Sometime ago, in a Kansas newspaper, there was an advertisement that says, “I will listen to you talk for 30 minutes without comment for five dollars.” For most, it sounded like it was just a joke. However, the person who put the advertisement was swamped by 10 to 20 calls a day wanting to tell their stories.
It showed that the pain of loneliness for many people is so intense that they were willing to try anything for half an hour just for someone to listen. Loneliness is something that hits all of us. It can last for a short time. It can also last to years of struggle.
Are you lonely? Have you been struggling with this for a long time? Loneliness involves a feeling of inner emptiness. We feel a sense of sadness, discouragement, a sense of isolation, restlessness and anxiety – and even an intense desire within to be wanted and needed by someone.
Here is what I have learned. Lonely people often feel left out. They feel unwanted or rejected, even when others surround them – whether it be friends, family, or a congregation of a church. With loneliness, not only can there come this feeling of being left out, but also a sense of worthlessness. In other words, people say, “Well, since nobody wants to be with me, I guess I’m not worth being with.”
I feel that loneliness is one of the biggest problems that we all face today. Now, I am not talking about solitude. Solitude is a voluntary withdrawal from people. It is a choice one makes to meditate or reflect. Loneliness, however, is forced upon us. Solitude can be a refreshing experience, it can be rejuvenating and even enjoyable – but loneliness is painful, unpleasant and draining. Solitude can be started and stopped at your own will. Loneliness sweeps over us and lingers on.
What does the Word of God teach us about loneliness? When we look in the Bible we find that loneliness is the first thing, which God called “not good.” At the beginning in creation, before even the fall of humankind, God said: “It is not good that the man should be alone, I will make an helpmeet for him” (Genesis 2:18.) Our Creator, even at the beginning, knew that we need other human beings to live.
We read it frequently in the lives of many men and women of faith. We see it in the life of Jacob, the life of Moses, that great patriarch Job, Nehemiah, the prophet Elijah, the prophet Jeremiah and King David. Psalm 25:16 says: “I am desolate and afflicted; I have been left and deserted.” Another psalm writes, “Scorn has broken my heart and has left me helpless; I looked for sympathy, but there was none, for comforters, but I found none (Psalm 69:20 NIV.)
The scriptures also seem to describe our Lord Jesus Christ in the four Gospels, as a man of sorrows acquainted with grief. We are aware of his prayer while hanging on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
When Jesus was arrested at the Garden of Gethsemane, his disciples ran away and abandoned him. Loneliness is no respecter of persons. It hits us all at sometime or another.
One of my favorite authors, A. W. Tozer said: “Most of the worlds great souls have been lonely.” It’s not only great people in the eyes of God, but great people in the eyes of this world are not immune to it. Albert Einstein said: ‘It is strange to be known so universally, and yet to be so lonely’. Whether you’re a giant in the world’s sight, or a giant in God’s sight – like William Carey, the father of modern missions in India, who said these words in his diary: “O that I had an earthly friend on whom I could unbosom my soul.” No matter who we are, saint or sinner, giant or dwarf spiritually, we will be affected by loneliness.
So often we pinpoint those who are bereaved, those who are widows and widowers, as those who are lonely – and we forget that there are folks who are single, never been married, who are equally as lonely. While some may have enjoyed many years of companionship with a husband or a wife, these people have never enjoyed those pleasures at all. We overlook those who are divorced, those who have been deserted, those who are separated. We pay no attention to children, perhaps orphans. We discount people in our fellowship, our friends who are in the latter end of their lives, we could say they have entered into old age – and they feel lonely.
Loneliness is not the same as being alone. You could be surrounded with all the friends, all the family, all the acquaintances in the world and still be the loneliest soul in existence!
With all the available gadgets and social media, it seems that we have a loneliness-producing society where swift change and modern technology deter intimacy and fuel loneliness. I am sure we all know people in families and churches who avoid each other. From loneliness, people resort to all kinds of bad habits to escape from it. It is a tragedy that people look up to alcohol, drugs and immoral acts as the solution. In our over connected world, there’s an expectation that you constantly need to be doing things like emailing, texting, watching television, shopping – the list is never ending sometimes. However, these connections aren’t always meaningful ones. Doing things that don’t involve real human connection can leave one feeling empty and alone. Somehow, even human connections still leave some empty.
