One night when I was praying the evening Liturgy of the Hours, I was struck by one of the prayer intentions for widows who “eased their loneliness and sanctified it by prayer and hospitality.” Sanctifying loneliness. Is this something I could do?
I can really relate to widows in the sense that I lost someone I dearly loved and imagined by whole life with, and was deeply betrayed and left with penetrating loneliness. The feeling of being abandoned by someone you loved cuts your heart.
This prayer intention made me think about loneliness differently. Perhaps God gave me loneliness so that I could learn to sanctify it. Maybe that's something I could learn to do with this cross I've been given to make it more bearable and even holy.
While loneliness in the sense of not having a lifelong spouse has brought me much pain and suffering and sleepless nights, it has also led me to deeper closeness with God. It has caused me to turn to prayer and service, much like the widows in the prayer intention. It's put me on the path to life.
That prayer sometimes resembles anguish and cries for help and comfort, but nonetheless, it's prayer. It's turning to God. It's a real relationship with God. Loneliness has also made me more attentive and empathetic to the silent suffering of those around me and expanded my prayer outward to the needy in my midst. It's enlarged my heart in the midst of darkness.
Perhaps this is all God's work of sanctifying my season of loneliness, and maybe I need to stop fighting loneliness as a cross I don't want and embrace it has God's holy work in sanctifying me.
If you too have been given a season of loneliness, I pray that you and I both can learn to sanctify it with acceptance and grace -- to offer it to God, turn to prayer, and open our hearts in service to those around us who are suffering. To follow the example of holy widows.
Maybe that's the true path to healing and wholeness we've been searching for: Taking the wood of our cross of loneliness and letting God make it into a tree of abundant life for the holy and sacred to burst forth from.