I am 20-years-old, and recently had the realization that I have never been alone. I was an only child for most of my life, which made my parents my best friends, as well as my siblings. We lived in a comfortable space that always consisted of me and them, of them and me. Never was I alone for too long, so it wasn’t until my freshman year of college that I realized I didn’t like to be.
If ever I were alone for too long, I had the bad habit where I would fill silence and fill spaces and overwhelm myself with the allusion of community, even if how I felt on the inside didn’t change. When it got too quiet in the car, I’d call anyone I could to talk to in order to avoid thinking. I would rather spend a Friday night with people I didn’t like than spend it at home. So as long as my surroundings were filled, the great measuring stick of life deemed me as successful, and so I had peace. This big measuring stick, the world, society, other shallow teenagers, they all were pieces of the puzzle that fit my idea of fulfillment and social success.
However, the biggest piece of this winding puzzle is the reality that I still face, which is the house I live in. I call it a house and not a home because it is something I am still uncomfortable with, and do not enjoy living in. This house is in my mind and is made up, brick by brick and board by board, of my misunderstood and misinterpreted, too loud and too heavy feelings.
Each morning I would board up the windows of this house and asked that it please remain quiet long enough to let me get through the day, until nighttime when it always had enough of being quiet. Nights were long living in this house. The house does not often sleep. It creaks and stirs and rattles and shakes. And throughout the day, if it did happen to get too loud, surrounding myself with people could distract me from it, and distract me from the fact that no one could ever live in this house with me. I was this houses’ hostage, moving into different rooms but never escaping the dark rooms i’d wandered out of. I’d spend late nights feeling along the walls with my fingertips, unable to find the light switch, simultaneously fearful of what I may see if I ever did find it.
So yeah. Having neighbors close by made the house feel better, more normal, less suffocating.
And then, this past year, the Maker of heaven and earth decided that this house and I had to have time just the two of us, or we wouldn’t both live much longer. This constant tension we felt together, the oppression I felt inside of this house, and the house’s desire to be open and free – all of these things could not exist simultaneously anymore. If the house and I didn’t have our space to make our peace without worrying about waking up the neighbors, then we’d both catch fire and burn to the ground. So God pushed away neighbors as I grasped for them, and gracefully isolated me so that I could learn to love what I was living in.
This past year is how he did so. He had tried before, but it never stuck. I didn’t know what was supposed to stick.
Spring of my 20th year my boyfriend who made me feel the least lonely and the most comfortable, and who I thought would make me the least lonely woman for the rest of my life and I broke up. It happened on a random day, for a quite random reason that I can’t even remember in this moment.
I realize now that I had a uniquely broken version of intimacy, where I thought it was traded space rather than shared space. This relationship embodied that perfectly. We traded space, but I took what wasn’t mine and lost myself in the process. Intimacy means that someone is my closest neighbor, but not that they can live in my mind with me. I had the two mixed up. Describing a room in the house to someone, telling them the memories, the wallpaper, the carpet under my toes, doesn’t give them the capacity to go there, it only let me feel less alone when I was there. So I lived in that allusion for 9 months. (Because I don’t know why we broke up, I am under complete impression that God was kind enough to move his hand of protection for those months, let me have what I thought I wanted, and then after some time, set his baby girl back on track, which I’m certain was the plan all along.)
A few panic attacks and melodramatic days later I was driving back to school from housesitting, and before I knew it my car was in the side of another man’s car. Then, I was in the back of the ambulance, and then into the arms of my friend who understood my overwhelming feelings and came running whenever I called. (Even today, she’s still who I’d call).
Without a car, and on heavy pain medicine, a few weeks of isolation passed and I was not doing well. I had nothing but time in that house, and the longer I spent there undistracted, the more the walls seemed to shrink. After a short amount of time I was sitting on the grass of my university facing all of the passing cars and on the phone with my therapist, begging her to prescribe me some medication that could make life doable again. My mom had talked to her ahead of time and set the precedent that I was not depressed, but merely dramatic and confused. After 45 minutes on the phone she ended up prescribing me medication, as did two other people with their Dr. degree, but it just became a topic that I don’t talk about anymore.
It pained mom to know that I had problems she couldn’t fix. I think somehow it emphasized that I was growing up, and she didn’t differentiate growing up from growing away, but God chose these events that she couldn’t fix because if she could, she would have. And I wouldn’t have learned.
A few other events (the loss of a friend, the loss of a family member) all occurred within that challenging month. It was a lot to bear, and a lot to bear alone.
So, those weeks of grief turned into months and I filled spaces with other people as much as possible to get through it. Some of those people were actually really great, but I squandered them, nonetheless. Then, again, with God’s kind hand he removed the very closest neighbors from my house. I have 5 best friends. Two of them graduated last year and they went to Chicago and Dallas. The next got married and moved to Atlanta, and the last two studied abroad in London for the semester. It doesn’t get more ridiculously alone than that.
But God surprised me, and rather than making my alone time torture me until I was comfortable with it, he lit a fire under my butt to do something fun and alone. So, I bought a plane ticket to London. And God met me there.
I flew to London, stayed by myself, rode the tube by myself, ate meals by myself (this is huge, people), and learned more about the world and more about myself than I ever had. And there was nothing lonely about it. I realized that not only could God live in my house with me, but he wanted to. He isn’t just a neighbor, or a frequent visitor, or someone who peaked in the windows at me in ways that other normal neighbors didn’t. He understood this house better than I did myself. Throughout the week in London, he took me around the house in my heart and showed me his favorite little quirks about it. How the floor creaks, how the doors stick, maybe how some of the wallpaper is ridiculous, but he took me on a tour of this house and I got the chance to see it with His eyes which were warm, welcoming, proud. And rather than being a cage that I was stuck in, I began to see it as my unique and creative space, where emotions ran wild but were welcomed and safe, where I could dance in the kitchen, where I could eat meals with God with no interruptions. During this week in London I built on new rooms to the house, opened the windows, and let fresh air in.
It has taken me 20 years to hear a message that God had been sending all along, but it took specifically a year for me to learn his place in this house. When I was grieving, he was sitting on the hearth with me, rubbing my shoulder, pulling me in toward his chest. When I was looking out of the windows, staring at the neighbors, he was staring at me from the other room. When I was struggling to get out of bed, he was downstairs cooking breakfast. All the times I felt alone, he said “no baby girl, I am your Abba and i’ll be here with you.” The point is that he shares life with us in our hearts, minds, thoughts.
Proverbs 4:23 tells us to monitor our thoughts, because they create our realities. If the house in your head is welcoming, your life will reflect that. If the voice in your head bullies you into doing the “right” thing, then you will project that same critical expectation onto others as well. You cannot be critical of your own house and uplifting of others, because you use the same habits of looking, regardless of what you’re looking at. And if the God inside your head is critical of your house, then the God you think you hear is your own voice echoing off of the walls. Do not get confused. God is leading the tour, even while you are boarding up the windows. And when you start to view your house as a home, you will see others’ homes as well and love the quirks that make them unique and familiar.
So let this space be yours and Gods, together. Don’t surround your house with neighbors, making sure that your house appears like a cookie cutter suburban two-story. It’s okay to be physically alone, but it’s not okay to feel alone. Listen to God’s voice calling you into being alone, not to loneliness. His voice called me to London to figure out the difference between the two, and the joy of the difference. There’s joy in the difference.