Stand Firm in Your Rubbled-Over Heart
When loneliness hurts, know that you’re never alone.
We found several notes in a loved one’s house after he was hospitalized for Alzheimer’s. He had written some notes to remind himself to pay this bill or that one. Others were scripts for phone conversations with the bank. One note had three words.
“I’m so lonely.”
This filled my heart with compassion.
He was not a man of faith, despite his wife attending church every Sunday. He was always skeptical about religion and spirituality. He always noted the hypocrisy of people who went to church — and he grew up in the Deep South.
In fact, you could call him a true “unbeliever.” He tried to find ways to “trick” his GPS, even though he himself would get lost going to the same place several times — and that was well before his diagnosis.
When his wife had a stroke, he was impressed that she made weekly progress in being able to walk again. He never believed in physical therapy before that.
He had been taking Paxil for 20 years, and it seemed to help his mood — for the most part. But antidepressants wouldn’t relieve his loneliness at this stage in life.
We’ve all experienced this to a certain degree.
It is this deep sense of despair. Your heart — your whole body — aches. You can see the good in nothing because your heart refuses.
You might choose to anesthetize it with drugs or alcohol. You might even deny it, telling someone that you’re “fine.” Eventually, you have to deal with your internal pain.
Oftentimes, it’s a matter of admitting it. You don’t feel “fine.”
To acknowledge that you feel loneliness or despair is what a prayer can look like, even if you’ve never prayed before. It’s admitting that things aren’t perfect. Many times, they are not.
Admitting our despair, our weakness, our imperfection allows us to open our hearts to the healing that can emerge.
Karl Rahner’s The Need and Blessing of Prayer describes our deep sense of despair as the “rubbled-over heart.” He writes that oftentimes, we bury our hearts deep into a cellar, and the rubble of the trials of our world fills this cellar. Ultimately, we become buried ourselves.
We can see nothing above the rubble. There is no light that can come into the cellar.
Rahner then tells us to stay there and stand firm. What?
[I]f you stand firm…then you suddenly will become aware that in truth you are not all rubbled-over, that your jail is closed only to empty finiteness, that its deadly emptiness is only the false appearance of God…
In essence, he is saying that we bought into the false gods of success, fame, and power. But then, in the deep silence, we listen to God.
God is what happens when our breath is spent. We exhale our pain, our loneliness, our desperation, and our grief. God is there in the inhale.
God is what happens when our breath is spent.
Rahner continues, “He is in the middle of your rubbled-over heart. He alone. He who is everything and, therefore, looks as if he were nothing.”
I don’t know if this loved one will ever open his rubbled-over heart for healing, but perhaps God read that note. And that, perhaps, is why he is finally getting the help he needs.
If you, yourself, are suffering, you are not alone. Help is there…if you just admit, then ask.
UPDATE: This man passed away in January 2020, just a few weeks after his niece moved him to Atlanta — 700 miles from his wife and home.