Recent conversations have led me to think more than usual about loneliness in modern life. I often speak of clergy life as being all of us fighting the same battle, from different foxholes. But loneliness is a factor, a reality, and I think it’s worse for the laity. The closer one stands to the altar, the more one gets that “Christ is in our midst” is not a mindless greeting but the statement of a profound reality. When one lives far from church, both physically and metaphorically, it becomes harder to keep this in mind. What to do?
On a pragmatic level, the best thing is to find other Christians and spend time with them, first and foremost in church, sure, but in the ancient times the Agape meal was considered part of the service. Now it’s too hot, it’s too cold, the Sisterhood doesn’t serve things you can eat, the kids have a ball game or a birthday party — we leave each other in the narthex till next week. And so all of us on some level feel abandoned and alone.
How to fix it? The first thing is to pray for each other, every day. Even if it’s just that you’re walking through Walmart and see something that reminds you of your godson, this is from God, this is your chance to say, “God bless my godchildren and be with them! Mother of God, cover them with your veil! Guardian angels of my godchildren, thank you, protect them, correct their thoughts and keep them from despair!” If we react appropriately to these little flashes, like instant messages from God, we will build the foundation in our hearts, and the people we pray for will on some level know. Somehow they will feel the love, they will have new courage.
Secondly, we need to feed each other. Does someone in your parish live near? Invite them over for supper! Does someone in your parish live alone? When you make too much of something, put that last serving of pasta or last piece of pie in a container and drop it at their house, sharing a word or two in passing.
Thirdly, bring the people whom you miss, in church, to the services with you. Start by bringing them in your heart. Pray for them, light candles, ask God to lead them to come to church with you. Then, call them up, or pick them up, or invite them, or encourage them. When you hear the barrage of reasons why people don’t want to come — the old ladies who criticize or the young people who dress wrong, the priest who speaks too much or too little — all you have to say is this: “Yes, but I love you and I miss you. Who can separate us from the love of God?”
We don’t have to start big. We just have to start. Because in curing the loneliness around us, we will notice, to our surprise, that our own bruised and empty hearts have suddenly become whole and full. Baby steps are fine. We just have to start walking the walk.
Matushka Ann and her husband, Archpriest George Lardas, live in Stratford, CT. Fr. George is the rector of St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church in Stratford and Matushka Ann is the choir director. They have four grown children. Matushka Ann is currently studying writing through Fairfield University’s MFA program, and should graduate in 2016.