So here’s my big question, if you find yourself in that category of the lonely: how do you cope with your loneliness? I am not claiming to know all the answers to my question. But what I can do is to look at the word of God, and pray that God’s grace will help us deal with our loneliness.
The first step to healing our loneliness is to accept what cannot be changed. The apostle Paul writes, “I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content’ (Philippians 4:11). That doesn’t mean jumping for joy. It means those respects of life that we cannot change, instead of trying to struggle and fight with it, embrace it knowing that there is a beneficent heavenly Father in glory, a benevolent God who is only after our good and who is working all things together in His sovereign graciousness for our good in the end. Now that is more easy to say than do. Right?
The Lord Jesus said: “Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?” (Matthew 6:27). Being a Filipino, I am shorter than most adult men here in the USA. Maybe you’re short like me. Yet, all the worry in the world will not add one inch to our height. It’s a circumstance that must be accepted unless we are going to go for some extreme makeover or a really drastic cosmetic surgery! The fact of the matter is, there are things in life that we cannot change, and therefore we must accept them in God’s providential dealings, that He has allowed this to enter into our lives, and we must – as hard as it may be to take the next step – we must embrace it.
Now please do not think that I am being fatalistic in what I’m saying, that we have to accept adverse circumstances. We have to accept them when we cannot change them, but the second step is this: we also have to alter what can be changed. This is not being defeatist because if anything in our lives can be changed we ought to alter it in order to help us in our lonely situations. Many situations can be altered, many people in their loneliness, as they diagnose it, can find out that one of the reasons why they are lonely is because they have shut other people out. They do not benefit from their family and friends as they could do, as a Christian perhaps they do not get involved in church ministries that would help them be encouraged and be ministered by the word of God and prayer. It might not dispel it all, but it would at least help a little bit.
What I’m saying in the converse is this: don’t be a person who sulks in self-induced seclusion, feeling sorry for yourself, and then wonder why you’re lonely. What I’m talking about here is not people that cannot help their loneliness; I am now talking about people that can actively change their circumstances and their situation.
Now here’s the third Bible guideline to coping with loneliness, which is the most important. It’s found at the end of Proverbs 18:24: ‘A man that hath friends must shew himself friendly: and there is a friend that sticks closer than a brother’. Here is the third step – the first was ‘accept what cannot be changed’; the second is ‘alter what can be changed’; and the third and most important is this “meet the spiritual need.”
You could surround yourself with all the friends and all the relatives in the world, you could engage yourself as the most powerful or the most famous person in the world, and still be the loneliest creature on the face of God’s earth.
Who is the greatest friend we can have? Who is the friend that sticks closer than a brother or sister? Who is the friend that loves us unconditionally? In fact, His love was so great that He demonstrated it by dying – stretching out His arms on the cross to save us.
When He was going to leave the disciples, He told them in John chapter 14 and John chapter 16 that He would come again – not just in His second advent, but He said: “I will come to you,” meaning by the Holy Spirit, the Comforter. He has given us within our bosoms, as children of God, the Holy Spirit – a companion! He is not some force, or cosmic liquid, or energizer bunny. He is a real living person. His name is Jesus.
When we read the Bible we read of this friend. He helps us in our infirmities. In our weaknesses that no one understands, he helps us. He is in us. He actually senses us – and in fact, go further, we read that He prays for us in the moments when our anxieties are so great that we cannot or know not how to pray for ourselves, He intercedes on our behalf! The mighty thing about His ministry is that day by day as we are living down here, no matter what circumstances we go through, He is making us more into the image of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Here is the truth about loneliness. If you think lonely thoughts, you will feel lonelier. But if you think God’s thoughts, that God is very real, that His presence can be sensed, that He communicates to you through His word, and you can communicate to Him in prayer and pour out your deepest needs, then joy comes in.
The Bible also tells us that the church is to be a helping and healing community. We are meant to be His body, and when one part of the body hurts, all the members feel it.
Allow me to say a prayer for you all. Our Father, I pray that everyone who reads this will know the friendship of our Lord Jesus. I pray that they will not shut Him out in their loneliness. I pray that they will not shut out friends who are in Christ who love them dearly. I pray that as the body of Christ, that we will minister the love of Christ, and all of us will be recipients of that love, and that it will draw us closer to the Lord Jesus – and in some strange way, turn our mourning into dancing. In Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.