Confession: I am Lonely

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By Kendall Vanderslice | Twitter: @kvslice

I like to keep myself busy. I don’t know if I do it to mask my loneliness, or prove how not lonely I am.

For several years I’ve held on to a damaging lie: If I could find my contentedness in Christ alone, the loneliness will disappear. I squelched any cravings for intimacy or touch, buried them under work and school. I could run around numb so long as exhaustion remained in control. Once I finished school and changed jobs, I hoped that the absence of exhaustion would somehow mean the absence of the loneliness, but instead, I am learning that even when I’m at my best, loneliness is here.

And it is okay.

In my work, I study food—meals to be precise. I recently finished my Master’s in food studies, where I wrote about commensality: the social dynamics of eating together. I joke that in studying food, I study sex as well. (It’s funny because it’s true.)

Eating is one of only two acts that employ all the senses at once.
Eating is one of only two acts that are necessary for the continuation of life.
Eating is one of only two acts that provide physical pleasure while addressing a physical need.

When used well, eating has a powerful ability to bind community together in joy, but when used irresponsibly it can tear a community apart in heartbreaking grief. Whenever I meditate on the liturgy of the Eucharist, my studies of commensality always linger at the forefront of my mind.

I don’t think the similarities between eating and sex are any small coincidence, knowing the thoughtful God we serve. Rather, their similarities illuminate a theology that honors the need for intimacy and the inevitability of loneliness that exist in both singleness and marriage. They offer a re-consideration of the seriousness and the pleasure that bind a community together through the simple, solemn act of breaking bread.

I’m discovering that in both my loneliness and my business, I have misinterpreted my needs. I have felt my desire, my longing for intimacy, and I assumed it’s a need for a spouse. This has blinded me from seeing what Christ has already set forth: a meal in which an entire community commits to addressing this very need.

As I’ve faced my loneliness head on this season, I found myself repeating my usual prayer: “Provide a partner for me or make this loneliness disappear.”

Instead God has offered me a different prayer: “Voice your inner heartache, join with community, and lament.”

Perhaps the desire for intimacy, to be known, is supposed to be met primarily through Eucharistic community. The commitments we make as we dine on bread and wine are Christ’s response to the loneliness that we feel. The loneliness still exists, and it’s okay. We are beloved anyway. We are beloved by a global and historical communion of sinners and saints, bound together in the Body of Christ.

I like to think I could be ready for marriage, to vow myself body and soul to partnership and care for another. But the commitment to a full community is a much more daunting, even more attractive, task. It’s a chance to bear the burdens of many more than one, and also share in all of their joy. It means opening myself up to the risk of being hurt but also the safety of being known. It’s a chance to share my loneliness with the group, for them to hold it with me and know that it is okay. Their presence is a constant reminder that while I am lonely, I am not ever alone.

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kendallMy best writing comes to mind when I’ve got dough between my fingers; I scribble down my favorite lines on sheets of parchment dusted with flour. Bread derives its strength in the balance of tenderness and tension – formed by the firm hands a gentle but steady baker. I’m slowly, beautifully, painfully, eagerly discovering what this looks like translated into the life of faith. I am the head baker at Simple Church, a United Methodist dinner church, and I blog about the intersection of food, faith, and culture at avandersliceofthesweetlife.com.

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