Tag Archives: #loneliness

Why Christians are not immune to loneliness

As Christians, I often feel like we should be immune to loneliness. We have Jesus, right? But this is one of those areas where an inspirational Christian meme doesn’t really cut it. “Only God is enough to satisfy our loneliness” I read. And “You are never left alone when you are alone with God”. These are true, obviously, but not really helpful when you’re feeling the raw reality of loneliness.

If you google “bible passages for the lonely” you find lots of gems. “Surely I am with you always, till the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). Also true. But this is part of Jesus’ great commission to his disciples, not a consolation to a person crumbling under the weight of loneliness.

And yet, there is acknowledgement in scripture that loneliness is real, but not necessarily in the emotional way we might think of it. For example, in Psalm 25:16 “Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted.” The Hebrew word translated as “lonely” denotes more a physical state of being solitary – like a friendless wanderer or exile. Of course there is a psychological state associated potentially with that, but that’s not what the language denotes. Loneliness described and discussed as a psychological state is a relatively recent phenomena. That doesn’t mean it was any less real prior to the last hundred years, just that it wasn’t talked about the same way. In history, to be friendless or cut off from community was a social state and was the epitome of a fate worse than death.

We talk now about loneliness as a psychological and emotional state. It might include feeling cut off from community, but includes fear, despair, hopelessness – and as Christians we are not immune. Even though we have the truth of our salvation in Christ and an eternal relationship with the living God, we will still from time to time feel the awful chill of loneliness.

Loneliness can happen to anyone. Whether you are single or in a relationship, whether you are in a large family or none. It’s not the same as being alone. Personally, I’m quite content on my own. I am an introvert by nature and I enjoy reading, writing, knitting (badly) and so on. But being alone in this way is a choice. Feeling lonely is when we are alone in a way that we don’t feel is our choice – when we want to be with someone, or with family, or with community – and we can’t.

That’s when secondary emotions kick in. Disappointment that things aren’t different, anger at feeling powerless to change things, despair that things will always be this way, fear of a future that is uncertain.

Loneliness can feel cold and brittle. There is a stillness that you feel in the cavernous hollow of a dark mountain cave. You are the only living and breathing thing. There is a silence. There is nobody else and there is the thick rock cave wall between you and the rest of the world. If you screamed in this sound-deadened cavity, nobody would hear, and the only sound would be the echo of your own scream coming back to you. You are the only person who hears your pain.

That’s what loneliness feels like.

Loneliness is both our modern emotional understanding and the historical social understanding. You feel cut off from people. Even though our modern world is less constructed according to familial ties and community, we feel separated. And you feel the associated ragged emotional cuts of isolation physically and psychologically.

What is interesting is that even though the meaning behind the language has changed over time, scripture still acknowledges that anguish.

Psalm 142 gives us important teaching without ever using the word “loneliness”. It is attributed to David when he was hiding in the cave from his enemies. Verse 4 says:

Look and see, there is no one at my right hand; no one is concerned for me. I have no refuge; no one cares for my life.

This seems to be a perfect description of loneliness. And what does this psalm tell us?

I cry aloud to the Lord; I lift up my voice to the Lord for mercy.

I pour out before him my complaint; before him I tell my trouble.

Sorry to sound obvious but prayer is the first step when we are feeling pain. What is interesting here is that David says he tells a God of his complaint before he tells him his trouble. For David this might be his complaint about his physical situation (I’m trapped and alone) and then his “trouble” is then his emotional state – which he lays out in the following verses.

When my spirit grows faint within me, it is you who watch over my way. In the path where I walk people have hidden a snare for me.

4 Look and see, there is no one at my right hand; no one is concerned for me. I have no refuge; no one cares for my life.

His spirit grows faint – he is feeling overwhelmed. People have hidden a snare – he is surrounded by enemies. Nobody cares for him. These are all things that resonate with us.

I cry to you, Lord; I say, “You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living.”

Listen to my cry, for I am in desperate need; rescue me from those who pursue me, for they are too strong for me.

This whole psalm is a prayer – it is a conversation with God. David has told God his complaint (“I am alone”) and he’s laid out his trouble (“I feel so lonely and overwhelmed and frightened and this is too big for me…”). He continues this conversation, talking to God in real and raw emotional need. There is no prayer-formula here. There is no massaging of words to sound right, he just lets it pour out.

But what comes next is fascinating:

Set me free from my prison, that I may praise your name. Then the righteous will gather about me because of your goodness to me.

David doesn’t end with a hope that the loneliness will end at some point. He calls on God to deliver him so that he might praise his name. Then the righteous will gather around David – his loneliness and uncertainty will end. Not because of David, but because of God’s visible goodness.

This might feel confronting to us. Our prayers are requests but largely asking for God to empower us to feel better – as though God is a self help guru. What David does is directly and boldly ask God to change his situation (the circumstances of his complaint) and through God’s action, his trouble will be alleviated.

Sometimes, in our lack of confidence, we minimise God and our knowledge of what he is able to do. David, in the midst of his despair, asks God to essentially perform a powerful work so that in his responding praise, people will see evidence of God’s goodness and gather to him.

