Exposing A Well-Guarded Secret

By Keith Miller | September 30, 2010

I have been going to my church for over five years.  The sermons are helpful, and I’m learning a lot from the classes offered there.  But when I look around at other people talking and laughing before meetings or classes begin it seems like most of them have special friends that they are close to, and I feel lonely.  I know a lot of them by name and often “chit-chat” with them.  But being a “loner” feels miserable.  Any ideas?

What a great question.  I admire your openness to ask it and to try to deal with your lonely feelings.  Not only have I had them—and sometimes still do, but years ago, when I was participating in a ministers’ meeting, I met Jack.  At the time, Jack was a district superintendent whose position in his denomination made him a pastor to fifty or sixty other ministers.  He was handsome, intelligent, articulate, honest about himself, personally committed to Christ…and miserable.

As we talked, Jack told me that he felt basically lonely inside—even though he has a good family life and success in his work.  It seemed to him that many of his co-workers were part of a kind of “in-group,” and seemed to have close personal friends with whom they came and shared a room.  He couldn’t be as personal with anyone as they seemed to be with each other.  In fact, he didn’t have any close personal friends among his associates, and very few truly close personal friends at all.

As we talked, I thought about how often over the years I have felt like a “loner.”  I remembered our family moving to a new city when I was in middle school.  I looked at groups of boys who seemed to be close buddies, wishing I could be a real part of what they seemed to be sharing.  But when I became a part of such groups, and later fraternities, and even was a leader in several,  I discovered a surprising secret.  Except in rare instances, “in-group” members are not nearly as loving and vulnerable to each other about their real problems and aspirations as they appeared to be from the outside.  I discovered the “façade of intimacy” that in-groups often wear.  And this well-guarded secret makes probably millions of kids and adults feel inadequate if they do not have “lots of close friends who are ‘in.’”

As I have counseled with successful men and women over the years, I have found myself identifying with their feelings of inadequacy in this area of life so often that I began asking some of them how many really close personal friends they had.  Many replied, “None.”  Some said, “One or two,” but almost no one had more than five or six.  After having moved more than a dozen times as an adult, I realize that although there are many people I love, respond to, and enjoy being with on occasion, there are only a handful of people I feel are close friends.

All this made me wonder if perhaps many of us have been subtly conditioned to look for something which actually does not exist, expect in a few cases—a place in life with a large number of intimate, totally open friends.  In a busy active life one has the time and energy to be real friends with only a very few people on a continuing basis.

And I now believe this restless yearning for connection to others is universal.  And although we try to fulfill it through friends, mates, and children, it seems to me that this restlessness can never be completely satisfied by people.  I am becoming convinced that this deepest unrest is a longing for a deep connection with God, a longing planted in the fabric of every person’s life.  Maybe Augustine was right when he said that our hearts will always be restless until we find our ultimate rest in Him.

Some years ago a friend called me and ten other friends, telling us he was having a hard time and asking if we would meet with him over a Friday night to counsel and pray with him.  We did, and because of what those of us who came got from the meeting, we have continued to meet three times a year and share our real failures…and successes—for thirty-one years now.  It has been through those men that I have learned that at some level we are all just uncertain children.

In my own life, I feel closer to people with whom I work and pray, who are also trying to surrender their lives to God since I do not expect them to fulfill an interpersonal need which can be met only by God.  And paradoxically, some of us are becoming to each other the deeply sharing friends for whom I have always longed.

“You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”

Augustine, Confessions

“Great priests, saints like the Curé d’Ars, who have seen into the hidden depths of thousands of souls, have, nevertheless, remained men with few intimate friends.  No one is more lonely than a priest who has a vast ministry.  He is isolated in a terrible desert by the secrets of his fellow men.”

Thomas Merton, No Man Is an Island

“’A friend is one soul in two bodies.’  Yet friendship implies few friends rather than many; he who has many friends has no ‘friend’; and ‘to be a friend to many people in the way of perfect friendship is impossible.’  Fine friendship requires duration rather than fitful intensity…”

Aristotle, Ethics

Lord, give me the grace to avoid trying to force other people to give me the kind of unconditional acceptance and love that only You have to give.  Help me not to reject them when they cannot be You.  Thank You that in Christ You have offered to be the personal friend I have longed for—in whose unconditional love and acceptance I can sometimes find the courage to reach out to others.  Help me to risk their rejection in order to introduce them to You and Your truth about living as a son or daughter in this complex world.  Although I hate to admit it, I am glad that You went through the experience in Christ and with Paul of having to go it alone without friends during some trying times.  It is comforting to know that You understand the feelings of a loner.  In Jesus’ name, amen.

Jesus:

…“Then all the disciples forsook him and fled.” Matthew 26:56

“And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice…’My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’” Matthew 27:46

And Paul:

“Do your best to come to me soon,  for Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica; Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia.  Luke alone is with me… At my first defense no one took my part; all deserted me…” 2 Timothy 4:9-11, 16

Has the “façade of intimacy” affected you?  If so, how?

Do you have a close friend with whom you share your life?

One comment | Add One

  1. Pam Inman - 09/30/2010 at 2:14 pm

    Keith, I so appreciate the prayer at the end of this meditation. You are perfectly describing my experience. We must understand deep within that we are not alone. Even so vulnerability and loneliness is painful. The prayer puts into words what I may not be able to formulate but know to be the desire of my heart, the healthy perspective I need to be a healthy Christian woman.

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