The Opposite of Loneliness

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In the English language, there isn’t really a word for the opposite of loneliness.

A quick Google search puts the word “popular” as the top hit, but I find the meaning of popular to be too contrived; it defines an outward setting, but misses the condition of the heart. After all, we can be completely surrounded by bodies, yet feel the emptiness of being alone.

I recently read a book of essays and short stories entitled “The Opposite of Loneliness” by Marina Keegan. The article from which her collection of stories and essays proffers its name was first published in the Yale Daily News. Marina addresses her graduating class and speaks of the camaraderie and togetherness she experienced at Yale. It was this indefinable familiarity, which produced a potential energy to make her and her classmates feel worthwhile and abundantly capable.

In describing the opposite of loneliness Marina offers, “It’s not quite love and it’s not quite community; it’s just this feeling that there are people, an abundance of people who are in this together. Who are on your team.” It is difficult to nail down a concrete definition.

I’m finding that this opposite of loneliness is belonging. It is the knowing of loneliness that gives us an understanding of the opposite of loneliness.

We cannot know what it’s like to be “un-lonely” unless we have known what it’s like to feel alone. Perhaps this mystery lies in the fact that we have yet to fully experienced the true and complete opposite of loneliness, and so we don’t know how to label it.

As we walk this earth, even if we are happily married, happily single, immersed in a beautiful community, surrounded by loving friends and family, there is still a tinge of aloneness because we are not yet fully united with our Maker—the only unflawed, all-knowing being who is love and can fill every cavity of emptiness within us.

When that time comes we will experience a union with our God that will dismantle any form of loneliness because we will belong.

We will have found a place where we are made new; we will be fully known, fully loved and can fully know and fully love our God in return. Right now, in grace, we get a glimpse of this redemption, but it is not complete; for now we will inevitably fall short in loving rightly from time to time.

So what do we do in the interim? How do we live well now in the face of our loneliness?

We fight for those glimpses of belonging for both those around us and ourselves. There is great purpose in the here and now; passivity in waiting goes against our design. We won’t lose the longing to belong, so we harness that longing to propel our world toward Jesus’ return. We use our passions, with our eyes faithfully set on hope, to love with the love of Jesus now as best we can. And the mystery and thrill of it all is that this looks differently for each of us.

In the book of Hebrews, the author interrupts his description of many faithful lives before us to share an element each of them had in common…

These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland…they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city. Hebrews 11:13-16

Let us be people who hold the assurances of God in our hands courageously. Let us be people who, through the way we live, shed light on the distant homeland we seek and its promise to be whole and good.  Let us lean into the inevitable loneliness now, to yearn more for the opposite of loneliness with eager expectation.

And when that day comes we will greet our Maker, having known what it is to feel alone, and experience the triumph of never having to know that feeling again. We will belong.

 


 

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