These are David’s words to God, but they are laid down as God-breathed scripture, which means they are words that God has given us to acknowledge our pain and provide a means and a language for us to reach him in those times. We must use them.

So, if you are like me and from time to time struggle with loneliness, we can use this approach to God. We can take the burden of self help off our already aching shoulders and ask God for help. We can not just speak words of complaint and trouble, but let them pour out of us. We can ask for deliverance. We can be bold because we are approaching our God who is bigger than any circumstance we have.

We are Christian and we have a relationship with the living God. But we are not immune to loneliness. God knows this and gave us real words to bring to him in our pain. Formula prayers and inspirational memes won’t cut it. In the Psalms he gave us these beautiful words that express how we feel – but he doesn’t leave us there. He gives us the means to move forward.

We need to give ourselves permission to be raw with God, be bold in asking him to take over our circumstances and deliver us from our loneliness.

Free and fabulous or just single and sad?

I’ve known from the beginning of my separation that I would not be in another relationship. For me there were several reasons. For starters, I have some pretty massive trust issues and while I love the idea of a Hollywood style romantic love that is deeper and more pure than anything, I don’t really believe that’s true. I also have kids and I worry about bringing another male into their lives in a position of influence over them. I am also Christian and my theology informs my conscience which says I should remain single now. I make clear that this is my conscience because this is between me and God. Other people come to a different view and that’s between them and God. I can’t judge. I can only talk about what my conscience tells me about my situation. And for me, singleness is what I have always known will be my future after separation and divorce.

I’ve had to come to this through a process of thought and prayer. In the beginning, it was easy for me to say “I’ll just be single now” because I needed time to heal, and after a breakup I believe its a wise and healthy thing to be a alone for a while.

As time moved on, I had to keep developing my idea of singleness. This was because as I healed, I needed to be sure of what I was thinking. Partially because of my own clarity of thought as the fog thinned, and partially in response to other people’s treatment of my situation.

I’m sad to say that some treated me as though I had become morally tainted for life.  That takes some coming to terms with. You can do your business with God, you can weep and pray. You can be right in the eyes of God. But you can’t be right in the eyes of some humans.

This all goes into the mix. If people judge you as a failure, it plays into how you see yourself. This can drive you away from God, or towards Him.

Praise God that he met me in my mess and when judges were loud, God was louder.

So does that make me free and fabulous? Not really.

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The telly tells me that if I am single I am supposed to be larking about with other single fierce and fabulous women. We would do lunches and go on crazy holidays and call each other while we watch the TV like we’re a conference-call-Gogglebox family.

My life looks like a continuous episode of a really boring TV show. There’s work and parenting and cleaning and cooking and forgetting school presentations and eating toast for dinner. This is not “Sex and the City” this is “Slogging it out and the Suburbs”. Life is good – but it’s relentless.

So am I single and sad? Well that’s a no too. I still choose singleness, but now I am more sure of it, I am more confident in it. The turning point was reading the book of Ruth (which seems somewhat cliche but there you go).

Ruth is a foreigner. An outsider. She has nothing. She is nothing. Boaz, her kinsman protector, shows her special kindness and “She asked him, “Why have I found such favor in your eyes that you notice me—a foreigner?”” (Ruth 2:10).

This is how I felt with God after I was separated. I was an outsider. I had nothing. And I was nothing. And he showed me special kindness. Who was I that God should notice me?

I pondered this for a long time. It resonated deeply with me. But it seemed also familiar, and it drove me to Psalm 8 where a similar line to this sits within a psalm of David. I’ve put the psalm in full below so you can also ponder. It’s a psalm about God’s big-ness, his amazing huge-ness, his absolute glorious infinite powerful massiveness.

Who is my authority? Human judges? Or this God of infinite sovereignty? My authority comes from him. Everything I have and everything I am comes from him.

I am single for the gospel. I am not free and fabulous like the world tantalizes me with. I am not sad and single – I am fabulous and single. I will be single and celibate and proud of it. It won’t be easy. It will be (and already has been) difficult. But God is my rock and my kinsman redeemer. His love and protection are astonishing gifts of grace and I will use my singleness in any way he leads me.

And any time someone judges me for being divorced, I’ll read Psalm 8 and remember where my authority lies.

 

Psalm 8

For the director of music. According to gittith. A psalm of David.

Lord, our Lord,
    how majestic is your name in all the earth!

You have set your glory
    in the heavens.
Through the praise of children and infants
    you have established a stronghold against your enemies,
    to silence the foe and the avenger.
When I consider your heavens,
    the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
    which you have set in place,
what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
    human beings that you care for them?

You have made them a little lower than the angels
    and crowned them with glory and honor.
You made them rulers over the works of your hands;
    you put everything under their feet:
all flocks and herds,
    and the animals of the wild,
the birds in the sky,
    and the fish in the sea,
    all that swim the paths of the seas.

Lord, our Lord,
    how majestic is your name in all the earth!