Is there a common thread running through the heart and experience of humanity? I have the recurring impression that we live a large portion of our lives lost and in a search for home. Carl Sandburg captures this in his poem, “Lost.”
“Desolate and lone
All night long on the lake
Where fog trails and mist creeps,
The whistle of a boat
Calls and cries unendingly,
Like some lost child
In tears and trouble
Hunting the harbor’s breast
And the harbor’s eyes.” 1
My recognition of this condition seems to move in and out of focus through the various seasons of my life. It seems it is not a subject we readily and openly embrace or understand, but it is one with which we learn to quietly live. Indeed, we go to great lengths to protect ourselves against the specter of loneliness by creating innovative and responsible ways fill our lives with “meaningful activities” and relationships. Dating and companionship services are more prolific in America today than ever before in history. As soon as we reach puberty we begin to seek out and join with another who can provide us with meaning and reassurance that life is worth living, one who will journey with us in our search for meaning.
C. S. Lewis noted, “We are born helpless. As soon as we are fully conscious we discover loneliness. We need others physically, emotionally, intellectually; we need them if we are to know anything, even ourselves.”2 But this need, and our efforts to fill it, creates a seeming paradox in our lives (one of many): each of us, at the level of our purely human condition, is most essentially a lone soul on a journey through this life. It is fundamentally in our nature to seek “another” with whom we can join so that we do not remain a lonely “one.” And when we are “two,” we then endeavor to become one with each other. In fact, it seems that our strongest desire may be to become one with another, to be intimately, emotionally, and physically joined.
In its perfect state, “joined” is on the opposite pole from the lonely “one.” In the Bible it is written, “So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, because we are members of His body; for this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and shall be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” (Ephesians 5:28-29)
But, is it not curious that, while we have been created with a seemingly insatiable need for oneness and joining, yet we seem to spend our lives in a perpetual state of struggle between joining and separation. We long for someone to be the object of our affection — and we to be the object of theirs. We yearn for family, a home, for connection, and the belonging it appears that these states should represent. But as we progress into this state of joining and belonging we often, over time, slowly languish, feeling a sort of tyranny of oneness, of this joining of our lives and thoughts.
Periodically we may find ourselves asking, “Who am I? Am I ‘me’ or is my ‘me’ being lost as I become this other person?” It seems in our inexorable quest for oneness we somehow underestimate our equally powerful need for individuality and separateness, as well as our fear of letting intimacy and relationship penetrate too far into our heart.
I believe we greatly underestimate the full cost of the sacrificial love required to continue to render a relationship intimate and sustainable. Jesus described this price when he spoke of the cost of loving and following God: “Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?’” (Matt 16:24-26)
This admonition describes the price that must be paid in joining in relationship with God as well as joining in and maintaining a successful relationship with another human. I am sure you have learned by now that successful relationships are not primarily about getting, but more about giving. And the giving, over time, must be generated from both sides lest one partner in the relationship become more of a caregiver than a friend or lover.
Whoever pours out his or her life, first for God, then for a person in order to be a companion, friend or lover — and builds relationship — will find life. But whoever withholds his or her life, love, and companionship from God and others, and stores up life primarily for themselves, will “lose” their life and find themselves lost and alone where the “fog trails and the mist creeps.”
1 Sandburg, Carl. Harvest Poems 1910-1960. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1960.
2 Lewis, C. S. The Four Loves, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1971.