I’ve forgotten the speaker’s name. But I can visualize the way he held up his hand and curved his fingers into an arch when he said, “We won’t grow a mature faith unless we learn how to ride the hump of a question mark.” You have to live with unanswered questions for a while before you arrive at durable answers. Likewise, I don’t think we’ll deal well with loneliness unless we do the same.
Questions fill the experience of loneliness, from the mundane to the profound, from “What am I going to do tonight?” to “Will I always feel this way?” or “Will anyone ever love me?” or “Will things ever be better?” Notice that all of these questions deal with the uncertain future in some way. Quite frequently, too, these questions come freighted with some negative emotional presumptions that make it difficult to grasp reality.
For instance, early on after my divorce I found myself wondering, “Who would ever want to throw in with a broken-down relic like me?” I actually said that to someone who responded, “Oh, Drexel! There’s so much to deconstruct in that question that it makes me tired!” As she pointed out, I’d phrased the question in such a way that I expressed anxiety about the future coupled with a very derogatory self-assessment. I had a doubly negative mindset! So, what to do?
First, about that anxiety – In my own experience of loneliness, the hardest thing I’ve had to learn is how to trust that the future will unfold as it should. And while I believe that we can plan our future, and plan for the future, whatever future we have we’re building with the elements of the present. In order for me to have a great future, I need to appreciate and live fully in the present. Living in the present means letting some questions go unanswered with the trust that when I’m able to receive them, the answers will show up. In the meantime, I have to ride the hump of a question mark.
Second, about that derogatory self-assessment – When I settle myself to live fully in the present, I find that my negative emotions retreat. I do a reasonable survey of my blessings and in the process recognize that, among other things, I am NOT a broken-down relic. If I don’t erode my physical health by letting loneliness get the best of me, I’ll recognize that I’ve got about two decades yet to live (maybe a little more before I really start repeating my stories). Obviously, I could contract some terminal disease or suffer a fatal cycling accident, but when I engage my thinking self, I realize that I’m in good health. I’ve got years of possible service and relational enjoyment ahead of me. While I need to allow for the grief of my ended marriage, I also know that I won’t go into a joyful future on the back of perpetual lamentation. On the contrary, I find that “counting my blessings” yields a sense of celebration, and celebration attracts celebrants.
In other words, as I have allowed for an uncertain future, I’ve discovered more certain beauty in the present. That makes me smile. And people like to be around me when I’m smiling. Presto! I’m not as lonely.
It’s tough, I know, to allow for an uncertain future. Riding the hump of a question mark can be a little like being strapped to a bucking bronco. Counting your blessings, though, can transform that bronco into a sturdy draft horse pulling you steadily along your journey. You realize, “I’m going somewhere, and it’s really a pretty good ride!”
Then, there’s one other question which in my experience has hovered over all these: Where is God in all of this? I’m going to address that in the next post, but even there, I’m riding the hump of a question mark.