I tend to experience loneliness quite often: I’m a melancholic temperament, which means that I prefer order, solitude, and time to think. As a natural introvert, I relish the rare moments when my kids are all in bed and I feel as if my brain can decompress from teaching my first grader about place value or answering the question, “What’s on your shirt?” from my preschooler ten times or rocking a teething infant.
Even though I am rarely alone, I still feel lonely. I long for a connection with other like-minded people, which can be very specific in my case: young adult Catholic mothers who have a kid with a disability and experience the challenge of writing as a spiritual charism. I mean, realistically I won’t find a lot of women who fit neatly in that category. And that’s maybe part of the reason I feel lonely most days. It’s because the inner workings of my mind and heart don’t always coincide with the often trivial conversations that occur throughout my day.
Many psychological experts have studied this oxymoron, and the reality is this: aloneness and loneliness are sometimes a mutually exclusive phenomena. We can seem to be very socially connected people, especially in our digital epoch, and yet at the core feel deeply isolated from meaningful human relationships. And vice versa: some people have few intimate friendships and are frequently alone, yet they seldom feel lonely.
In Kevin Vost’s new book, The Catholic Guide to Loneliness: How Science and Faith Can Help Us Understand It, Grow from It, and Conquer It, I realized that loneliness is not uncommon these days. Something that really struck me were his short essays nestled in between chapters that illustrated the increasing epidemic of isolation in our frenetic society. Based on peer-reviewed scientific research, Dr. Vost has a flawless way of connecting the dots between psychology and theology. The book beautifully weds both into a concise and helpful resource of Catholic spirituality that I see as being a timeless guide for possibly decades.
Based on his understanding of the Thomistic virtues, Vost quite eloquently and unpretentiously writes for the lay Catholic who has very little, if any, knowledge of how the theological and cardinal virtues serve as spiritual insight for someone who is experiencing chronic loneliness. Even more, Vost suggests that prolonged periods of loneliness can overlap with a clinical psychological diagnosis, such as depression, so he advises readers gently to seek help.
My favorite chapter is “The Solace of Solitude,” because Vost explains that increasing periods of disciplined quite time spent with the Lord can actually assuage loneliness rather than exacerbate it. This makes perfect sense, considering Jesus Himself experienced unfathomably painful loneliness in the Garden of Gethsemane. And spending time with Him when we are lonely can be a source of mutual consolation that deepens our love for Jesus.
I wrote a bit about this in an article about how solitude can ease the pain of loneliness, and reading Vost’s explanation in his book was a huge confirmation and consolation to me. Oddly and paradoxically, readers will truly understand that they are not alone in their loneliness when they read The Catholic Guide to Loneliness. Beyond that, in Vost’s gentle but persuasive way, they will come to find strength in their loneliness, to see it as a gift they can bring to allay other people’s sense of isolation or ostracism. Ultimately, that is the call of every Christian: to accompany others in their most sorrowful moments.