The Prison of Lonely

March 30, 2012 | 18 comments

It’s a slow slide into loneliness. So slow, that you might not know you’re sinking into its cold grip.

That’s one of the enemy’s oldest tricks, I think — the way he patiently works, closing windows and doors of a life with his chilly, bony fingers when you’re busy staring at a computer screen, a pile of dirty denim, a page-long to-do list. Suddenly, you turn around and realize your world has snapped shut. You’re by yourself.

All by yourself.

Being alone from time to time is healthy; but being lonely hurts. Deep.

Very God, who is in His nature three-in-one community, does not desire for us to feel the despair of loneliness.

“This is my command: Love one another the way I loved you. … I’ve named you friends because I’ve let you in on everything I’ve heard from the Father.” (From John 15:12-14, The Message)

Jesus named us “friends.” Friendship was God’s idea.

But I’d forgotten that until I spent the night with a friend named Anne. Our husbands were away together, doing ministry in an Iowa prison. And me? I was finding that I’d been in my own prison for a while.

I didn’t know it until that deep, long belly-laugh bubbled forth. I had forgotten how good that felt, to laugh so hard that your sides hurt, and then later, to let a good friend in on what’s really going on in your life. Strangely, it felt good to cry.

I remember how tears fell when I confessed to Anne how I’d shut myself away. I’m not sure how that happened, the sinking into the lonely. Because I love people. I love good friends.

Yet, I had found myself sinking deeper into my own private cell. Sure, the Facebook friend ticker kept growing higher, the Twitter list longer — shallow proof that I was a “friend” to anyone.

Here’s the gut-level truth: I was a mile-wide with friends, and about a half-inch deep.

I had forgotten what it meant to be a real girlfriend to anyone. I had forgotten what it meant to linger over a long lunch, to stop multi-tasking when a friend phoned, to send a card, to prank phone-call my neighbor, to laugh a deep laugh. I had forgotten how to get really real.

But when I remembered, it felt good and right and true. Anne hugged me, the way a real friend hugs you, wrapping your whole self up tight to make sure you know you belong.

I got paroled from prison that night, and I don’t want to go back.

(Photos: Some of my IRL and online friends from Haiti and Nebraska and Iowa and Canada. Among these ladies are friends who won’t let me get away with half-inch-deep relationship… Oh, except for Chris Tomlin. He was a nice guy and everything, but he rarely shows up in the neighborhood. 🙂   )


Are you feeling lonely? Are you missing girlfriend time?

Friend, my door is open. I’d love to connect.

I’m hosting a “meetup” as part of the {in}courage online gathering of women around the world.

Too far from my farm? Don’t worry. There’s likely an IRL conference near you. Or you can host one in your own home.

Here the scoop.

What’s it called: (in)RL {short for “IRL” or “in real life”}

When is it: A couple hours each on Friday & Saturday April 27 & 28, 2012.

What it’s about: Creating a catalyst for women to connect in real life, right where they are.

Why it’s special: It’s the un-conference that comes to your doorstep; just meet up with girl friends and tune in to the online webcast.

Who it’s for: For the women who’ve been hurt by friends, for the women who’ve been healed by friends, for the women who crave local Jesus community, for the women who wish they had the time, baby sitter or budget for a girl’s weekend away.

Here are the website, the registration page, and a way for you to find a  meetup near you. Here’s my meetup page.

by | March 30, 2012 | 18 comments


  1. Brandee Shafer

    There’s a fountain flowing deep and wide. Here’s to jumping into it.

    • dukeslee

      Yes, ma’am! On the count of three, here we go …

      1, 2, …


  2. Megan Willome

    It happens so quickly, doesn’t it?

    You can call anytime, Jennifer. I will drop everything for you.

    • dukeslee

      Megan. Sweet friend.

