One by One

Whoever wrote “The Ants Go Marching One by One” did not live in the tropics.

Lately, in my kitchen, it seems more like they go marching ten-by-ten, or twenty-by-twenty, or fifty-by-fifty. They join ranks and divide and conquer, leaving me feeling helpless against such a tribe. 

The other day as I was doing ant-battle once again, I muttered under my breath, “Ants are not lonely creatures.” They’ve got all the companions anyone would ever need.  

It often seems like a different subject could fit the marching one-by-one song a lot better. People. Humans. Us.  

No matter life circumstances, loneliness can be a part of the story. We hear a lot about the loneliness epidemic lately.  Social Media often takes the brunt of the blame, and rightly so. But this is not a difficulty new to our times; since the moment Eve believed the lie and trusted someone else’s word over God’s, the characters in our world’s story have battled loneliness. None of us likes to stare that beast in the eye, but at some point, all of us do.  

A few months ago, I snapped off the light, rolled over, and stared into the darkness, and this thought sprung to the surface: “I’m lonely. Right now. Right here in this very day, this very moment. I feel lonely. I miss being known.”

I leaned into this thought, and wondered, “Why?” I live a full, fulfilling, fun life here in my host country. I have been abundantly blessed with all manner of new friendships, good co-workers, and platforms where I can interact with so many people. It’s getting rare to go anywhere here in my little section of the city without running into someone I know. 

But I’m lonely. This season can feel pretty one-by-one. The ants sure don’t have to go it alone, but I feel like I do. I miss the depth of relationship that years of friendship rewards you with. I miss not having to explain myself. I miss living and interacting in a culture that makes sense to me. I’m lonely because I miss that, I miss them.  

“I know, so was I.”  

The still, small voice stopped me in my thoughts. I am missing the people and culture who have known me in a fallen, imperfect way for a few dozen years. Jesus left being 100% fully known, in a way I only know a glimpse of, for all of ages past. While all through the Gospels we see him prioritizing his relationship with his father, it is being fleshed out in a very different way from what he had ever known before. 

What rich communion He stepped away from when he made himself nothing. I never quite saw it before that night. And after ages and ages of being known in that context, he left it behind and entered the world of the lonely.  

I can’t say that all my loneliness flew away like a kite following that little interchange, but something settled deep inside of me. I’m understood. Jesus knows this loneliness. This very feeling I have of missing being known, He has known this, too.  

And there’s another side to this I think is worth exploring. I usually look at loneliness as something I need to fix. If I set some relationship goals and pursue them, the ache will be assuaged and I will come out on the other end feeling whole. And to some extent, I think that’s ok. God gave us community as a gift, and we need to pursue that actively. 

But maybe it’s more than just an ache simply to spring me to action; maybe it’s meant for something more. In one of my favorite books, Every Moment Holy, Douglas McKelvey writes a “Liturgy for Inconsolable Homesickness.” In the past year, I’ve turned to that page quite a number of times, because somehow his words remind me that this aching I feel for being known is not just something to be fixed and wiped away, but a window into something more. In the final lines of the liturgy, McKelvey writes this: “We are letting sorrow carve the spaces in our souls that joy will one day fill.” 

Did you catch that? These sorrows are being redeemed. This loneliness, this ache, is creating space for future joy.  

What would happen if the next time I felt that wave of loneliness, I would remind myself that Jesus knows this ache and also that in the end, this space will brim with joy?  

You are not alone: you are understood and known more than you can imagine. This ache is not wasted; in fact, its depths will highlight the joys in the ages to come.  

So, those silly ants can have their armies, because sisters, you and I have the redeeming, reigning King. 

And nothing gets better than that.

What does loneliness look like in your world?  How could thinking of future joy filling the space of sorrow help redeem it?  


  1. Joyce March 10, 2019

    Maria, thanks for sharing! I also feel very lonely at times and “miss being known.” But thanks for the reminder that Jesus experienced “loneliness” far deeper than we can imagine and understands. And also the ache that sorrow and loneliness brings should be accepted rather than dreaded knowing the holes they make will be filled with joy in Jesus’ presence!

    1. Maria March 11, 2019

      I’m really taken with the thought that even this loneliness is not wasted – what a Redeemer we have! May you be reminded of that as you walk through the lonely spaces in your life.

  2. Kathleen March 10, 2019

    This was an amazing word for me – for such a time as this! Thank you for sharing sweet sister!

    1. Maria March 11, 2019

      Thanks for your comment, Kathleen. May your season of loneliness be filled with reminders of God’s presence!

    1. Maria March 11, 2019

      Thank you, Ruth!

  3. Elizabeth March 10, 2019

    Whoa, that Douglas McKelvey quote. “We are letting sorrow carve the spaces in our souls that joy will one day fill.” Thank you for sharing! (Also that means you are a rabbit?! 🙂 )

    1. Maria March 11, 2019

      Rabbit alert! Yes, I am a Rabbit – and I am thrilled to meet another one on here! Velvet Ashes and Rabbits combining sounds like a nice mix to me. Here come all thoughts of Velveteen Rabbits, ha! Really, though, have you gotten your hands on “Every Moment Holy”? I was at Hutchmoot 2017 (can’t believe I was lucky enough to be there – it was incredible) which was right when the book launched which was also two weeks before I moved overseas. So those liturgies have cultural adaption and all other first year adjustments written all over them for me. So profound and so many beautiful invitations to redirect my focus.

      1. Elizabeth March 11, 2019

        No I’ve never been to Hutchmoot though it sounds like a dream come true! And I don’t have a copy of Every Moment Holy, either.

