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16th October: Loneliness

Turn thou to me, and be gracious to me; for I am lonely and afflicted. Relieve the troubles of my heart, and bring me out of my distresses. Psalm 25:16-17

If I had to pick out the most common difficulty that faces junior doctors, I would say that it is loneliness. If you are working in an unfamiliar hospital, the barriers to forming good meaningful friendships are considerable. You may be working every other night and weekend, and be so shattered on the intervening evenings that solitude and sleep are much to be preferred to society. In addition, you always have the knowledge that in six months or less you will be moving on -- perhaps half-way across the country, and any links you do manage to establish will be geographically severed. In such a situation it is easy to sit on the pity-pot and not make any effort even to start developing relationships.

This, however, can be very harmful. Daphne Du Maurier in her classic study of distrust and suspicion. My Cousin Rachel, writes: `the lonely man is an unnatural man and soon comes to perplexity, from perplexity to fantasy, from fantasy to madness' or as the Scriptures expresses it more concisely, `It is not good for man to be alone' (Gn 2:18). So, even with the limited time at our disposal we should strive to make friends if we possibly can.

Nevertheless we also have to learn to cope with loneliness, as there will be times when human companionship is not possible for us. It is then that the Christian has a tremendous advantage. As John Fonne pointed out two centuries ago, `loneliness is God's great opportunity to draw near to the soul', and more recently John White writes in a similar vein: `would you despise intimacy with the Almighty in insisting on human intimacy?' (Eros Defiled).

One of the deep regrets of my time as a houseman is that I did not make more use of my time of enforced isolation `on call' for developing relationships with God even when there were often plenty of hours in which to do so. I spent a lot of them idly moping instead. There are things we can only learn when alone with God, and these can greatly strengthen our spiritual lives. One of the criteria of assessment of a man's true character is the answer to the question: `What does he do when he's on his own?' Let's make sure then that in our periods of loneliness we use the time constructively to build our faith and deepen our relationship with the living Lord.

I will withdraw me and be quiet,
Why meddle in life's riot?
Shut be my door to pain;
Desire, thou dost befool me, thou shalt cease.
Vain, vain the word; vain, vain,
Not in aloofness lieth peace.

Amy Carmichael

Lord, you made me for interaction with others.
Help me in the development of firm friendships,
but help me to cope with loneliness,
knowing that you are always with me.

Further reading: Ps 25:12-22. Jn 16:29-33.


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