This is the third meditation by David Forrester taken from his book "Listening with the Heart", published by Burns & Oates, price £1.95.
HOW MANY people do we know who hide from loneliness in over-eating, over-drinking or oversleeping? How often do we avoid a problem by indulging in all sorts of feverish activity and refusing to sit still?
Haven't we all at some stage given way to daydreams, even though they may not have reached the proportions of Welty Mitty's? Our disguises in the face of others may be even more ingeniously contrived.
Since the time of Pelagius, the British monk of the early fifth century, who taught that man took the initial and fundamental step towards salvation by his own efforts without the aid of God, it may have been an especially English failing to pretend that as individuals we are utterly self-sufficient.
We have often been inculcated with the belief that we should take pride in standing on our own feet. In reality and beneath (to others) our perhaps daunting external behaviour, we may be highly sensitive and easily hurt. How often does an aggressive manner conceal a deeper shyness and hesitant nature? Doesn't the dislike of the mention of death conceal a wish not even to think about it? Are not the "lady-killers" in our midst in fact incapable of forming stable relationships and therefore "lost" in their emotional immaturity? What of those who. in moments of crisis or panic. assert supposed rights irrelevant to the matter in hand? What are the root causes of frequent namedropping if not basic insecurity? Clearly, too, one does not have to live alone in order to suffer loneliness. It is not a simple problem confined to the elderly retired in our cathedral cities or South Coast resorts. And the noncommunication which sometimes exists within families is not always a question of the generation gap.
Haven't we all encountered husbands who "flee" from their wives into hobbies or who plead pressures of work to avoid coming home on time, and wives who "busy" themselves with the children or domestic pursuits in order to escape from the loneliness of their marriage?
What about the couples who concentrate so much on their children that, when the offspring are older and preparing to leave home the parents are worried about what will keep them together?
Such flights and poses may indeed be necessary safety-valves in a given situation, but nevertheless they are the antithesis of openness and are therefore impediments to any growth in our relationship with God and others. Just as the child needs affection from its parents, so adults need acceptance by their peers.
In extreme cases loneliness gives way to isolation and. as Erich Fromm, the eminent psychologist. has said: "To feel completely isolated leads to mental disintegration just as physical starvation leads to death."
The monk Hubert Van Zeller summed up the state of loneliness when he wrote: "To be cut off from other human beings and their love, to be cut off from all sense of God and of His love, to be cut off from what one believes to be one's real self and to be lodged in the body of a ghost who has lost the power to love — this is loneliness".
What practical steps, then, can we take to achieve a greater degree of openness, and exorcise loneliness from our individual lives? What is required to lead us to our true selves whom only God knows and understands completely, but who is ever ready to assist us if we would only listen with our hearts?
The first requirement would seem to be that we should take stock of our own flights and poses and accept them For what they are — escapes from reality. Unless in a sense we peel away the masks and subterfuges (often of our own devising) which surround what St Paul describes as our true and inmost selves. how else can we hope to know who we really are?
Equally important. until we are able to approach the ultimate region in ourselves which is beyond the reach of ordinary analysis, how can we tell that we are actually meeting God and listening to Him there with our heart? It is only when we choose to live with our more superficial selves, after all, that we experience loneliness.
What we therefore need is the much misunderstood and underestimated virtue known as humility. This actually means genuine selfknowledge. the acceptance of our good and bad points, the recognition of our true abilities and limitations, and the refusal to reach for things beyond our grasp. Above all we have to cease thinking in terms of our own self-sufficiency.
Dag I Iammarskjold was of the opinion that the Christian should pray that any loneliness he may be feeling might be a spur into finding something to live for and something great enough to die for. This will not be discovered, however. until a Christian has begun listening with the heart in silence where the Author of all meaning is to be found in each one of us.