How To Be Happy Alone

[Me and My Lists] Part 6: The Heart-Break Kid

“They do not love that do not show their love. The course of true love never did run smooth. Love is a familiar. Love is a devil. There is no evil angel but Love.”

~ William Shakespeare

“He was despised and rejected,
a man of sorrows familiar with grief,
a man from whom people hide their face,
spurned and considered of no account.”

~ Isaiah 53:3

Usually, I love rain–the quiet gloom, the chill in the air, the sound of the storm as it roars then coalesces into bell-like percussion on the concrete.  It’s weather that is inherently “sad,” yet makes me happy somewhat–then again, I’ve always thought of myself as a bit like Doctor Who‘s Sally Sparrow: “Sadness is happiness for deep people.”  While I don’t actually think I’m all that deep, I suppose being under-water makes up for it, brings out the side of me that is pensive–a word that, contrary to popular belief, did not originate in Harry Potter (but I’m digressing).

Usually I love rain, but lately it’s made me feel more sad than deep, or maybe just deeply sad.  The gray over everything, walking to the convenience store without an umbrella, slipping and falling knees-first into sloshy, scummy puddles, the perpetual chill in the air that defies my sweaters–I’ve realized why this is usually called “cuddle weather,” because it’s weather like this that makes you long for arms and warmth and can make anyone, but especially a reluctant romantic, feel the pang (think your heart rumbling with stomach acid) of love-hunger, the desire to be one of a cuddling couple instead of a sopping-wet, sad-eyed singleton (not-so-fond new nickname: spinster) lost in a concrete sea.

(Apparently this bout of rain is bringing out the bad poet in me.)

To the point: lately the weather’s been making me lonely.  And while I’ve made the decision to be at peace with loneliness–flying solo, whatever you’d like to call it–the feeling isn’t as easy to swallow, compounded as it were by fatigue and the altogether selfish, visceral desire to feel a steady weight behind me, someone to lean on when the days make me feel boneless.

Someone I once lovedor thought I did, and I lean more towards “thought” because I find the mind can convince a girl of anything once it’s been given a direction–recently got himself a girlfriend, news which he himself told me one night when the loneliness was freezing my insides so that I was grasping at old friendships to stave off the chill.  I decided to let down the walls I’d built between me and my past (or, well, me and him) because I’d figured I was grown up enough to face it and deep (if not always true) friendships are a rare enough commodity that they’re difficult to just dispose of.

…But when he told me he had a girlfriend suddenly I felt like I’d lost, like a point had been scored against me and perhaps people are right, perhaps my standards are too high or I’m too conscientious and maybe I should have given happiness (or at least something that could pass well enough for it) a try when it was in my grasp?

I guess the feelings had been adding up before then.  Recently I’ve been feeling worn and frayed, half because I’ve actually been sick (bronchitis) and forcing myself to work (to my boss’ chagrin), and half because I’ve lately been uncovering layers of long-buried pride and that’s been causing a mess of problems.  I’ve gone so far as to call myself a “mental patient” at the moment, knowing full well that the thick, gnarled roots of the issues I’ve discovered mean that God will be working on me for a good, long while before I’m perhaps “ready” to consider letting someone else into my life.

The looming loneliness, a long and gray timeline stretching ahead of me, is discouraging, and many days I’ve felt prickly, preferring to push people away because it’s easier, I guess, to get used to the loneliness when you’re actually alone.  And maybe that’s an accurate assumption, but my heart never lets me get used to it for long, and suddenly I’m sitting-waiting-wishing or else marking a target on a nearby back thinking “Maybe he could be good for me?” but denying that the statement actually leaves out a critical “enough.

(Maybe he could be good enough for me?)

(Maybe I could be good enough for him?)

More than Valentines’, the rapidly-approaching holidays puts love in the air and makes it linger, and that mixed with melancholy has made me wonder what is more heartbreaking: to love wrong over and over (but to taste the moments in the beginning where, at least, it feels right), or to spend a lifetime waiting for the right love that might never come?