        You might be interested in the poetry of Malcolm Guite, and Anglican priest and musician. I have two of his books of sonnets. One on the sayings of Jesus (Parable and Paradox) and one on the church year (Sounding the Seasons). His poetry is soooooo good.

        I love Andrew Peterson’s books and his music, I love Hetty (we fell in love with Hey Annaliese last year and she just recorded my husband’s Spiritual Warfare Lullaby!!!!), I love Rebecca Reynolds (her blog and her book).

        Besides the liturgy book, what are some of your Rabbit Room favorites?

        1. Maria March 11, 2019

          I really have to check out Malcolm Guite – I actually have never heard of him. I love the idea of sonnets on the church year.
          I am also a huge fan of Andrew Peterson; his music is my go-to, and I feel like I am constantly finding new levels of meaning – I love the other Andy’s music, too (Gullahorn). I agree on the Rebecca Reynolds – Courage, Dear Heart, might have been titled “Weep Deeply, Maria” and it would have been an appropriate name. I am deeply attached to the Book of the Dunn Cow series by Walter Wangereen Jr. (although I have not read book 3 yet) and really enjoy following the pieces of the Rabbit Room blog.
          And I hope one day you can pilgrimage to Hutchmoot. It’s really quite lovely. I do want to go again when I’m not in the throws of transition. While I loved the weekend so much, I was in a sort of emotional storm (2 weeks before launch) and would love to go again when I’m a bit more settled.
          Someday! Wow – it’s fun to have rabbit talk.

          1. Maria March 12, 2019

            I love it! Thanks for sharing.

  4. Beth March 10, 2019

    Ha! Central America has ANTS! EVERY WHERE! I think our home was built on an ant hill. And yes there have been major battles…
    I am learning to let the sorrow carve. And it goes deep and it goes wide.

    Last week I was led to though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…I cant get around it at all. I have to go through…and this time is just that a death to the old…let the sorrow carve…

    Thank you

    1. Maria March 11, 2019

      Funny how ants seem to be a battle on every continent – I thought they had all moved to Asia by the looks of my kitchen. Haha – but yes, good thought and hard thought, too, how we need to walk through the valley – but so lovely how He redeems that time. I hope you are reminded of that today!

  5. Patty March 10, 2019

    I have had that problem too. Then bought Borax at the pharmacy and it worked. No more ants.

    Thanks for sharing that insightful revelation of Jesus.

    1. Maria March 11, 2019

      Totally buying Borax.
      Thank you.

  6. Jenilee Goodwin March 11, 2019

    Ant battles are REAL! And there are hundreds of them coming from the craziest places. Every day. But more importantly, I love your analogy and very much appreciated that quote. So true… future joys.

    1. Maria March 11, 2019

      So we wield our weapons and fight those ants! So true, the ODDEST places. Yesterday they were coming out of the door of my kitchen cupboard. The door? Why? Because they wish to live in every square inch of my house I guess. But they shall not prevail.
      And yes, may those future joys be an encouragement to you today!

  7. Grace L March 11, 2019

    Excellent post, Maria. I like your insights. As I read your post, I was reminded that when we feel lonely, Jesus wants us to draw closer to Him and feel His love and presence. I was also reminded that our time on the field may include loneliness, and probably will at times, but our experience of loneliness may be part of the sacrifice that we bear as we go forth to where He calls us.

    Right now I am not experiencing so much loneliness, but I have in the past and I can well understand how it feels. And I am reminded how much of a sacrifice Jesus made to leave heaven and come to earth. Thank you for sharing your heart in all this.

    1. Maria March 11, 2019

      In my life, this has really been seasonal, too. Some seasons, I feel like my cup is full and loneliness is not so close to home, and other times, wow, it’s my constant companion. I like what you say about being reminded of Jesus’ call to move closer to him in those seasons… good word!

  8. Rich March 11, 2019

    Cheryl shared this. Good word, Maria. Well written. I’m the only man commenting it seems, but hey what’s a cousin supposed to do? Rich 🙂

    1. Maria March 12, 2019

      Haha – real cousin problems. 🙂 Thanks for being the brave man to comment, Rich.

  9. Jenny March 12, 2019

    Thanks Maria for sharing this. I’ve been battling some intense loneliness and getting lost in the downward pull into depression. I needed those reminders that I am not alone. That the ache will be redeemed and filled with joy. That Jesus knows what I am going through. I need to keep pressing deeper into Jesus and anchor in the Truth. You said “this aching I feel for being known is not just something to be fixed and wiped away, but a window into something more.” Couldn’t that be a deepening of relationship with Jesus? Maybe he gives us a season of loneliness to draw our hearts for more of Him.

    1. Maria March 12, 2019

      I’m really sorry to hear you’re in the middle of this – it is a difficult road to walk. I like your thoughts on letting this be an invitation to draw you closer to God’s heart. You’re not alone – may the Truth of Jesus’ love be an anchor for you.

  10. Sally Pim March 12, 2019

    This was so beautiful to read. Thank you so much for sharing Maria! Such relatable feelings and I love that hope we can hold onto – that one day the spaces our sorrow carves out in our souls will be filled with joy!
    Also. Ants. Gahhh they’re everywhere here at the moment. Definitely fighting a losing battle in my home!

  11. Joy Richmond May 14, 2021

    I found your post searching for who said the McKelvey quote. I had written it in my journal but couldn’t remember where it was from. It’s amazing how the same words struck two people in exactly the same way. You articulated exactly what I have been wrestling with for several years now but has lately really been coming to the forefront, and I know the depth of the kind of homesickness you’re talking about. Guess I just wanted you to know.

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