Sunday, December 4, 2011

Reflections on Loneliness

Every significant other, spouse, parent or sibling of a military member is all too familiar with loneliness. We’ve all used similar words to try to offer a just description to the feeling that life just isn’t right when our loved one is gone. I think it’s a pain unique to everyone- sometimes it’s a dull ache, sometimes it’s sharp and quick, and sometimes it’s suffocating. Whatever it feels like, it’s inescapable.

The morning my husband left for his deployment, we read a devotional together in our favorite chair, and got to pray holding hands one more time. It was a perfect morning, full of hope and promise for the things we’d do when he got home. He said goodbye to the puppy, and we left for the airport. When I returned from the airport, my dog looked around expectantly for her daddy, and laid staring helplessly at the door for almost two hours after I returned home while I sat in our chair and cried. My puppy’s hopeful expectation to see my husband come through the door again was bittersweet; I knew it would be 52 long weeks before her wish, and mine, came true.

Eventually, we all start moving again. I found a love note hidden in my sock drawer, which still makes me smile. I went to work. I went to church. I had dinner with friends. I worked out. I did what I could to fill the time and keep the loneliness away. And yet, each night, I was forced to face it.

I think the most challenging part of being alone was sorting out what to expect from other people. At first, every conversation seemed to start with a concerned, “How ya doin’? You okay?” accompanied by a pitying head tilt and pat on the arm. It grated, because each time someone asked that question, it undid all of my efforts to set aside my loneliness for the day. But later, I was hurt by those same friends because they stopped asking. Everyone else forgot that I was missing half of my heart, a fact which was ever-present on my mind. I was hurt because I felt like those people who were closest to me didn’t care enough to offer comfort during this most difficult trial. My loneliness was a pervasive ache, felt only by me.

Then, about eight months into the year, I came upon this passage from 2 Corinthians, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ” (2 Corinthians 1:3-5, New International Version).

This passage brought me some much needed perspective. God is my comforter. The word comfort can also be translated “solace, that which affords refreshment”[1]. My God and Father can bring me solace and refreshment during my time of trouble. Not my friends or family, God. I cannot explain why this thought was so… comforting. It relieved me of expecting others to take away my loneliness, which means I wasn’t disappointed in them when they couldn’t. It also gave me a Person to turn to who wasn’t susceptible to the waves of chaos life brings. God isn’t going to be caught up with kids, or stuck at work, feeling preoccupied with graduate school or the latest argument with a family member. He is the one Person who is always available to me, who is always concerned with my heart, and who absolutely loves my husband more than I do.

Even though this bright spot came eight months into the deployment, I’m thankful for the few months of relief from the ever-present loneliness I’d been feeling. Nothing else is different; only my perspective has changed. I still miss my husband, and there are still some days that seem to drag on forever. There is still no one else who makes me feel quite right with myself like my husband. But I understand the comfort of God in a deeper way than before the deployment, and I have to wonder… would there have been another way for God to become this Comforter for me if I wasn’t so sick with loneliness? Maybe there is a purpose to this deployment after all.


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