Existential Absence

Raise your hand if you want to talk about loneliness!


Me neither. In fact, until this morning I would have responded to the topic with a smile and shrug. “I’m not dealing with that issue right now.” For a few weeks now I’ve had that thought several times, to my own surprise. Who doesn’t feel lonely sometimes?

Apparently not me. Cool.

Then this morning, as I was beginning to question this unexpected sturdiness, I opened up the book I’m reading, The Wounded Healer by Henri Nouwen. In the chapter, Ministry by a Lonely Minister he talks about loneliness as a gift, he looks back at loneliness and says, “The truth is so disconcerting and painful that we are more prone to play games with your fantasies than to face the truth of our existence.” He also throws out a few things we do to avoid loneliness and, reading this, I realized I haven’t been craving people because I’ve been keeping myself so busy. Work, books, movies… even cooking and cleaning keep me distracted…

None of the things I’m doing are, in themselves bad, but lately I have noticed a disturbing inability in myself to be present. Reading this morning, I pushed myself to assess my heart and uncovered the loneliness hiding there. This is what had been motivating me to create distance from the people around me. It has blocked my desire to be mentally present wherever I am.

Here’s what makes all of this harder, turning to people isn’t the ultimate answer. Though being in ministry, being in community, being a conscientious human involves reaching out to embrace people (and be embraced by them), people cannot fill our existential emptiness. People fail us with predictable regularity and, similarly, we fail them. It is this that throws me into a state of panicked absence.

I know it may just sound like the spiritual answer to say that only God can fill that emptiness but it also happens to be the truth. I can say with confidence that he actually desires to be present with us. Simultaneously, we are called to accept the emptiness and keep our hands open to the ways God will choose to fill us. We are powerless and empty but because of God’s compassion and tenderness toward us, we have only to turn to him in humility to find the strength to be human. He will do the healing, and the filling and only through that filling will we have enough to pour out into the lives of others.

Giving and receiving with our hands open and rolling with the waves of fulfillment and emptiness is not easy. I seem to need frequent check-ups.

Maybe you are not lonely today, and if that is true then I am glad for you. If you are, though, as a way of reestablishing truth into my own heart, I’m going to openly, sincerely and possibly awkwardly pray for us.

God, forgive me for running away from feeling uncomfortable. Forgive me for not simply taking these things to you even though I know how loving and good you are every time I do come.

Today I lay at your feet all of my feelings of emptiness, all of my fears of rejection, all of my cravings to just feel better already. I ask for myself and also for my friends who are disturbed today by their own aloneness, would you come near and supply the grace to open our hands to whatever your nearness means? I also lay these distractions down and ask for your mercy, that while it’s not necessary to stop working and reading and all of the other tasks of life, all of these things can be done in your presence. May we live today in your presence!

God thank you for your limitless love. Thank you that we don’t have to be consumed by our broken hearts, we don’t need to be driven by guilt or fear. Thank you for my friends, who have shown your character to me in so many ways and who have chosen to be present with my hurt and allowed themselves to share their own pain with me. May we be with you and be like you.


2 thoughts on “Existential Absence”

  1. Do you identify a distinction between solitude and loneliness? Personally I find that one is welcome but will cleverly shift to the latter where the pain exists. Thank you for the prayer and sharing your heart.

    1. They are two separate things, I believe. I thought I was existing within solitude, but realized that I was refusing to look at that place of being powerless. It’s hard to have real and productive solitude when I’m not being honest with myself.

      Thank you for commenting, my friend!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *