After years of wishing for the perfect support group, I'm trying something new.
Every single day, second by second and hour by hour, I’m surrounded by the company of my six charming sons. I’m rarely not being hugged. I’m rarely not being told I’m beautiful, so when it dawns on me that the hollow, empty feeling in my chest is one of loneliness, I’m always a little stunned.
“How can I be lonely when I’m never alone?” I’ve asked myself often.
The answer becomes clear as I listen to my 7-year-old passionately explain the differences between a pteranodon and a triceratops while I unload the dishwasher, wishing, wishing, wishing someone — anyone — over 4-feet-tall and preferably female would call to chat about anything (except dinosaurs).
Yup, more time with friends is what I need. And while making and maintaining such relationships should be simple, I’ve found it’s not. The reason could be I’m a total dork who talks too much (I am and I do), but I think the more likely reason is that times have changed, communities have scattered and have been largely replaced by cyber-communities (albeit badly, as screens and keyboards are no substitute for voices and faces and hugs and laughter). The demands of modern life have sent many women to work outside the home, some happily, some reluctantly.
And for a long time I thought if I just found that perfect support group or if I just made a few more friends, the lonely feeling would go away. But there’s no such thing as a perfect support group, and I do have a couple awesome friends — they’re simply not available in person at 10 am on Tuesdays to join me at the clothes line. I’ve tried the phone. And while a little chatting with a mom-friend while I fold laundry is great, too long and I’m certain to find a wall plastered in permanent marker. Of course there’s Facebook, but too often I leave the site feeling less connected, rather than more connected to the “friends” I have there: Wow, look at all these stylish people going on great vacations and cooking amazing meals, I tell my rumpled-pajama-self as I sling back stale coffee and tune out a living room full of couch-jumping children.
So I’m trying something new. With God’s grace, I’m turning into the loneliness with short, little prayers. I’m offering up tiny aspirations when the hollow feeling strikes, like “Jesus, I love you” or “Jesus, I trust in you” or “I believe; help my unbelief.” This new habit is harder than it seems and is requiring extra self-control, as hopping on the phone or the internet when I’m lonely has been my practice for years. But I’m definitely sticking with it, as the peace I’ve found in switching out even one phone call or one Facebook scroll with mental prayer is proving to deepen my peace in a way other habits never have.
The other day I had the urge to call a friend while I scrubbed smudges from my sliding glass doors. I decided to say a prayer or two first — nothing profound. I didn’t hear an audible voice reply, but as I stood back enjoying the light pouring in brighter than it had in weeks St. Teresa of Avila’s description of the soul came to mind: “A crystal castle made for God himself.” Her masterpiece The Interior Castle centers around each person’s duty and joy in developing and deepening one’s prayer life: “Mental prayer is, as I see it, solitary conversation with Him who, as we know, loves us.”
And so as I stood there baffled by the sight of clean glass doors — ones that were certain to remain that way for a matter of seconds — the following thought shone through with the sun: At the same time my hands scrubbed our exterior castle, those simple prayers swiped a layer off the castle within.
Sure, I’d love to have more friends. I’d also love to have more quality time with the ones I have, but this season of my life — one ruled by nap times, sports practices and endless meal preparations — makes it hard to catch coffee with the girls as much as I’d like. For now, I’m viewing loneliness as one of the small (sometimes big) purposeful crosses of my vocation. It’s a cross that will turn me toward Our Lord if I let it. And lately, the words of 14th-century Catholic author Thomas a’ Kempis have given this new habit wings: “If you carry your cross joyfully, it will carry you.”
To learn more about praying during the day and nourishing your interior life, see these reflections: