the great loneliness.

Recently I was at a very large gathering of men and women around the US and abroad who deeply care about many similar things I care about. I love much of their work. But as I sat in the opening session and listened to the music and the prayers and the language and the rah-rah I felt this overwhelming sense of deep, weird, in-my-bones loneliness. In the past, the “container” would have really resonated. I would have liked the songs and the wow and the excitement and God moving through people at the same time. It used to be our zone. However, try as I might, I just couldn’t connect. I felt irritable, “off”, not-able-to-be-present-no-matter-how-much-I-wanted-to-be-open.

“Even here,” I thought, “I am no longer a part in the same way. And damn, that sucks.”

It has nothing to do with them. They are wonderful and everyone else seemed to really be resonating, which was beautiful to see.

Me, I just wanted to cry.

I miss being part of a tribe in the way I was used to for so long.

As I talked to my husband at length about it (because he was feeling it, too), I kept coming back to the same reality–Faith shifting stuff is so freaking lonely.

It’s just lonely.

Sure, over the years I have found all kinds of ways to forge new relationships and develop an incredible network of allies, advocates, collaborators, and dear and faithful friends. There’s no question that without them (and you!), I wouldn’t still be here today.

I am extremely grateful for the different networks, online forums, refuge community, and stealth conversations at coffee shops about the realities of an unraveling that have sustained me over the years.

But what I haven’t found since I exited all-that-was-once-familiar is find a place in a wider tribe where I 100% feel like I belong.

I get bits and pieces, little snippets of love and connection, but it’s always in some weird, off-to-the-side way.

There are parts I resonate with, there are parts I don’t.

I think that’s normal and healthy, actually, and that’s what can feel confusing. I know it’s good to not be “all in” in some kind of nutty way anymore. At the same time, there is something to be said for a strong alignment with what a group or organization is about. It helps to feel that mo-jo, that juice, that “I’m so in the right place” feeling.

That’s why so many of the online Facebook groups and blogs and forums have been life-saving-ly helpful to countless men and women because it’s a place where people speak our language and share similar stories.

It helps us feel less alone.

It helps us feel less crazy.

It helps us keep going.

But online and real life are two different things, and it’s nice to be with flesh and blood, eye to eye, heart to heart in a wider community, too.

While I’m grateful for many of these kinds of in-real-life relationships, I just felt like acknowledging today that even with them, I still continue to feel a sense of loss and loneliness.

It’s hard to be “out” of the tribe.

To become outsiders.

To long for a new kind of connection to the wider story.

To feel a little like a loser in a world that thrives on winning.

I agree 100% with Dorothy Day’s famous words–“We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community.”

It’s why we’ve got to keep finding little pockets of love and freedom to be part of.

It’s why we need others who understand the same loneliness, too.

It’s one of the reasons I’m still in.

But it’s still not the easiest thing to do or find and I wanted to acknowledge that today.

You’re not alone in your loneliness.

It’s tricky in all kinds of odd ways that are often hard to explain.

It’s hard to explain because why would we miss a system or group that we don’t resonate with anyway?

It’s hard to explain because in so many ways our Unraveling and tender and unique Rebuilding has lead us to so much more freedom and passion.

It’s hard to explain because so much is an internal process and we sort of look the same on the outside (although in my case, with a lot more gray hairs and wrinkles!) and often others don’t know what’s swirling inside our heads and hearts.

It’s hard to explain because often no one really asks in the first place.

Yeah, faith shifting often includes a great loneliness.

You’re not crazy. And you’re not alone.

That’s all I wanted to say today.

Love from Colorado, kathy

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar co-pastors at The Refuge, a Christian community and mission center in North Denver and is the author of Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.

37 Comments

  • Oh my, Kathy, thank you so much for this today! I really needed to read that! I relate 100% with that feeling, I,m in the same process since many months and feel really weird at times, very lonely process indeed. I was a minister of the gospel, left completely organized churches after too much hurt and wounds, still believe in God but all is becoming different in my way of understanding Him and things. I often miss the sense of belonging to a group but i feel awkward each time I go in a “normal” church group… Thanks for your article today, it make me feel a bit less alone… Big hug to you! 🙂

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    • i love that you used the word “awkward” nancy because it’s such a good one. where it used to be comfortable and easy, “awkward, off, itchy” often come to mind now in certain situations. i really appreciate your words!

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  • Kathy — it can be very lonely when living with a new paradigm of faith. But, as you so wisely remind us, we are not alone, even when we are lonely. And you are not alone, but perhaps it may feel even more so as you tend to be way out ahead of many of us in so many ways!

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    • thanks, al. i do feel less alone and reminded when i post something iike this and so many people resonate just how many of us there are….thankful for you.

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  • Lonely for tribe…for a greater sense of community and belonging…this is currently my great place of pain. Thank you for wrapping some words around what feels crazy some days.
    Love to you from California ❤️

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  • Thank you, Kathy. I just had a long, lonely week and was present enough to also notice that I had a handful of people who were there for me. Those safe few that I can say anything to. It has taken me a long while to find them and they are not a tribe or community, per se, but they are my people individually. And, that is more than enough to be grateful for today.

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  • Yes! Me too!!! I’m so grateful for your honesty, and putting into words how I have been feeling. Thank YOU! In 2008, we learned that our then 22 year old son had a heroin addiction. H E R O I N. A big part of me, and our family, died that day…at least it felt like it. Addiction affected our beautiful, secure, church-going and Jesus following family and SHATTERED it into many pieces. We weren’t sure if our family would survive this OR ever be the same. Thankfully, we DID survive it but it will NEVER LOOK the same…and I thank GOD for that. Short version, long story…God unraveled us. He stripped us down, only to build us up. When I first saw the word “Faithshift” on your blog (?) I knew that was what was happening to me especially, as well as my husband, daughter, and son. Attending big, loud worship always used to fill my soul…now, they don’t, and it feels weird. However, my relationship with God/Jesus is as strong as ever! I find that meaningful worship comes from solitude…beauty in nature…singing in my own home to Him…much smaller, gentler, personal forms of worship…time with my family. My friends don’t understand…I don’t fully understand either. But I’m ok with it, because I know God & I are on great terms, despite my shift. I’m choosing to not fear it, but embrace it. I think God is comfortable with that. The ‘church’ didn’t really know what to do with hearing about my son’s addiction, so they did and said nothing. I don’t blame them (anymore). But my new calling is to try to de-stigmatize addiction…be an advocate for change…put a face to what a family ‘looks like’ whose loved one is struggling and fight to educate and stand up for better care and treatment. Thank you, Kathy, for helping me understand and put into words what I’ve been feeling and going through. I am so very grateful. BTW, my son is 2+ years free from Heroin!!

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    • lynn, oh it means so much to me that you would take time to share this part of your story here. the realities of addiction are so brutal and the lack of support that we need to journey through them even worse. the place that’s supposed to be the safest place on earth is sometimes the least safe because so often we just don’t know what to do with the pain so we just pretend it isn’t happening. being on the receiving end of that is so painful but i find it beautiful that you have found a way forward with so much grace and hope. and 2 years heroin-free is truly a beautiful thing! congrats to him and hope and peace to you all as you keep sharing your story and helping others along the way…i hope i can introduce you to my friend jamie, another mommy who is playing her part in this as well.

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      • Yes, feel free to pass on my info. to your friend Jamie! I’m involved in a few online support groups that maybe she has already found too? Anyway, thank you for your encouragement, as I resonate with so much you share!

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  • Kathy,

    Gosh – this post really speaks to my heart!!

    As you know (because you have been a special guest there in the past), I have a private Facebook group for Christian moms of LGBTQ kids. I started the group just so that Christian moms of LGBTQ kids would not have to be alone in their loneliness. In fact, one of the moms in the group shared this post there today because your words spoke to our circumstances so well. We often feel like outsiders and long to have that sense of belonging.

