Date: February 18, 2021
By: Kathryn N.
Loneliness is the greatest poverty.
As a kid, I never truly understood this paraphrase from Mother Teresa. We were always taught that poverty was not having enough food or money or clothes. As an adult, I have begun to understand the kind of poverty Mother Teresa was referring to and how rampant it reigns in our world today.
To clarify, being alone does not mean you are lonely. Mother Teresa describes loneliness as feeling unwanted, unloved, un-received, having no one, and being in pain. Despite her extraordinary adventures to many different places around the world, she also noted the following:
“In the West there is a loneliness, which I call the leprosy of the West. In many ways, it is worse than our poor in Calcutta."
“The greatest disease in the West today is not TB or leprosy; it is being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for. We can cure physical diseases with medicine, but the only cure for loneliness, despair, and hopelessness is love. There are many in the world who are dying for a piece of bread but there are many more dying for a little love. The poverty in the West is a different kind of poverty -- it is not only a poverty of loneliness but also of spirituality. There's a hunger for love, as there is a hunger for God.”
Have you ever experienced loneliness?
Additionally, in the Church, some may refer to loneliness as St. Ignatius of Loyola’s term of desolation. The dictionary defines desolation as a state of complete emptiness or destruction. Similarly, in Ignatian principles, we refer to this as “without hope, without love, when one finds oneself all lazy, tepid, sad, and as if separated from his Creator and Lord.”
Mother Teresa actually experienced this desolation for 50 years, with only one message of consolation in-between. She described this as feelings of a great separation, doubting, and silence. This article does a great job explaining some of her writings and shows us how even one of Our Lord’s most dedicated children, has experienced a type of loneliness and abandonment. Despite this all, she remained faithful and persevered through her hardships. In the midst of this pandemic, it is easy to feel deserted, hopeless, and tired – even more so now that we are approaching the one year mark. Nevertheless, we can also reconcile this loneliness and overcome it by knowing that loneliness is a natural part of life, referring to examples from the great saints, growing from it, and even appreciating the gifts that can come from it!
Loneliness helps us to love and understand others a little more.
I am sure if you are reading this you have yearned for a deep, authentic relationship at some or several points in your life. Everyone does – it’s human nature. Being made in the image and likeness of God, we have been made to be loved, made for relationships. My sister, who has worked with several young adults in sharing their testimony, has also found a common theme and recently shared this quote with me from Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, a well-known psychiatrist and author: “I have never met a person whose greatest need was anything other than real, unconditional love. You can find it in a simple act of kindness toward someone who needs help. There is no mistaking love…it is the common fiber of life, the flame that heats our soul, energizes our spirit and supplies passion to our lives.”
Although this may not exactly be a “Catholic” quote – it is still so true. Everyone is yearning for this love and sometimes it is easy to feel that we are unlovable because we are not being loved in the way we desire. Fr. Mike Schmitz goes over this in greater detail in this video; it is a great reminder that in our broken world, it is so important to know that there are different expectations we may have in our relationships and how we expect to be loved. By understanding where our loneliness can stem from, we can more easily understand and communicate with those around us. Additionally, we can better empathize with those around us and endure times of hardship.
In summary, loneliness allows our hearts to enlarge and to love others in a deeper way.
Loneliness can deepen our relationship with God.
On the notion of relationships – how can we forget the most important relationship of all? A quick reminder that our relationship with our Lord does not have to look perfect, especially in times of desolation or loneliness, however, this should not serve as an excuse either. God yearns for us to come to him with our sorrows and burdens. Loneliness is a call to grow closer to God – to persevere and rely on him. Ken Yasinski, a known Catholic speaker, recently shared a video on how to invite God into our times of loneliness:
1. Recall the presence of God – Remember, God holds everything together; He knows everything, and He is with us.
2. Call upon his name – Jesus’ name is the most important in history and when you say His name, His presence is there! A great way to do this may even be singing praise and worship songs
3. Quote Scripture – choose a scripture that speaks to you (perhaps one on loneliness) that you can remember in times of hardship. This can help combat the lies of loneliness.
4. Connect with others – find ways to reach out to others even if it has to be online during this time (more on this below)!
The truth is… loneliness is a lie. It tells us that we are alone, unloved, unworthy, and inadequate. It can also tell us that God is not at the center of our lives right now when in fact He wants to reveal himself to us during this time.
Spend an hour in adoration. Take in the quiet. Find yourself in front of Jesus. See how God is calling you.
Loneliness can provide clarity.
Lastly, loneliness can help us in our suffering by bringing us awareness and peace. Fr. Mike Schmitz in this video goes over how important it is to learn to be alone with yourself. If not, you will keep trying to find “solace in your pain, by some kind of distraction.” Loneliness can call us to grow and gain introspection. Personally, it was times when I felt most lonely that I had to rely on God and gained maturity both spiritually and emotionally. Although sometimes we must be forced into these situations of loneliness (I know I was quite resistant and often still am), remember that it can purify you and make you into a saint.
Additionally, remember that even Jesus faced loneliness. In Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen’s Life is Worth Living video, he powerfully shares how Jesus suffered the most unbearable loneliness to redeem us.
“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.” Hebrews 4:15
So maybe starting today, make it a habit to try to go out of your way to love someone a little more – to be God’s eyes, hands, and feet in places where others may not yet see his work. We are beloved daughters after all!
Learn a stranger’s name at Mass and say hi to them weekly. Reach out to old friends (maybe on social media or online until we are through this pandemic). Take the time to genuinely thank those who are working the front lines. Remember to be patient even when you are stressed or tired. Do not ignore the homeless (as so many unfortunately do) and simply even acknowledge them. These are a few tips to get you started but I know you can think of so many more.
Remember that everyone goes through loneliness and that Jesus is with you! I am praying for you!
Be lonely well,