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?