I’ve been trying to write this for a year, you know.
The student in me says you need to sum up your life seasons. Each semester, each year, maybe even each month, you should have a greater understanding of what God’s done, how you’re doing, and better self-awareness of what’s happening around you.
This year has been a doozy to summarize. As I still sit here in it, I offer you a piece.
Did you know that over eight million people live in the city of London? And did you know that London is among the loneliest cities in the world? In fact, this TimeOut poll says it truly is the loneliest of them all.
So the reality check is this: I’ve lived in the loneliest city in the world for one solid year.
Let me phrase that differently:
Alex Woodbury, Miss social butterfly, one of the most easily-bored, everyone-is-her-best-friend humans has lived in a place where eye contact and smiles don’t exist and two-thirds of people feel alone. And she’s had to learn how to thrive here for a whole 365 days and counting.
Sure, I’ve navigated big city life before. I’ve navigated them like the champ that I am. I’ve lived in Paris, I’ve negotiated New York City, I’ve handled L.A. and Chicago, and among these I’ve done the majority of my traveling completely solo for all of my 29 years. The Been App (Shoutout Julianna) says I’ve been to 21 countries and 9% of the world. I know cities and I know adventure, but I never quite faced loneliness in this capacity before.
Don’t get me wrong. I love London. I’ve loved every second. I’m cherishing this time abroad to the bone. Some people won't understand me when I say these things because OMG how can she complain about life right now? I get it. I'm living a dream in so many ways it's insane. This is a Rolex level gift of a season. All I'm saying is that this loneliness factor wasn’t anything I expected. And this is me sheding light on ways in which I handled -- or didn't handle -- what came at me.
Let me also clarify that I’m not talking about the loneliness that equates to lack of relationships. I’ve made friends -- genuinely amazing friends and connections (shoutout London College of Fashion, shoutout Mayfairies, shoutout Grind, shoutout AllSaints, shoutout Catch the Fire, shoutout to my people). Plus, I share the tube everyday with 4.7 million other people every single day (FYI: I’ve learned that deep breathing helps) so I can’t possibly be lonely (I'm joking, obviously, because if you want to know the scary kind of loneliness, get yourself on the Central Line tube with a bunch of smelly rush hour commuters who try really, really hard not to make eye contact or breathe loudly). Jokes and existing friendships aside, what I’m talking about here is the kind of loneliness that lives in your soul. Or rather, the kind of loneliness that you didn’t know was there until it was looking right into your eyes.
Here’s a little perspective. I moved to London from the Great Land of Cleveland, Ohio. Honestly, my time in Cleveland changed my life. It’s like I lived a thousand of the fullest lifetimes there. This was the epitome of safety and security because of the community I had around me. I lived in the blanket of love constantly. My soul friends were close by. I was known. I was seen. I was thriving in most every area of life. When I chose to leave this blanket of love it was because I wanted to pursue my dream. I assessed the risks and I was released. I grabbed London by the arms and said, “Hey, let’s do this!”
So what do you do when you are now released out of your blanket of love and have to go get under a new blanket?
To be honest I didn’t realize blankets came in so many forms. Let me tell you about a few of my favorites. There's the cool London blanket of Eating-All-The-Baked-Goods-On-The-Block becuase I hands-down learned that you can definitely live off of baked goods and tea and it will only cost you the necessary unbuttoning of your pants. There's also the Oh-Snap-There's-So-Much-Shopping-In-London blanket that tries to hide the fact that retail therapy is totally a thing and bank accounts can and will diminish. Oh, but the blanket of Let's-Hide-In-Your-Room-And-Watch-Netflix-On-Repeat is the most alluring because after watching over 17 series and not feeling any more awesome or full or satisfied or brilliant was a mega teaching moment. It wasn’t that I turned to certain blankets of drugs, alcohol or sex. Though, in full disclosure it wasn’t that I didn’t consider those things, either. And it also wasn't true that I didn't get myself into some tricky situations because I did. There are such things as false blankets. You might think you're comfortable but when it's ripped away you're cold and will feel everything but comfortable. These false blankets helped me see that this safe and secure community wasn’t at my doorstep anymore. As the adventure of a new place ran dry, I found that my normal tricks to thriving weren’t as easily at my disposal. Everything was different; bigger; more distant. And my ways of coping weren't in my best interest.
I had to go back to the beginning. One of the first things God said to me when I moved to London was this:
“Learn to love Me here.”
Why did He say this? Because when loneliness looked me in the eye I was afraid to face it. But when I didn’t tell it to go away, I let loneliness become my companion.
Example A: Boy #1 stops texting me back. Insert negative thoughts that feed loneliness.
I would journal and hear God say,
Example B: Get ghosted and/or stood up by X number of guys. Why did they stop texting me? Dang, I guess there’s something wrong with me. Insert more negative thoughts that feed loneliness.
After that, I would hear Him say again,
“Love Me here.”
Example C: I've mastered the art of talking to myself!
"You can trust Me to Love you well."
Threads of entries like these fill my recent journals. My lonely heart was reaching out for connection with God; for a safe place to land and be myself. He was saying plenty and offering help, but I didn't fully believe that He could love me in these places of my heart. Loneliness is a slimy thing because it tricks you into thinking you're okay on your own.
As Steffany Gretzinger says in her Unfiltered Life chat, “Go straight to the Father instead of talking to the snake.”
Look at this! It was when Adam and Eve got alone in their thoughts that they started chatting with the serpent. Once they did this - Game Over (See Genesis 3). The locked eyes with something that wasn’t giving them life and it led them away from their source. The crafty little serpent straight up lied to them and yet they swallowed it as their truth. We all know the cost of losing our truth. It can cost us our identity.
I think I found myself in that place a lot this year. I found myself alone in my thoughts in the underground tunnels of darkness (a.k.a. The Tube) and took my feelings of being alone as my truth. And because I wasn’t used to being alone in this way, I lost my point of connection. I wasn’t sure how to connect with God. Learning to love God in the hard places is one of the best gifts. As Brian Johnson often says, it’s something we can only offer this side of heaven. If friendship with God is the priority, how can I allow Him to be my friend? My Best Friend? Could He really be? He becomes real when your faith has to lean on something. Hear me: Loneliness is not the will of God. It was something I said to myself over and over this past year and I genuinely believe it. We were made for connection and relationship. If there is such a thing as a lonely season, get yourself to a place where you can thrive. Get away -- no, actually run -- from the false blankets and find the right ones. Find your people. It's worth saying again. Find your people. Find the places where you need love and support and get to them as fast as you can. But moreso than all of these things, there's a bigger soul issue at the core. You must find Love and let it in. If I let Jesus love me fully in those lonely moments, maybe this 12-month journey would have been a little different. But as He said from the beginning, this is where I learn to Love Him. The joy in this is that a year later He's given me the gift of learning to love Him here again. And maybe this time I can help the other 4.7 million mouth-breathing commuters smile a little more and help London find some extra Love herself.