Bishop Hying

Weakness becomes sacred portal for God’s entrance into the temple of our fragile, beautiful humanity

As published in the Northwest Indiana Catholic on February 3, 2019


      I recently read an article suggesting that the three loneliest times in the trajectory of life are when one is 25, 55 and 85 years old. In our contemporary culture, 25 is the transition from adolescence to full adulthood for many. College is over and life is asking some definite and serious commitments regarding work, marriage and vocation. Given the plethora of choices in our society, many young people may feel overwhelmed and alone in this time of decision.

      The age of 55 is the time of the classic mid-life crisis. Most of our life is behind us; we may wonder if we made the right decisions or if we have truly accomplished what we could have. We are beginning to feel that time is running out, that life is short and we sometimes want to readjust our values and commitments. What seemed certain and sure, even a few years ago, may now appear wobbly or ambiguous.

      At 85, we are entering into old age and facing death. Many of our loved ones are already gone, the world we grew up in and the culture we understood have probably changed beyond recognition, and we may be struggling with the meaning and purpose of it all as we come to the end of our lives.

      In each of these transitions, we seek intimacy, meaning, purpose and value in our existence. We are all looking for validation, for evidence that our lives matter, that we made a difference. We also need to love and be loved; we all need to taste eternity and the goodness of God’s presence, to know that we are growing in goodness ourselves and holiness as well. Integration, surrender, relationships and the Lord himself all appear differently at various times in our lives.

      Does the loneliness in those moments of transition become more acute because what we relied on in terms of meaning and purpose is changing? Often, I find myself going back in my mind and heart to various times in my life when things seemed more certain or peaceful, or I felt the closeness of God more profoundly or knew love in a clear way. 

      The tension of realizing that we cannot go back in time when the way forward is not at all clear can be very lonely and stressful. We feel lost and alone.

      The opening lines of Dante’s Divine Comedy come to mind here: “In the middle of the journey of our life I found myself within a dark wood where the straight way was lost.” Published in 1321, the Divine Comedy narrates the journey through hell, purgatory and heaven as an epic experience of twists and turns, being lost and found, discovering terror and beauty along the way, finding intimacy, but also loneliness on this seven-storey mountain that ultimately leads to with God.

      When I feel lonely, I remind myself that it is part of the human experience. We are born and we die alone. Despite all of our self-understanding and self-revelation to others, we remain a fundamental mystery, perhaps most of all to our very selves. I enjoy beautiful friendships, meaningful work and intimacy with God, and yet there lies within a vast ocean of mystery, longing and restlessness that will never be fully satisfied or understood until the life hereafter. 

      We both crave and fear relationship, wanting to be known and loved but apprehensive of such radical vulnerability. Loneliness is normal, built into our DNA. It is the homing device keeping us looking for God.

      Sometimes when I feel lonely, I reach out to others. Spending time with family and friends, visiting the sick or volunteering to help the needy gets us out of ourselves and often renews our sense of self.  Other times, I run to the Lord in prayer, knowing that only the divine love can give me what I crave so intensely. 

      Some of the mystics described being with God as “alone with the Alone,” the idea that we can only enter into the fullness of God by entering into the radical solitude of ourselves. This spiritual wisdom is born of an experience of our radical human aloneness, embraced, befriended and ultimately plunged into the fire of God’s heart.

      When we can embrace our loneliness, cease fearing it, stop trying to anesthetize it and actually befriend it, we have the beauty of solitude, that sacred inner space, that chamber of the heart that only God knows. To remain sane and to become holy is to practice silence, prayer, peace and solitude. How can we ever find authentic intimacy with God and others unless we first come to know ourselves apart from the ceaseless sound and fury of the world?

      So, if you struggle with loneliness, know that everyone else does too. Remember that your aloneness is holy, a place of mystery and desire where God passionately wants to reveal his tender and particular love for you, apart from the “madding crowd,” as the British poet Thomas Gray called it in “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard.”   

      If you feel lonely, know that God is leading you into a deeper sense of maturity and holiness through necessary but often painful transitions. Embrace your aloneness and ask the Lord to transform what you feel into a sacred solitude where the Divine Majesty can peacefully reign in the throne of your heart. 

      If we never felt pain, rejection, misunderstanding, loneliness or limitation, how could the gentle and merciful Lord enter in? Our weakness becomes the sacred portal for God’s entrance into the temple of our fragile and beautiful humanity.


       + Donald J. Hying

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