      I know this deep. You are one of those soul-deep friends, one of those people who would never let me get away with half-inch deep. Presently, I am remembering our time at Laity. 🙂

      Love to you…

  3. Deidra

    Yeah. I get this. I hung out with friends on Wednesday, and then two of us stayed up until 1:00 in the morning, talking deep and laughing softly so we wouldn’t wake my husband in the bedroom down the hall. I had forgotten that. I had forgotten just how much I need friendship. We’re made for it. And not the surface kind…

    • dukeslee


      I’m so glad you had that special time. I thought of you guys this morning as I wrote, thought of the ways you would have worshipped together, laughed together, prayed together. I am in awe of the way our lives have connected.

      Grateful for your friendship, D.


  4. tara // pohlkotte press

    “I was a mile-wide with friends, and about a half-inch deep” – – oh, this is beautiful and so true. these friendships…give real flavor to our world. draw us out of ourselves. remind us that we are made for more. we are made to be apart of a body.

    • dukeslee

      It’s so easy for me to forget, Tara. I’ve been down this road a few times, slowly withdrawing, and then remembering that I wasn’t meant to live on an island alone!

      Yes, we are a part of a body.

  5. Tesha

    wow WHAT A GREAT IDEA. The emotion that has defined my life since Jonathan went to heaven is loneliness. I would love to participate I just have no energy right now. I totally agree loneliness is not what the lord wants for our life.

    • dukeslee

      Tesha, Just praying now, as I write, that God wraps His arms around you today. I wish I could reach my arms through the screen to hug you today.

  6. Marlice

    Yes,I have been to this place. One day, I looked around and found I had no one I felt comfortable calling on in my darkest hour except Jesus. This year, this changes. I am rebuilding my friendship foundations. I stumbled up your site. Thank you for this post. I feel His encouragement through you.

  7. Denise J. Hughes

    Can so relate! It’s so easy to wall up behind a computer screen. Beautiful post, Jennifer.

  8. Diana Trautwein

    Oh, yes. This I get. I’m in need these days of some late night girl talk, so belly laughs and some real tears. Maybe someday soon…

  9. HopeUnbroken

    beautiful write. i think i’m there right now, but clawing my way out. it definitely takes intentionality. and energy. and an outward focus that is sometimes hard to acquire. praying the Lord continues to remind me of this and do the work that i’m not strong enough to do within myself.
    thanks so much for sharing this.

  10. Barbara

    Such a lovely and insightful post. And I would dare to say that most of us find ourselves in that prison every so often, wondering how we got there… and it has everything to do with not being real in front of those we love.
    Thanks so much!

  11. joan

    Truth from the heart, that’s what you’ve shared here. I recognized lonely had found me at my dinner table most nights. Now I am empty nester, and I am not accustomed to dining alone. And lonely from this place hurts. Hurts real deep. But I know it’s only temporarily.

    Recently, I spent the evening with a friend. We had a non slumber party. We stayed up all night. We laughed, we cried, and we celebrated life abundantly.

  12. Kory

    OK, tried to email you this, but couldn’t get that to work so I will just post it here. Thank you so much for writing this post, just read it this morning and so needed to read it. Just yesterday I had one of those days where all I could think about was how lonely I am and how I don’t have any near by good girl friends. We have lived in our current town for about 7 years now. When we first moved here I had made friends with some of the neighbor ladies and did quite a bit with them. Over time I realized that they weren’t the best friends for me to have as they liked to fill up their time with gossip and talking about other people way more than I thought they should. I decided I needed to separate myself from many of them and also focus more on being a wife and mom to my family. That was all good and I have no regrets, but I now feel as though I have distanced myself from so many that I find myself alone more often than not. I am very good at being social and inviting people over and planning fun events, but there are some days where I throw myself a pity party and wish that there was someone inviting me to something. And if I really think about it I know that others do invite me to things-it just feels as though they are few and far between. And I long for a close by girl friend like my college friends. Anyways, didn’t mean to ramble on so much, just really wanted to say thank you for your writing as it so hit home and is something I have been praying about a lot lately. You truly have such a gift with your words, thank you so much for sharing it with us. Make it a blessed day.

  13. Missy

    I never knew what it was like to have a real girlfriend until about 4 years ago. 30 years of my life and I never knew the blessing and the joy of a girlfriend. It is irreplaceable.
    I couldn’t find a meetup near me and I don’t have the resources to start one. Maybe some day.


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