Seeing a movie thematically focused on loneliness is not a great choice when you’re feeling lonely. In my defense, I was trying to make the most of my Christmas break by seeing as many award season films as I could, and “Moonlight” was supposed to be this gorgeous film. Still. I emerged feeling trapped in a bubble of loneliness.
“Moonlight” tells the story of Chiron at three different moments in his life: childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. He struggles to fit in with his family and peers and, not surprisingly, experiences deep loneliness as a result. On the surface, I have very little in common with Chiron. I am not African American. I am not gay. I was not raised in a single parent home. My mom is not addicted to drugs. Yet, his loneliness struck a chord in me. I know what it is to be lonely. Maybe we all do.
If I trace back the story of my life, one of the major through lines in it all has been my loneliness. It’s almost so pervasive that I forget to acknowledge it. My Mom was sick when I was younger and when she felt especially bad, it was hard for her to even get out of bed. I felt powerless to make her better and didn’t understand how she could be there, and yet, not be there. In those moments, I internalized the belief that I was alone.
I am a master at avoiding my loneliness. In “Moonlight” Chiron literally constructs a new self, one that is confident and masculine. He busies himself with work and exercise, leaving little room to feel the loneliness. I avoid my loneliness through overbooking myself, watching Netflix, and wasting hours on Facebook. The funny thing is, sometimes I’ve felt the loneliest when I am surrounded by many people. Loneliness isn’t just about literally being isolated. It also deals with feeling unseen or unknown. Which makes me think that loneliness comes from within more so than from external circumstances. It is triggered by those external circumstances, but I think that the loneliness itself is a sort of primal fear that resides in each of us. We are just afraid to talk about it with each other.
There are multiple passages in the Bible about God dwelling with his creation. In fact, one of his names in the Old Testament, Emmanuel, literally means “God with us”. Maybe he repeats himself, because he knows how hard it is for us to live and breathe that truth – that we are not alone. There are days when I believe that God is with me, and then there are days when everything in life seems to confirm the fear that I am alone. These passages of scripture about God being with us function as both a truth teller and a truth revealer. We are reminded of our true state (not alone), while we are also invited to explore the ways in which we struggle to truly believe that. We sit in the tension. And God meets us there.
That doesn’t always make me feel at peace with my loneliness, but sometimes, the idea that God meets me in the tension, comforts me and gives me freedom to just be there. For now.
Two Ways to Engage with Your Loneliness
- What is your response when you feel lonely? Do you hide? Do you get busy? Become aware of how you react and pay attention when you find yourself falling into these patterns. When you find yourself avoiding your loneliness, pause and take a moment to reflect with God on why you feel lonely. Allow him to meet you in the tension.
- One way to remind yourself of God’s presence is to meditate on scripture. Find a passage about God’s presence and make it your prayer, returning to it on a regular basis. You may even want to turn it into a breath prayer, quietly saying the words in tune with your breathing. If you are unsure of which verse to use, you may want to start with Matthew 28:20b (NIV):
“And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”