There are times in my life when climbing into bed at night is the scariest part of the day. As I write that line, my memory flashes back to being 6 years old and asking my mom or dad to check the closet for monsters.
“Oh and momma, can you please leave the door open just a crack? I need to be able to see the light.”
Do you remember that feeling? A cold bed, a dark room, a hand clung on to a blanket or a stuffed animal, and a deep need for just a little light?
Now, as a 29-year-old young man, there are still nights when going to bed scares me. As I climb into bed, the sheets are cold, I turn out the lights, take a few deep breathes, and then it hits me… I’m all alone.
Loneliness can be an overwhelming feeling.
Sometimes loneliness feels like a heart that is beating faster then it should. Sometimes loneliness feels like a weight on my chest. Sometimes loneliness feels like a thought that spirals round and round in my head until I suddenly find myself out of breathe!
And in this season, as my heart is beating fast, my chest feels heavy, and my thoughts have left me out of breath I wonder, “Wait…do I have coronavirus?”
So I get up, I walk to the bathroom, grab my thermometer and check my temperature. It reads 98.6. I whisper to myself, “You’re fine, Matt. Just go back to bed.”
Does any of this sound familiar to you? I can’t imagine I’m the only one.
And so I wonder… how are you handling the loneliness? How are you handling the isolation? How are you handling the anxiety, the fear, the uncertainty, and the darkness?
This last week I have noticed a rather profound desire for gin or whiskey. I have personally purchased two pints of Haagen-Dazs Ice Cream (Cookie Dough & Coffee) and have driven through Captain Sundae’s drive through on three different occasions. And perhaps more seriously, I was reminded just the other night how my bed always used to be the place that I would scroll on my IPhone seeking out pornography… and if I’m honest there was a part of me that wanted to go back there because even though it’s not real intimacy, in the midst of the loneliness, it at least gave me a false sense of being held.
There is so much to be mindful of in this unpredictable and scary season that we call the coronavirus pandemic, and I’ve wondered if it’s even worth my throwing another thing to wonder about into the mix, but in this moment this is the question that is on my heart:
How will we hold each other?
In a season where we are being encouraged to isolate, to stay home, and to stay at least 6 feet apart…
How will we hold each other?
For better or for worse, so many of the other things we used to hold on to as a way of numbing our loneliness, as a way of coping with our anxiety or depression, as a way of avoiding those deep, dark, scary questions like, “Who am I?” or “What the hell do I believe in anyway?” are gone.
There are no more sports to watch. There are no more concerts to go to. There are no restaurants to sit down at, no more latest and greatest craft brewery’s to try, or shopping centers to spend more money at. Even as I write down the word money my chest gets tight, because it turns out we don’t have as much control over our money as we previously thought we did either. Shoot, we can’t even go to church!
And so the question still lingers… How will we hold each other?
What would it look like to hold yourself and to hold others from a posture of curiosity. Instead of trying to avoid your negative feelings or your troubling thoughts be curious about them! When you do something that you don’t typically do or if you say something you don’t typically say try your best not to go straight to guilt or shame but ask yourself, “I wonder where that came from?”
When you FaceTime your friends or if you have a meeting via Zoom be curious about the person or people sitting in front of you (even though they are on the other side of the screen). Check-in with your friends, check-in with your co-workers, and if you are feeling up to it, reach out to others to see how they are doing.
If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard a counselor emphasize the importance of “being kind to yourself” I’d be rich! But the truth is that it’s actually really important to choose kindness, towards yourself and towards others. These next few weeks are going to be stressful. You are likely going to do and say things you might not normally do. You may feel emotions you typically don’t feel! How will you respond? Will you beat yourself up and let guilt and shame overwhelm you or will you choose kindness? Get outside and go for a walk or for a run, make a meal as an individual or as a family that is nutritious and healthy, or have some fun and make a craft cocktail that can be sipped and savored instead of just consumed!
And when you run into other people… look into their eyes and smile! When the nurse or doctor calls you back or when the cashier helps you at the grocery store say “Thank you!” And when your friend or family member calls to catch up, don’t forget to say, “I love you.”
Have the courage to hold and be held…
My first job after graduating from college I had a boss who sat me down and said, “Matt, I want you to know that you are allowed to need help here. You don’t have to do this all on your own. If you don’t know what to do… just ask for help!” What a liberating invitation for a nervous kid who had no idea what he was doing in his new position! I’ve now come to realize that those three words, “I need help” are a few of the most courageous words I know.
As a counselor, I’m aware that being stuck at home is especially daunting for some of us. For the man or woman who is prone to over drinking or binging on pornography, it’s hard to be stuck at home. For the teenager who has been wrestling with suicidal thoughts, insecurities, and uncertainties, it can be really hard to be stuck at home. For a couple, that has been struggling to keep it together, even if just for the sake of their kids, it can be overwhelming to be stuck at home. For the child who doesn’t know where their next meal is going to come from, it can be literally starving to be stuck at home.
It takes courage to say, “I need help. Will you please hold me?” It also takes courage to ask, “How are you doing? How can I hold you? How can I help?”
When God created us in his image, way back when in the Garden, a few of the words he uttered were, “It’s not good for a man or a woman to be alone.” And a few years later, when His Son came down He whispered the words, “Come to me, you who are weary, you who are heavy burdened, you who are anxious, you who are hungry, you who are sick and scared… come rest… for I am gentle and humble in heart” Jesus was saying, “Let me hold you! All of you. Your brokenness and your beauty!”
In the midst of our isolation and in the midst of whatever your loneliness looks like, I hope that we can have the courage to hold and be held. Because when we hold each other, the monsters seem a little less scary, the bed seems a little less cold, and the darkness… that lonely, anxious, and unpredictable darkness, is overwhelmed by the light.