- Mother Theresa
The whole conviction of my life now rests upon the belief that loneliness, far from being a rare and curious phenomenon, peculiar to myself and to a few other solitary men, is the central and inevitable fact of human existence.
- Thomas Wolfe
That there is within all of us a hunger to be loved is a more or less universally accepted fact. Babies who are not touched, held, caressed, will wither and die. Children who are not shown affection will as a rule grow to be twisted mockeries of humanity. Adults who do not belong to some kind of community - whether it be a social group, a religious organization, or the most basic community of all, marriage - inevitably turn into themselves and become either mindless hedonists who live for the swiftly fleeting pleasures of the flesh, or plunge into depression.
But I wonder... is it really the need for love that we crave in our innermost selves, or the need for understanding? For loneliness is rarely cured by mere love - that is to say, a beggar on the street may be shown the charity of a passer-by who casts coins at his feet, but will the loneliness of that beggar's existence be cured? Doubtful. Sit with that man, however, and speak to him long enough to understand him, and that beggar will now carry within himself the knowledge that there is someone who is out there who knows him.
Such knowledge is the ultimate key to our salvation, as is shown by D&C 39:23:
And again, in D&C 84:98, when the Prophet was speaking to a group of elders who had recently returned from their missions, he spoke to them of the essential terms and conditions of the return of Christ:
And so this knowledge of Christ, this understanding of Him, becomes not only central to His return, but to our own Salvation.
But to return to the opening theme of this essay: of loneliness. How can we have knowledge of something in the way that Christ speaks of? Oddly enough, I came to the realization that I was doomed to loneliness after I had been married for some years.
This is not a reflection on my wife, whose goodness is unparalleled, but rather a mere recognition of the fact that this was the one person who had come to know me better than any other. To know my great works, and my moments of weakness; to know my sunlights and my shadows.
Still there were (and are) things about me that she does not know; that she never can know, either because I am unwilling to share them (who among us does not have some secret that they fear will make them unlovable to those around them), or - more often - because I am simply incapable of conveying to her the feelings that I am experiencing or have experienced. Years and years can be spent discussing one's worst day, or one's best moment, without scratching the surface of the actual feelings of that time.
Nephi spoke of this when he mentioned that mortal words could not capture some of the things that he had been shown - that he had felt - when in communion with God. And it is also the same with us, for we are children of God, and so have the power within us to experience emotions so great and so terrible that words fail, we are left powerless to communicate the experience to another human being...
And so we find ourselves, in a word, alone.
And then, being alone, we find ourselves lost. Because none of us can find our way in this life or to the next without a guide. We learn this in the scriptures, in the Temple, in the very structure of the Priesthood and the Patriarchal orders through which we learn and grow... and in which there is always someone above us, showing us the path that lies ahead, and helping us thereby to pass through the brambles and thistles of sin and temptation unscathed... or as unscathed as we are willing to be.
But still there is that hidden part, that secret part that lies within all of us. Be it because of sin that we fear to share, or righteousness that we cannot express, within each and every one of us is an area so vast and profound that it cannot be shown in any way to any other.
And that, I think, is the true saving Grace of Christ. For only through His Spirit can we truly understand, not merely Him, but one another. Only when communing with the spirit can I truly commune with my wife. Only when a Bishop listens to the promptings of the Holy Ghost can he be inspired to understand the ailments of a contrite sinner. Only when the Prophet himself hears the still small voice can he understand humanity's woes - and oh what a burden, to be responsible for lifting not only oneself, but the world - sufficiently to succor them.
Loneliness is the art of the devil. It is the natural effect of the fall of Adam, for what did Adam and Eve first feel when they left Eden? I doubt it was the cold and misery of the lone and dreary world into which they had been cast; rather, I suspect it was the separation from the Almighty, and the sudden knowledge that they no longer fully understood their partner. For when they walked in innocence, understanding was unnecessary. And when they then graduated to knowledge, such knowledge was insufficient to encapsulate all of the experiences that each one's partner had gone through.
We are, after all, of finite mind. So how could we hope to understand the infinite perambulations of even one other person, no matter how close that person may be to us?
My wife still surprises me (generally and most often in a good way).
I know that I still shock her from time to time (probably less often in a good way).
How may I know her?
How can she know me?
And with those questions comes the greater: how can I ever hope to know Christ? For as we have seen, without that knowledge, He will not return. Without that knowledge, I shall never sing the song of His redeeming grace. Without that knowledge, I will not be saved.
And the answer, as so often is the case with the Gospel, lies within the question.
How can I know Christ? Through His Grace. Through His Spirit and Atoning intervention.
It is interesting that the first thing that God did after creating Adam was to "breathe" life into him. The base of the word "breathe" is "inspire," as in "inspiration" which means not merely to take in air, but to take in knowledge and truth.
The key to Adam's first moment of life was understanding.
The key to our last moment of judgment will be the same.
The loneliness that plagues all of us is a human condition, a mortal frame, a temporal reality. But it does not - must not - be an eternal one. For in Christ we may find the same breath of life that inspired Adam. We may find understanding of our Lord, and in understanding Him, will be like Him. We will be saved. We will be loved.
And never again, will we be lonely.