There is a strain of loneliness infecting many Christians which only the presence of God can cure. –A.W. Tozer
I don’t remember where I heard this said about people in the arts who venture into the public eye, but it stuck with me: Artists want to be noticed, musicians want to be heard, actors want to be loved, and writers want desperately to be understood.
It takes a certain amount of courage to venture into a field that exposes one’s inner thoughts and then depends upon the approval of strangers to make a living. I suppose the same could be said for other fields requiring vulnerability, from stripping to politics to scientific research. Even accountants and morticians need approval to keep their jobs. But some people have a greater drive to make connections. Some people are more acutely aware of loneliness.
Writers strive to find a dozen ways to phrase a thought hoping to find the one that brings a response to the question, “Do you know what I mean?” Ya know?
Yet even the most successful artistic people in the world can have a profound sense of loneliness. Sometimes a success backfires and arouses jealousy. Have you noticed how the critics are drawn like moths to the flame of a book or article that gains popular approval?
I absolutely love how Lara Merz responded to an interview question about how to handle negative reviews: “I would say try not to take things too personally, especially if the reviewer is someone you are not in relationship with. There is something about honesty from a loved one or deep friend who cares about who you are, and who you are becoming that is often worth taking heed to, but strangers are trickier because we know nothing of who they are, how healthy they are and the why the book was pushing buttons. Buttons get pushed for many reasons and most of them have very little to do with what pushed the buttons, but rather why there are buttons there in the first place.”
For approval junkies like me criticism can be devastating, because I have buttons. The truth is we all have buttons. Until we are perfectly healed and know we are deeply loved by God we are all offendable and will take off (or bite back) when we feel threatened. Maybe that’s the definition of maturity – having fewer and fewer buttons.
The healing strength of approval and connection that comes from friends and spouses is beautiful but in a way tasting that love can create an even greater awareness of loneliness. Sometimes we find ourselves tempted to compromise on values to maintain those connections. A lot of people use service to the needy as a means to overcome loneliness, hoping dependency on the care-giver will create a strong bond. And I hate to break this to those of you who are in search of the perfect mate. It is possible to be profoundly lonely in even the very best marriage.
There comes a time when we have to admit that our most loyal fans, our closest friends and even our faithful lover do not understand us. When we accidentally touch one of their buttons they will also fly away emotionally. My point is that there is only one reliable source of approval, and that is from the One who created us to be who we are and notices, hears, loves and understands perfectly.
There are some who are called to walk closely with the Lord. Part of their training necessarily involves rejection, and it will occur again and again until they understand that God is jealous for their attention, their love. They cannot give unselfish love until they have received unselfish love from the only One capable of giving it and who heals their hearts.
If you find yourself in a lonely place, pay attention to the quiet. It’s Jesus calling.