The idea that we may experience loneliness is foreign to us, and maybe even appalling. We think that loneliness is experienced by weak people, needy people, or sulking introverted people who have isolated themselves. The possibility that we could experience such a weak and pathetic state of loneliness never crosses our minds, but maybe we’re self deceived? Before you say you’re not lonely and go scroll through Facebook to make your loneliness go away, hear me out. There are many ways we can experience loneliness, whether it’s physical isolation, relational isolation, or spiritual isolation. Let’s walk through these three ways loneliness shows up and see how the gospel can heal us and change us as we run back to Christ and risk in relationships.
First, physical loneliness is something we experience when we have little to no human interaction. I want to say at the outset that it’s ok to feel the pain this causes. Sometimes we judge ourselves as weak when we are forced to admit that we’re lonely and sad, as if we shouldn’t be lonely or that it’s wrong. Remember that God saw that it was “not good for man to be alone”, but wasn’t Adam with God? Adam was experiencing communion with God more than anyone ever did besides Jesus, yet this state was the only thing in God’s good creation that was deemed “not good”! So first off, if you’re physically isolated and experiencing loneliness during quarantine, you may have to get out of your own way, accept your humanity, and reach out for help. Press the mute button on the inner critic that says “you should be stronger than that and shouldn’t feel sad”. There’s a reason that solitary confinement is such a terrible punishment because it goes against the fiber of our created being and causes great pain emotionally and psychologically. Accept the fact that you’re made for relationships, don’t judge that fact. Also, please reach out for help, for interaction, and friendship! Don’t be afraid to ask for consistent check-ins by someone either. As the church we’re called to love each other and radically care for each other. Give another brother or sister an opportunity to live out God’s calling on their lives because you’re not a burden. You are worth someone else’s time! For those of us who are not feeling loneliness, be aware of people in your sphere of influence who may be feeling it and reach out, even today. Don’t delay in showing some love to someone else.
Some of us may never experience a great deal of physical loneliness, but almost everyone has experienced relational loneliness. We often experience this with the people we’re closest to, and that makes it difficult to see because physically we’re around people all the time. We experience it when we’re not being heard, understood, or loved. Of course, there’s a fine line here between being co-dependent on another person and actively improving your relationship so that love and care is being reciprocated by both parties. James 1:19 calls us to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger, and I think we need to keep that on the forefront of our minds as we work through relational loneliness.
So how can we help the people in our relationships experience love instead of loneliness? If someone close to you is struggling with a circumstance or even a spiritual struggle, don’t be quick to speak or try to immediately fix what’s going on. Often the person bringing the problem to you has the most information, and probably knows what needs to be done more than you. Instead try to get onto their emotional wavelength and empathize with them. This is difficult for us men (maybe impossible you may think), but try to put yourself in their shoes. It doesn’t mean that you have to agree with their interpretation or reaction to facts, just try to see their point of view instead of judging. If you give off that kind of uninterested, judgmental, or annoyed vibe, the other person may walk away feeling alone in the relationship.
If you feel alone in a relationship it is important for you to explain what’s going on in your heart to the other person, even if you think it won’t be received. People can change when given the opportunity, but if they’re not told, then our bitterness will just lead to isolation. This takes multiple attempts at difficult conversation, and sometimes it will fail. However, it’s always worth the risk to be heard and vulnerable if a relationship can be improved.
Third we can experience loneliness spiritually with God. This is no fault of God’s, yet he still desires to move towards us in love despite how we misunderstand and ignore him. Our movement away from God often comes from misplaced expectations on God. We want him to deliver for us, to come through for us in this specific way in this specific circumstance, and maybe it didn’t happen. We then think that God is giving up on us, so we give up on him. The problem is, God never promises us comfort, wealth, health, or a perfect life. What does he promise? Here are a few things from scripture…
- New spiritual life now (Romans 8, Galatians 5:25ff)
- Eternal life for all who put their faith in Christ (Rom 6:23)
- He promises to provide all we need in Philippians 4:19 (although in our pride we’re bound to disagree with him on the particulars)
- He promises to never leave us or forsake us. (Hebrews 13:5)
- In John 16:33 he promises In the world you will have tribulation (we don’t like that promise). But take heart; I have overcome the world.
- We have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ (Ephesians 1:3)
That’s just a small list. I think it’s safe to say that when we experience spiritual loneliness its because our expectations on God have been faulty and we have isolated ourselves from him, not the other way around. The life of faith however comes to God with open hands, not clenching things with closed fists and making demands. There in our open handed sorrow, repentance, or lament we may not get what we thought we wanted, but we get fellowship and communion with our Savior. He will provide all that we physically need and has promised us that we’ll never be alone. When we let go of what we thought we needed and open our hands to receive, we get deeper fellowship with God and an eternal perspective on the world. We’ll be more prone to keep coming back to him instead of isolating ourselves and experiencing self-imposed loneliness.
May we be willing to risk fighting our loneliness by the power of the gospel by running back to Christ and risking in relationships. God is always our ultimate refuge, but his body is here on earth in the form of the church. He desires for us to invest in both relationships in order to come out the other side of loneliness equipped with empathy, love, and a deeper desire to call others out of isolation and into the light of God’s love.
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