I know the answer, in my head, is the former.  The heart was never meant to be shattered and distributed among multiple permutations of “Mr. Right Now.”  It only has space for one best, one God’s best, because otherwise we go to them saying “Here, here is my heart–whatever is left.”  And love deserves a whole heart, broken in the way that means “tamed.”  But sometimes, while I am doing my best to break my heart, rein it in, it feels like it’s breaking, tearing, shattering, crying out for “Please, please just let me run wild, one more time, please?  Don’t you feel so alone?”

Faced with more questions than answers I literally ran to the throne–my bathroom, isolated enough from the rest of the house so that I did not have to answer any of my mother’s well-meant questions (anyway, she was asleep; it was pretty late).  There, curled up on the (lid-down) toilet, chest pressed to knees and arms clutching the marble countertop like a lifeline, I began to start crying…but chose to sing instead.

“Take my heart, Lord, it is yours.
Oh it is yours.
Oh it is yours.
Take my life, Lord, it is yours.
Oh it is yours.
Oh it is yours.”

I don’t know why I started singing Radical Love, the title track off of my church’s new worship album.  When consumed by melancholy, I often say whatever is at the top of mind.  What I can say, though is that in that moment, the lyrics felt less like praise and more like a desperate cry for help: “Take my heart, Lord.  It’s aching.  It’s your responsibility.  It’s yours.”

I made my choices, after all, because I knew that my First Love was not for forsaking, that I needed to get lost in God before I got lost “in love.”  But at that moment, in the unresponsive silence of my bathroom, all I felt like was lost.

“Take my heart, Lord, it is yours.
Oh it is yours.
Oh it is yours.
Take my life, Lord, it is yours.
Oh it is yours.
Oh it is yours.”

Lately I’ve realized that it is in that silence where God breaks your heart, tames it to trust Him even when He is intangible.  In those silences, you are presented with a choice to stay the course in a commitment to live worship, or else to run towards the nearest, most comforting alternative–the boy with the target on his back, the “right now,” the fleeting fall. And this is not a mere machination of a sadistic God–He does this because love is, and will always be a choice, to have faith in a promise instead of feelings. This is part and parcel of “breaking,” for wild creatures are never sensible, but tamed ones are strong and steady, able to see clearly or else step out in faith when seeing is impossible.

My heart was being broken, even as it was breaking; it was being taught to be strong enough to choose love in a circumstance where it felt so absent. It hurt, but pain isn’t always bad–the heart is a muscle, and muscles ache when they are torn apart to be built back stronger.

But muscles have limits. And in that bathroom, my emotions straining under the tension of questions and doubts and that gaping loneliness, I was about to reach it. So God walked in. My Man of Sorrows, acquainted acutely with grief and loneliness and that empty ache of loss, stepped in and started to sing.

Being a reluctant romantic means my mind is a vast repository of love songs, and as I clutched the counter, crying, I started to hear one in my head, in a voice calmer than my own, “I want to make you smile, whenever you’re sad…”

“I’ll miss you,
Kiss you,
Give you my coat when you are cold.
Need you,
Feed you,
Even let you hold the remote control…”

Who knew God was a fan of Adam Sandler songs?

The lyrics obviously didn’t completely apply, referring to romantic and married and mortal love, but in that moment, my straining heart stopped tugging at the reins. Loneliness, at its core, is the feeling that you are isolated, that no one cares. It was made very clear Someone did. Does.

It is a very personal God who owns my heart, and He knows when it needs breaking and when it needs assurance. Loving Him isn’t always easy, and often it means bearing the pain of breaking and being broken. But there are many moments like these, in the middle of the maelstrom, where He makes it the brokenness worth it. I cried my eyes out, but did not leave the room empty. The loneliness, while still there, suddenly seemed less all-consuming, less of a fact and more of a mere feeling.

The fact is I am not alone. That I never will be. That whatever happens, I am part of a love story, held in the arms of a God who is both terrifyingly powerful and infinitely personal. The fact is easy to forget when the feelings roll in like the roar of pouring rain, but eventually they die away, leaving a world not gloomy gray but silver. And this is why I still love the rain–because once it passes, the world looks new, and my heart is stronger at the broken places, and that looming timeline, the “lonely” road, seems like less of a wait, and more of an adventure; one that this heart can take.

Love’s not easy, but it’s worth it.