When I was in eighth grade, my dad made my sister and I write a list of the characteristics we wanted in a man/boyfriend/future husband. A few eye rolls later, we both gathered a list of our non-negotiables for what would someday become the most important human relationship in our lives.
I can’t exactly remember what I wrote down, but if I had to guess, eighth-grade Jenna wrote that she wanted someone who was kind-hearted, had integrity, loved her for her, and she probably threw in a few “buys really great gifts,” just for good measure. You have to cover your bases, you know?
While those are still worthy requirements and should be in place for any type of relationship in our lives, it’s difficult to pinpoint what that looks like played out in everyday life. Unfortunately, those characteristics also border on generic. Who doesn’t want to date someone or be friends with someone who is kind and honest?
If we truly desire authentic relationships with the people in our lives, we have to be willing to look beyond settling for people who remember to hold the door open for us and don’t have an issue with telling the truth. Those standards are lazy and it’s why many of us continue to weave in and out of friendships and relationships. And it’s why many of us settle for good enough.
All too often, we get to a point in our lives when we are so burnt out on humans and on love that we find ourselves settling for the people who we estimate can do the least amount of damage to our weary hearts.
The truth is many of us aren’t sure what we’re reaching for so we wouldn’t even recognize it when it shows up. And deep down, we know that. But we suppress our intuitiveness because to figure out what we want, we’d have to really get to know ourselves. And to really get to know ourselves, we have to be alone. Devastatingly alone. We have to be so alone that we are forced to meet ourselves in rare form; a form of self that no one else but us will ever meet. And when you’re ready for that, you’re ready to meet a God who loves you fiercely.
When you allow yourself to meet yourself where you are in your growth, your pain and your mistakes, God will begin to encounter you. Slowly but surely—and maybe for the first time ever—you will start to realize who you are and who you’re not. And then, only then, will you truly know what you are looking for with the people in your life. And until then, your relationships and friendships will continue to be casual, maybe-this-could-be-it encounters rather than intentional and meaningful connections with people who fill your soul. You have to know who you are meant to be before you know who you are meant to be with.
Believe me, I’ve tried a million different ways around the loneliness. I’ve tried drinking, I’ve tried one-sided friendships, I’ve tried being a workaholic to avoid myself—and one day, I sat down and let the loneliness in. I stepped away from almost everyone in my life and I walked through the doors of isolation. And there I locked myself in, exploring the corners of a room that at first glance, looked empty. I begged God sleepless night after sleepless night to take the loneliness away. And He didn’t. What He did instead was pull up a chair and sat with me in the loneliness, night after night.
Sometimes I cried. Sometimes I prayed. Sometimes I felt too numb to do anything else but stare at the ceiling. Together, God and I stayed locked in that lonely room for months until that room began to fill with things like self-love, self-awareness and an acknowledgement of the long-denied places that I desperately needed to work on.
I’m still in that room, but it’s no longer empty. I let people back in—and they are people that I would choose a hundred times over again to be in my life. They are people that I would and will go to war for. They are people that I have and want intentional relationships with. They aren’t people that I’ve decided will do for now or that deep down, I know I’m using to fill a void. They aren’t people of convenience. They are people of my choosing.
And I think that’s why God kept me locked away. So that I could begin to identify how much of my identity I was wrapping up in other people. So I could stop using other people to avoid myself. If you continue to deny yourself the human experience of loneliness or being alone for a significant period of time, it will be difficult to recognize if you are choosing people out of convenience or out of intention.
If this post isn’t connecting with you, then good, it means you are in a place in your life where you do know yourself, you do know what you want in your relationships, and those relationships are likely thriving. But if this post is stirring something in you that you’ve been denying for years or if you find yourself in a place of falling into one hollow relationship after another, then it’s time. It’s time to step into the arena with your loneliness.
It’s time to stop filling the void with unfulfilling relationships or long hours at the office. And when you come out, you will have a better understanding of who or what belongs in your life, and what doesn’t. And you may find that you very well have exceptional people in your life, but due to your lack of wholeness, you haven’t been able to appreciate them or connect with them. If your relationships are suffering, you may come out of this, like I did, realizing that the people you want in your life are people that are already in your life.