Too Great

by Kat Park

“Loneliness”–a word with so many letters it almost looks crowded, so not lonely. And yet, I can’t help but think that I am that middle letter “l” within a larger group of letters that somehow surround me but are not with me. This is what loneliness does. It shapes and bends the mind in such a way as to distort reality. It creates a new “reality,” a shroud of mist, a “protective” suit like in Bubble Boy that keeps out all the things that could potentially harm me but also lets nothing in. I find myself in this bubble at times.

There’s a myriad of reasons I find myself here–some circumstantial, some personal. When I look back at the past four years of my life, I realize there’s been a lot of change. My husband and I got married, quit our jobs, moved to a place where we had no previous ties, left our tight-knit community, and were met with the pandemic only seven months later. One of the most difficult but unignorable factors has been my mental health, which has been both a blessing and a curse. I swing back and forth between wanting to share this very large piece of my life and not wanting to mention it at all for fear of burdening anyone with information they did not want to know. I briefly share it now in the hopes that it would encourage anyone who struggles in their mental health journey and loneliness too.

God has blessed us and reminded us of His steadfast presence through a church and community that embraced us with open arms as well as providing opportunities that have helped to keep us here. But, as is normal in this life, there are still challenges that I’ve struggled to share and invite others into. During the pandemic, at least we all had a shared excuse. We were all lonely. As tough as it was, there was something comforting about the fact that we were all struggling together. After the pandemic, it felt as if everyone was returning to what their lives were before. What was my life before? It was the beginning of building a life here, but then time froze for over two years. I started to feel that I was in an odd and liminal space–too old to be new, too new to be old. And, underneath it all, too embarrassed to reveal the string of thoughts that pervaded my mind: “I’m too old,” “I’m too young,” “We’re strange for not having children at our age,” “My burdens make me too difficult to handle as a person.” And on and on the harmful thought parade went that made me feel as if I truly was alone. I was in a bubble of my own making, both wanting to get out but also afraid of facing what was outside.

“But the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’ So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.” – Genesis 3:4-6

In Genesis 3, the serpent creates a new reality for Eve and Adam–one that contradicts what God had told Adam previously: “but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” The serpent entices them with the lie that they won’t die, that they can be wise apart from God; that, in fact, there is something to gain apart from him. Immediately, we see a breaking apart of His perfect design, of their oneness. Adam and Eve realize they’re naked as if it’s a bad thing and find ways to cover their God-given bodies. Their relationship with each other is broken when Eve leads Adam to sin, and he fails to love Eve by reminding her of God’s command. And most importantly, most unfortunately, their relationship with God is broken when we see “the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden” (Genesis 3:8).

Where there was trust and openness between God, Adam, and Eve, sin created cracks of irreparable distance and space. Adam and Eve cover their bodies. They hide from God. Adam was afraid. He blames the woman who previously was “bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh” (Genesis 2:23a). Eve redirects the blame away from her onto the serpent, and now there is a “desire contrary to [her] husband.” “He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life” (Genesis 3:24).

How heartbroken God must have been to see His words be tampered with and twisted in a way that broke the trust and oneness between Him and His creation. How much it must have pleased Satan to see this destruction, this attempt by Eve and Adam to “count equality with God a thing to be grasped” and create their own version of the truth. When I think of this, I can’t help but examine the ways in which I dig myself deeper into my bubble to keep others out. The truth is, I am so afraid of being rejected. I am so afraid of being misunderstood and having to confront someone because I want to be close and better understood. I am afraid of wanting intimacy for fear that I won’t get it. And underneath that fear, is, I suppose, the root of all my fears. That God won’t be enough. That I will be lonely for a long time. That my loneliness will be too great for God.

What is the opposite of loneliness? What is it that we’re missing and longing for? I believe it’s presence. When I’m lonely, the presence of another person is a sort of balm. They might not take away the deep loneliness that lives within me, but their presence is like a breath of fresh air. It’s like when I was a kid, and I would get really sick. My mom’s presence felt like she was saving me. Her being there with me didn’t necessarily make my fever go down or my sore throat feel any less painful, but her very presence gave me a sense of comfort that everything would be alright. The fact that someone was with me in my pain made it more bearable, gave me an unspeakable hope that, eventually, it would get better. A friendship with presence is like sitting in a really big mud puddle. A friend is not necessarily someone who exerts all their strength and effort to get you out. It’s someone who gets into the puddle with you. Sure, it’s wet, muddy, and a little unpleasant. But their being there with you makes the puddle half as bad. After some time, they will leave the puddle. And I will too. That’s the thing about this bubble suit. None of the mud gets in, and I stay mess-free. But then there’s no opportunity for someone to sit in the mud with me nor I with them.

If I’m not careful, this loneliness can consume me. I can glorify the pain I’ve felt and sulk in it, soak in it; let it marinate me to the point that it’s seeped deep into my bones until I’m molded to this mud puddle. I won’t lie, I let the mud puddle overtake me a few times. It was easier to feel sorry for myself than challenge what I thought to be true with what is actually true. That’s the beauty and the never ending persistence of truth–it’s true whether you feel like it is or not. It’s true whether you want to allow it to shape your mind or not. Its roots won’t budge, its pillars will stand, and your self-centric sense of reality will be swept up by the rains and the winds. In being united with Jesus, indwelt with His spirit, I find that His truth is ever present and unignorable. I try to sink deeper into the mud, but God doesn’t let me. In marriage, I find deep friendship and a partner who will always remind me of and encourage me to seek Christ in my pain. In my family in Christ, I find tangible experiences of God’s love for me through their presence, words, and care. In the Word, I find that His grace is sufficient for me through good seasons and bad.

“I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” –John 17:22-24

When I’m in the mud puddle too long, I stray from the truth and forget the lengths that Jesus went to to secure God’s love for me for eternity. I forget that unity in Jesus is not to satisfy my loneliness but, ultimately, to speak volumes of God’s good news for all people. I fail to see the ways in which he’s been with me even before he knit me together in my mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13). If there’s anyone who understands what loneliness is, it’s Jesus. Who in their right mind would choose to leave the best of the best to sit in the mud with us? How humble my Savior is, that he would leave the oneness he had experienced for forever. He experienced a pain that I will never be able to imagine, and now I will never know a life of utter loneliness. I will never be confined to the bubble of solitude because I have been given access to God through the death and life of His son. Sin, the breaker of union, has been defeated by Jesus.

This good news reminds me that loneliness is a longing for the connection, the person, and the home that I was made for but have yet to experience in its fullness. There have been glimpses of this person and place, and it gives me a growing hope and yearning for a life in perfect shalom and oneness. Not just because I want this loneliness to go away, but because I’ll see that it’s nothing compared to the joy that is to come. Through God’s grace and the pain I have experienced, I see more and more that His glory, the weight of the one who will satisfy me, will be too great for words. Too great for loneliness.