We celebrated our younger son’s birthday this past weekend, with a trip to LEGO Land and a visit from extended family members, including my sister and her children and our mother. We all enjoyed a whirlwind of a few days–active, full, conversation-filled days.
And now they are gone. They left before dawn Sunday morning, while we waved good-bye to them in our pajamas. Mama always hugs me extra hard, extra long, when we end our visits. I know in those moments she’s holding back tears. Before this visit, it’d been almost 4 months since we’d seen each other. And after they left on Sunday, another 7 weeks will pass before we see each other again, when we visit for Christmas. After that? Who knows–I’ll let you know if a family wedding brings us together.
What a contrast to my mama’s own family life: She lives in the town where she grew up (and where I was raised, too), just a few miles down the road from her own parents–who are still living, whom I saw at least weekly growing up and most every single day in the summertime.
I understand many families go more months, even years, without seeing one another. I also know the ministry my husband and I have chosen for our lives ensures we’ll likely never live closer than a full-day’s drive from my family.
I go through my own withdrawal after a visit with family, although I usually wouldn’t let on during our good-byes that I might have tears to hold back. Somehow I got conditioned as the oldest child in a family of 4 children not to make anybody worry, not to need too much. When I got dropped off at drum major camp at age 13 and discovered that I was to stay in a dorm room alone, without a roommate for the week, I fought hard not to cry until after my parents left. Not making them worry and all that…
But I’m sad. I feel a little untethered, a little rootless, and not just because they visited and then returned to their own daily lives of which I am not a part. This is a season of loneliness, more so than even last year, in which I was also lonely. Honestly, loneliness is often a burden I carry. Some people may wrestle with an ongoing struggle with anxiety, worry, or hopelessness. For me, loneliness remains the seemingly constant companion on my path.
We moved to a new part of town in August, and we know only 2 neighbors (both men). We left our church home of 10 years in our old neighborhood and, with it, a sense of community. Our involvement in our home school co-op has decreased this year, necessarily so, but all this removes me from people with whom I once regularly interacted. Plus, I’ve taken on a hefty role in our sons’ Cub Scout pack, which leaves me with little time or energy to pursue anything else that “meets regularly.” Carving out time with friends has required lots of intent and has been difficult to coordinate, although, by gum, I will keep pursuing it with every breath in my lungs.
What do I do when I feel heartsick? Not exactly homesick–because, even though my hometown, my parents’ house, and my grandparents’ carport feel exceedingly familiar, they’re no longer home. Home is HERE; it has to be. There is no other place to experience God’s presence, goodness, and fellowship than in the midst of the life I AM living, not the one I used to live.
So…What do I do? I remember (and do) a few things that help me in staying joyful, content, and at peace:
- I spend time outside. Sometimes alone, maybe riding my new-to-me bike. Sometimes–often–with my children.
- I read good books. This summer, I read a stunning memoir called The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. I just picked up her “true-to-life” novel called Half Broke Horses. Reading brings rest and quiet to my soul. It refreshes me in a way watching TV never can.
- I make sure that I read aloud to my boys. This would happen anyway, but when I can observe myself making this a priority no matter how I feel, it brings a sense of triumph–a sense that I’m not letting sadness or loneliness make decisions for me.
- I write. Obviously.
- I spend time with God. Pray, read the Bible, write some thoughts or prayers in a journal. It’s not mystical; it’s not a practice only for “good” Christians. (And by the way, a “good” Christian is one who cries out to God, “Have mercy on me, a sinner!”) I call it a discipline of joy. Sure, another old episode of Friday Night Lights can entertain and distract me; but it probably won’t change my life.
Serving others and creating something useful or beautiful also connects me to joy. But when I truly need to marshal my resources so I can simply keep serving and giving to my own little family, I try to major in the majors.
Apart from loneliness, there’s another who is my constant companion. And He’s promised never to leave me. Glory.