Years ago, I spent the winter in a village in Switzerland, where it was covered with thick snow most days from November through January. I was working in a training center for a non-profit in that remote village. That Christmas holiday, I decided not to travel thousands of miles home, instead, staying at the center where I had a dorm-room in a big old building looking over a field.
Though there were a few staff living close by, and I was thankful for being invited for the Christmas Eve dinner with a family, most days, I was alone. I didn’t have much to do other than reading, journaling, praying, and taking countless long walks treading on the many snow-covered-trails around the fields or in the woods on sunny days ( that sounds nice right now).
Growing up in the most populated city in China where most shopping malls won’t close until 10 pm, now living in a village where I saw more cows than men—men who spoke a language I didn’t understand, as you can imagine, I was feeling lonely—very much so.
This feeling of loneliness wasn’t in any way foreign to me. I had known it growing up as the only child living with grandparents. I felt it often after my dad passed away from a stroke when I was 18. It came out after many heated discussions about faith with my family and friends when I received Christ at 19. I also tasted much of it while working in a Christian non-profit after graduating from the university rather than in journalism like most of my peers, and being the only Chinese staff on many occasions during those years.
The feeling of loneliness had become like an old friend to me, whether I liked it or not. Except this friend got her tempers. When she was gentle, I could dive into my books, deep thoughts, journaling, and sometimes drawing with her company. But when she threw her tantrum at me, the ache for companionship and intimacy with other humans felt too sharp to bear.
Two years before I went to Switzerland, I was in Bali, Indonesia, for a month’s leadership training. The training center was located at the white sand beach, from whose open-air cafeteria you could watch the sunset over the sea with delicious Indonesian dishes. On that island, I immersed myself in the ocean for the first time. The speakers were inspiring, teachings were eye-opening and life-giving, and I had the most amazing, like-minded classmates from all over the world.
I had every reason to feel happy and content there, except I didn’t. Regardless of all the bliss, I felt heavy-hearted most of the time. I had ended a relationship with a guy not long ago and was still healing from that breakup. In the company of many new friends, I was secretly struggling with loneliness, big time.
There, I would take evening long walks at the beach, looking at the boundless deep blue ocean, holding up my unbearable ache of loneliness and desires for intimate relationships to God in prayers, often through tears.
There, I wondered why I felt such a deep pain inside? The kind of pain that I knew was way beyond the breakup from a three months long romantic relationship. Maybe because I was fatherless? I missed my dad.
There, in a gentle response from God, I realized for the first time, that the loneliness I was feeling was a gift from the Father.
“The BLUE you feel inside that you can’t shake; it’s from Me. It’s a place I created in you that only I could fill. It’s a gift for drawing you to Me, even on this beautiful island, surrounded by the nicest things and people in the world.”
I was given a cure, or rather, an instruction to handle the feeling of loneliness ever since. So, that winter in the Swiss village, I took my feelings and longings to the Father in many long walks, and let Him fertilize and enrich the soil of my heart under the snow of loneliness.
And you know what? From the same iced soil, the quiet flowers of peace will bloom in the following season. The kind of peace that can’t be comprehended by our mind. It transcends all understanding and confirms the gift of loneliness, just like the gift of snow to a worn-out field promises the next summer’s harvest.
Dear reader, do you feel somewhat lonely today? Take this gift, this invitation from the Father, pour out your heart to Him with thanksgiving, and expect to receive the comfort in His peace.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7 )
“You have made us for Yourself, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in You.”— Augustine