Loneliness and Long-Distance Running

I get book titles stuck in my head. Whether I have actually read the books or not. The current example falls in the latter category. The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner is the title of a long-ago short story by Alan Sillitoe which was later made into a movie, also long ago. Full disclosure: I have never read the book or seen the movie. So why is this title running through my head repeatedly?

It’s because our local Mom to Mom just started. It’s week two, and our small groups of women are just getting to know each other. But a couple of themes are already emerging. And you guessed it: one of them is loneliness. Being a Mom is often a very solitary job. Moms who are currently at home full-time miss the camaraderie of work colleagues in the office, the break room, or the teachers’ lounge. Even moms who work outside the home part of the time feel alone in this mom-job. Work colleagues aren’t necessarily interested in discussing your mom-life, and many have precious little to offer by way of advice in matters like how to get your baby to sleep at night or how to toilet train your 2- or 3- or more-year-old. All too often the voice in your mama-head shouts out, “You’re on your own, kid.” Where is your mother now that you need her?

Being a mom is hard. Very hard. In fact, one of our moms this week echoed a comment we hear often at Mom to Mom: “This mom job is so much harder than my other job.” And she happens to be a child psychiatrist! Whatever your “other career” might be—or might have been—it’s not 24/7/365. The constancy is one thing. Whether you’re in the kitchen or the bathroom or even trying to sleep at night, there’s that feeling from the old favorite movie (“What About Bob?”): “You think [they’re] gone? [They’re] never gone!” But there’s also the huge emotional investment. You love your kids with an intensity unmatched by any other role in life. 

And, as we often say, motherhood is a marathon—not a sprint. You readers who have grown adult children or even grandchildren know this well. It’s (another book title, this time borrowed from a Eugene Peterson book I love), a “Long Obedience in the Same Direction.”

So what to do with all these truths? Why am I telling you what you already know? That being a mom is lonely. And hard. And long-term. Because I want to encourage you with yet another truth: This marathon you’re in was not meant to be run alone. I’m reminded of that picture in the New Testament book of Hebrews chapters 11-12. The writer pictures a race with a “great could of witnesses” surrounding the runners and cheering them on.

I’m also reminded of a Marine Marathon that one of our sons and his wife ran a few years back. As he gasped for breath and tried to find his voice just beyond the finish line, Bjorn commented, “I never could have done it alone. Around Mile 19 I said to Abby, ‘Could you just shoot me and put me out of my misery? I can’t go another step.’ And then she began talking me through those last 6 or 7 miles. She reminded me of how I had wanted to give up in training runs and had later been so thankful I didn’t. She pictured for me how glad I would be an hour from now that I had hung in there. And then Lars [his brother] came and ran alongside on my other side those last 6 miles. I never could have done it alone.”

This is why we have Mom to Mom. It’s designed to have “Titus 2 Leaders” (who were actually God’s design in Titus 2:2-4) encourage you on, with other “peer moms” doing the same as they run alongside—or maybe call back from just up ahead on the parenting path. I wish every mom I know could have a Mom to Mom group in her life.

But I know many don’t have this opportunity. So I pray for God to give you at least one “mentor mom” and at least one peer mom to run alongside and encourage you in your own personal marathon. Even those of us far ahead on the path, with grown kids and maybe grandkids, need running buddies. We need each other.

I also know that especially in some chapters of life, running buddies can be hard to come by. The poignant voice of a young mom who has just moved rings in my ear: “You know I read all those blogs about how important friends are. They suggest I have a friend over for coffee or a walk and I realize: At this stage of my life I don’t even have a friend I could invite over.”

Yes, there are those chapters. We wait and pray for God to send “just one friend.” 

Then Psalm 38:9 comes to mind: “All my longings lie open before you, O Lord. My sighing is not hidden from you.” This verse has deep meaning for me right now; it is actually a verse for every chapter of our lives. I encourage you to remember that, as the Casting Crowns song “O My Soul” reminds us, “you’re not alone” no matter how alone you feel.

But I still pray for every one of you to have at least one friend come into your life and be “God with skin on.” I really do.