It’s funny how little it can take to touch someone’s heart.
In 2016, I encountered loneliness so deep and painful that sometimes I actually wanted to die. There was physical pain, which already broke me in a hundred different ways; and then there was the utter hopelessness and loneliness I felt every day when I woke up. I would actually hope that each night would be my last sleep, and that I would not wake up, because even death would be better than waking up in that pain. Jesus, I told myself, had surely suffered less on the cross because at least for him it was over sooner.
No one knew this.
A few months ago I finally told a close friend that I had wanted to die at the time. Her instant response was heartbroken: she never knew this, next time please tell her if I ever felt that way again. I had never even mentioned my pain (we communicated mostly over messages and didn’t see each other often) because I didn’t want to bother her. She was busy packing to move back to the United States. I didn’t want to give her an extra thing to worry about.
I never told anyone because I felt no one cared enough. There was no one in my life to whom telling these thoughts would not be a burden. I felt burdensome and useless. I didn’t want to accentuate this by telling my sobstory to a person who potentially might not truly care, and who might reply me with trite, cliché encouragement that they didn’t really mean. I didn’t know who could love me enough to actually care. Several times I stared at my phone and scrolled through the contacts, contemplating whether I could send anyone a message asking for comfort—a cry for help, as it were—but the immense fear of being an unwanted burden crippled me. Everyone was busy with their own lives. No one had the time to love me.
There was God, of course, and every day I cried out to him and begged him to take this away from me. And he sent comfort when I spoke to him. He showed me verses and gave me peace. But the problem still loomed—God, almighty though he is, is not tangible. And for my shallow human heart, omnipresence without tangibility was not enough for me.
This hurt most when I knew what I needed: I needed a shoulder to cry on; I needed someone to tell me they still loved me and that I was not worthless, or that no one cared about my disfigurement. I needed someone to hold me tight and tell me that everything was going to be okay. I needed someone who loved me enough to shoulder the burdens alongside me.
No one ever did that.
Yes, several people asked after me when they saw me. I kept it light. I didn’t want to bother them. I don’t believe anyone not in my family knew at the time the extent of the phsyical pain I was going through. And I never told anyone of the mental agony. I was scared that they were just asking out of small talk; they didn’t really want to know the full extent of my pain. I didn’t want to be an emo person sharing my sob story—something deeply personal and painful—with someone who had just asked how I was out of small talk. I didn’t want to scare them away. So I hid under a cover as best as I could. I wanted to be strong. But inside, way deep inside—I wanted someone just to be there with me and love me. I cried out to God, asking him to send someone to just message me and ask how I was. It never happened. I continued forging through alone. The pain ended and I am healed now, but this is not at all how I would want it ideally.
What am I getting at? Already at the beginning God decreed: “It is not good that man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18). This is so much broader than just marriage. I sometimes hear preachers speak of the ‘God-shaped void’ in each one of us. I put it to you that there is also a similar human-shaped void within our hearts. It doesn’t matter whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert. We all need people. My love language isn’t even physical touch, but I craved it nonetheless. We just need love, love as such as can be felt tangibly, because sometimes we are too shallow to appreciate the magnitude of God’s love. We need something we can experience on an equal level. Yes, his grace is sufficient, but sole reliance on God when no one else is there is extremely difficult. It would have been far easier to live if someone had just reached out to me in my darkest point.
No one should have to go through their struggles alone, especially in Christian circles. The church is the Body of Christ: when one part is hurt, the whole body is sick. It is incredibly wrong that someone should have to hide their pain and bottle up negative emotions when people in the church should be there for the expressed purpose of loving and healing. It pains me whenever I hear of people putting on a happy front and suffering untold misery on the inside. It shouldn’t be that way. It should never be that way.
So what can be done to counter this? The simplest way to put it is to take the initiative. Most of the time people will hide their pain in an effort to be strong. In fact, most of the time you may not even know whether someone is even hurting. It falls to you to gently peel back the layers until you find what is hurting them the most. Ask them how they are doing, and mean it. It’s extremely obvious when this is said out of casual insincerity. Show them you care, you truly care. Don’t just ask once. Come back to them again and again, proving that it wasn’t flippant the first time you asked. Message them asking them if they’re okay, or whether they need to talk about anything. Just be there. Be available so that they know you do love them enough.
Sit down with the person, if possible, and really talk to them. Probe them till you find signs of an inner pain, then start to unearth it, never judging them, only loving them. Assure them of your sincere love and care for them, and reiterate this until they believe it. Pray for them right there and then. The next time you see them, tell them that you have been praying. You have no idea how much it means when someone tells you that they have been praying for you. “I have been praying” is infinitely more meaningful than “I will be praying”. Anyone can say the latter.
I don’t think anyone would want to find themselves in the position of not having known when one of your close friends was suffering. It may even horrify you when you find out years later that they had been hurting at the time and you had never realised. You have to ask after those whom you care about. Check in on them.
On the other side of the coin, there are the people like me, who experience untold suffering but insist on bottling it up because they feel no one cares enough to take time on their woes. Don’t do this. I have told my story to a couple of close friends long after the painful period, and the response was the same. They wished they had known. They wished they had been there to comfort me, because they would have had they only known. I know you want to be strong. I know you don’t want to burden people in their busy lives. But let it occur to you that sometimes they would want to share the burden—if they would even know that it exists. I know it’s hard, and it’s terrifying for you to take the first move and ask for help. But if no one reaches out to you first, don’t be scared. Reach out to the people you love. Ten to one they will throw aside their busy lives and spend time talking to you. I know I would do that.
My story is not entirely unhappy. There were times, little pockets of light in the seemingly neverending tunnel, when people came up to me. I could sense their sincerity, and it touched me so deeply.
“Can I pray for you?”
“Are you okay?”
“We’ve been praying for you every day.”
“So tell me about this.”
I remember you, even if you don’t remember saying this to me. I remember you, and I remember the warm feeling that blossomed in my heart when you took the first move and showed that you thought a little about me. I remember how I smiled that night, with that much more hope that maybe people did love me, even if so little. I remember, and you mean so much to me.
But imagine how much easier it would have been for me if this had been taken a step forward. Imagine if people had messaged me, not only asking about me when they saw me. Imagine if they had messaged me when I woke up in the middle of the night in pain, or when I was at home crying because of that heavy sense of loneliness. Imagine if they had had a long talk with me, taking the time out of their busy lives just to uncover my façade and find out my darkest, most painful thoughts.
I don’t want it to be the way I faced it for anyone else. It’s honestly not that hard.
So take the initiative to love.