew 28:20.
See Tim Keller’s talk “The Wounded Spirit” for further reflection.