This past Sunday, I took my children for a walk in a wildlife sanctuary on the edge of our small New England town. Sunday marked our ninth day of preventative quarantine from COVID-19, and after a busy week indoors adjusting to online schooling and working from home, we were ready to get outside in the fresh air. A shock of wintery weather had passed through Boston, so we pulled out hats and mittens, bundled up, and headed out to the Atlantic Ocean.
When we arrived, my four kids tumbled out of the car and went ahead of me down the trail. They ran and played, swatting each other with grasses and zigzagging off the trail to race through the meadows. As I stood for a moment and watched them, I closed my eyes and drank in the silence as the ocean wind carried away my children’s voices. Then it hit me, like it has so many times over the last eight months: My husband is dead, and I’m here alone.
Only a year ago, my husband Rob brought me on a date to these meadows. We bought cherry hand pies from a local grocery store and sat eating them as the sun set. We enjoyed the companionable silence that comes with 17 years of marriage. As birds returned to their nests in the dusk, quiet rain began to fall. It was a moment out of a Robert Frost poem: Come over the hills and far with me, and be my love in the rain. But for all my wishing now, Rob will never be here again with me.
When he died last July in a tragic hiking accident, I discovered a dreadful aloneness that I’d never known before. In that moment when the chaplains came to tell me of his death, I lost my partner, my confidante, my co-parent, my lover, my advisor, and my best friend. I’d always been an independent person, an introvert, even, but I never wanted to be ushered into a life without him. For the last eight months—and until Christ comes again—Rob’s seat sits empty at our kitchen table, and his side of the bed is cold when I slip beneath the covers each night.
Since Rob died, I’ve learned to do many things on my own. I’ve learned how to wire electrical fixtures in my home and how to fix the broken hot water heater on our family’s camper. I’ve learned to coordinate my finances without his wisdom to guide me and how to talk frankly with our sons about the birds and the bees. But however capable I become, I cannot cover for the love, assurance, and stability that Rob brought to our lives.
The loneliness of these last few weeks of public health-directed isolation only magnifies the solitary course my life has taken now. If I have fears or anxieties about the coronavirus, I must now manage them alone. I am the sole gatekeeper for my family. Every decision about our wellbeing falls to me. How do I manage this pandemic without my husband?
After my kids ran off down the ocean trail last weekend, I ceased hearing their voices after a while. I heard only the sound of the wind, rolling off the water, brisk and cold. As I stood against the wind, I was reminded of that striking Greek word eremos—lonely—which is used to describe the places that Jesus found to be refuges.
The Gospel writers tell us over and over how Jesus turned to lonely places when he needed rest and wished to pray. The words “wilderness” and “desert” offer visual description of those spaces, but “lonely” speaks the language of the heart. Jesus found solace where others saw uninhabitable wasteland. He didn’t fear isolation but looked to it for peace and renewal.
In my own story, I’m still struggling to find light in the darkness. But eight months after Rob’s death, I know this truth with growing confidence: If Jesus sought out lonely places, he’s here with me in mine. He’s with me in the sadness of days spent without my husband; in a future now empty of his presence; in a quarantine that further removes me from all of the support that sustained me these past eight months.
As communities around the world close down because of COVID-19, I suspect I’m not alone in my loneliness. We all carry our various sorrows into quarantine. Even though we know that Jesus attends us in our isolation, this knowledge may still not offer enough balm, and maybe for good reason. As C.S. Lewis writes in Mere Christianity, “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”
In her book Blessed Are the Unsatisfied, Amy Simpson echoes Lewis. “Maybe God doesn’t want to take away our longings yet,” she writes. “When we grow deeper in faith and closer to Jesus, we’re likely to find ourselves less—not more—satisfied with life here and now.”
Indeed, Jesus will come to our lonely places. He promises to meet us in our deserts, our quarantined spaces, to renew our souls, bring us joy, comfort our hearts, and give us peace. If in the midst of this companionship our loneliness still gnaws at us, we can assure ourselves that it’s less a symptom of our solitude and more a mark of normal spiritual restlessness. This lingering loneliness reflects a deep longing for communion, one that will only ever be satisfied when we see Jesus face-to-face.
For now, quarantine will test our mettle as we learn to navigate life in isolation. In these next weeks and possibly months of separation, Christ invites us to direct our hearts toward him. These hours spent alone will only increase our longing for that sweet communion promised in the life to come, with those we’ve lost and with our faithful God.
Clarissa Moll (MA, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) is the young widow of author Rob Moll and the mother of their four children. After a career in fundraising and marketing for small nonprofits, she now supports those in grief through her writing. Find her on Instagram and Twitter.