    Here’s some info in case anyone reading this wants more info:

    Serendipitydodah for Moms is a private Facebook group created as an extension of the Serendipitydodah blog. The group is secret so that only members can find it or see what is posted in the group. The group was started in June 2014 and presently has more than 1,300 members. The space was specifically created for open minded Christian moms who have LGBTQ kids and want to develop and maintain healthy, loving, authentic relationships with their LGBTQ kids. In addition to providing a space for members to share info and support one another, a special guest is added each month for a few days. The guests include authors, pastors, LGBTQ people, bloggers and public speakers. Our motto is “Better Together” and our nickname is “Mama Bears” — For more info email lizdyer55@gmail.com

    PS Kathy – we would love to have you back in the group as a guest – there are so many new members since you were there. October is open if you have a two or three days when you could spend a little time online. 🙂

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    • liz, so glad that you shared here! i love that group and i completely agree that it is a place to find the connection that so many moms desperately need when their churches don’t know how to stand alongside. can’t wait to hang out with you guys again next month. it’s good for my soul 🙂

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  • Yes. This has been hard. Especially when the biological family has unraveled, too. To know and be known feels so unsafe and yet it is the essence of living in relationship.

    Currently, I am meeting with a small group of women once a week to pray (includes pentacostals and catholics and…). I am learning that they love and respect me and view me as an important part of the group…and that caught me off guard…messed with me a bit.

    Now, I am working on overlooking religious trappings that people use and trying to focus on their heart. And the heart of each of these women is in the same direction, regardless of varying expressions and backgrounds. So deep breaths and connect heart to heart and not through terminology or method of expression. Challenging? Yep. Worth it? I am beginning to see that it is.

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      • Thanks. In spite of all the above and the looking forward to it during the week, when the day comes, I still feel a stab of fear and have to push through it. Every time. But I think part of that is just the general fear of stepping out the door that has always been there due to the early abuse. Unraveling why we react the way we do can get complicated. But someone told me that truth is the path to freedom…. 🙂

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  • It surely is hard to explain! Sometimes even to ourselves…

    There are times I wonder if this is what Jesus felt like – so often surrounded by great crowds, and yet so misunderstood and alone. And sometimes I feel just a little bit closer to him because of it, and find comfort in that place.

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  • Hi Kathy, your post really resonates with me. I’m sorry you feel this loneliness, too. Thank you for sharing.

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  • I love you, Kathy. I haven’t had time to stop by and let you know you’re in my prayers. But you are…

    My mother-in-law isn’t going to be with us much longer. We have been busy, back and forth to the hospital, trying to keep up with the “must do” list. And I have been preparing to lead a retreat that is supposed to begin this Friday. I’ve got a feeling I will have to cancel.

    I feel the loneliness now. I am being reminded that I’m not “really” family.

    It may be the grief that whispers this to us, but I hear your voice louder and clearer. “You’re not crazy. And you’re not alone.”

    Thank you.

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    • thanks my friend. thinking of you as you walk through the last days and all of the grief and realities that go with that. hugs. i have felt your prayers.

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  • Thanks for sharing this Kathy! I was just thinking today how I feel orphaned by both church and God. This encourages me to keep on hoping.

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    • thanks for taking time to share. that orphaned feeling can be so strong and you’re not alone in it. i think i wrote a post about it a long time ago called “orphans” if you put that in the search bar, it might come up. if you don’t find it, let me know and i’ll see if i can. it might be good for this conversation too. peace.

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  • Thanks Kathy! This really helps – I know others have said this but you express so well what I’ve been feeling. It’s good to know we’re not alone in the lonely and uncomfortable places. I was thinking that Jesus gets it too – it’s only been in the last few years that I have realised how much on the outside he was (how did I not see that before?) I was talking about this loneliness with a Spiritual Director friend (who is definitely one of my little pockets of love and freedom) and saying that it almost feels like I’m speaking a different language now and people can’t relate. It reminded me of going ‘off-roading’ – everyone staying on the road was saying ‘you’re crazy, why would you want to go out there? you’re bound to fall in a ditch’ but there was just so much scenery to explore you knew you had to go. Looking back at the road it often looks so much easier and everyone is going in the same direction on the clearly marked road, but the sense of freedom and having to pay close attention to the surroundings to navigate your way and meeting the people you’d never meet otherwise means you know you can’t go back. Sometimes you come across other off-roaders which is great but you’re not all travelling together in quite the same way. But we are all heading to the same end point. this image has helped me at various points to feel that I am not totally losing it and given me some language to talk about it. It’s is great to share with other ‘off-roaders’ who get it.

    Reply

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