Monday, August 24, 2009

Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places

I think it's part of the human condition that many of us feel lonely, if not all the time then at least from time to time. And if you're single, it's easy to think the antidote for loneliness is matrimony. But according to Henri Nouwen, those who marry because of loneliness will likely end up as lonely spouses. Our condition is not changed by our circumstance.
We ignore what we already know with a deep-seated, intuitive knowledge - that no love or friendship, no intimate embrace or tender kiss, no community, commune or collective, no man or woman, will ever be able to satisfy our desire to be released from our lonely condition. This truth is so disconcerting and painful that we are more prone to play games with our fantasies than to face the truth of our existence. Thus we keep hoping that one day we will find the man who really understands our experiences, the woman who will bring peace to our restless life, the job where we can fulfill our potentials, the book which will explain everything, and the place where we can feel at home. Such false hope leads us to make exhausting demands and prepares us for bitterness and dangerous hostility when we start discovering that nobody, and nothing, can live up to our absolutistic expectations.

Many marriages are ruined because neither partner was able to fulfill the often hidden hope that the other would take his or her loneliness away. And many celibates live with the naive dream that in the intimacy of marriage their loneliness will be taken away.

- Henri Nouwen, The Wounded Healer, pp. 84-85.


  1. wow. that is such a good word and it cuts right to the heart--my heart at least! It sure is easy to think/believe all that! And it's staggering to think that even when you've experienced the devastating effects of putting the safety and worth of your condition in the fickle hands of circumstance, that you will still turn towards "it" again hoping to get a different result. And yet, we do, even though we have that "deep-seated knowing." Why does it seem so scary to face the "truth," when it's really the Truth that will set us free?

    Praise the Lord for grace and redemption (and patience...and mercy...) even in the midst of all our mess!

  2. Well said. Q- If it is not in any human relationship, the "church" would say its in Christ. Then why is it that many genuine Christians are very lonely? Shouldn't that intimacy "in Christ" be the answer for that need? and if it isnt what is, if anything?

  3. Bob -

    To paraphrase and repurpose something C.S. Lewis said about a different subject, perhaps the better question to ask is whether a genuine Christian is less lonely than he otherwise would be, were he not a Christian. In my own case, I think the answer is yes, though there's no way to prove such a hypothetical retrospectively.

    Beyond that, I do believe that God uses absence ("apophasis") and withdrawl, at times anyway, as part of our development process.

    And then there's the fact that even though the Kingdom of God has come to us, it has not yet come in all its fulness. Our incorrigibly fallen state continues to limit our ability to experience Christ for all He is.

    And there may be several other reasons genuine Christians feel lonely. But that's a start.

  4. You really should write a book. I want the first copy =D