Loneliness

Do you wrestle with loneliness?

You are not alone.

Loneliness is experienced by many people, but few admit it. Admitting to feeling lonely is difficult because we worry no one will understand.

We find the subject of loneliness in the Psalms. David shares openly of his struggle with feeling lonely. David takes his neediness to the Lord, wanting Him to be aware of his pain and to help him with it. Here are two verses where we find the Psalmist crying out.

Psalm 25:16 “Turn to me and be gracious to me for I am lonely…”

Psalm 142:4  “Look to my right and see, no one is concerned for me. I have no refuge, no one cares for my life.’

Can you relate?

There have been times in my life when I have felt lonely. I remember feeling as though there was no one I could share my present reality with. No one that I could share my feelings about all that was happening in my life. And I wanted to talk with someone.

There are many different reasons for loneliness. Loneliness can be circumstantial. It may be because of moving away to a new town, or having an empty-nest. It could be that there has been a misunderstanding between friends or within your family. Loneliness also occurs when there is a loss of a spouse or close friend through death or divorce, or a separation of some kind.

Loneliness can be because of personal fear of sharing, putting up walls of self-protection. We sometimes choose to isolate ourselves because of fear of others criticism, judgment, or their reaction. We stuff our feelings because it seems as if no one will accept us if we share with them.

I know my depression stemmed from stuffing deep grief from childhood. I felt abandoned in my grief but didn’t feel heard when I tried to express it, so I crammed it deep inside. I chose to be busy and independent as I grew up. I ran away from the painful feelings as much as possible, until at one unexpected moment much later in life all of my pain poured out in sobs. I had walled off that part of me– and chose not to feel it or look at it. But then came the time when there no longer was a choice. I had to get to the bottom of it all.

Loneliness can come about out of shame too. A choice we or a family member made, one that seemed like the only way out at the time, leaving us now feeling alone and afraid to share. What will people say? What will they think? How will they look at me if they knew? These are all questions that may go through our minds. We wonder how could I tell them about my abortion, my drug abusing teen, my affair, my alcoholic spouse, my father in prison–what will they say?

These feelings of shame can be further magnified in the community of believers. We look at those around us in the chairs or pews in our churches and they look as if their lives are perfect. We wonder how could they ever relate to what we are going through? The feelings of “I don’t belong” scream in our heads and rip apart our hearts. We need each other. We need someone to talk to. But who is safe?  Who will even want to be around us? We feel like the lepers in the Bible– isolated and surely to be ostracized.

Again I ask, can you relate?

Loneliness is a problem in all of society. The rich, the poor, and in each and every race. We all need Jesus and we all need the community of others to support us throughout life.

As believers we want to think that we can find that community, that family, in our churches. But that is not always the case. It seems that our churches are often places filled with plastic smiles and rote replies where many hearts are dying of loneliness.

So what is the answer, how do we find a better way? How do we find the connection we so desperately need? Well, the first and most important answer is to seek the Lord in prayer. I know that I have prayed at different times in my life for the Lord to provide me with community, safe-sisters, and He has in amazing and unexpected ways. I have found that He knows exactly what my heart needs.

Many deep safe friendships take years to form, but with God, He can develop depth of years in a few months. He wants us to have heart-to-heart friendships. Friendships filled with love, sharing and accountability. It is in the sharing of our hurts, our struggles, our pain, our missteps, and in our freedom to confess the reality of what life is really like, that we find community. Community is what we need to help us lift our load.

Galatians 6:2 tells us, “Carry each others burdens and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” The Benson Commentary explains that this verse is telling us to “sympathize with and assist each other in all our weaknesses, grievances, trials.” Matthew Henry’s Concise commentary says that “The better we know our own hearts and way, the less we shall despise others and the more be disposed to help them under infirmities and afflictions.” And Barnes Notes on the Bible  explains that we are to “bear with each other; help each other in the divine life. The sense is that every man has special temptations and easily besetting sins, which constitute a heavy burden. We should aid each other in regard to these, and help one another to overcome them.”

The law of Christ is all about loving one another and love is the antidote to loneliness. Christ-like love. When we read the Word of God we see that Jesus mostly condemned the pious, proud, self-reliant people and befriended the suffering and the sinners.

I am so blessed to be a part of a church that is full of love and honesty regarding struggles, but I know that is not the norm. And it makes me incredibly sad to see so many going through life lonely and isolated because there is no place for honest sharing and confession.

We need to be the change-agents. We need to open our hearts, confess our struggles, and welcome the neediness of others. This can start with just acknowledging the emotions of another or a struggle heard in prayer. it can be followed up with a caring phone call. Or asking one to join you for coffee or for a Bible study or a book study. It takes being aware, and a willingness to be open and available. Reaching out involves risk but when connection occurs it brings great blessing. It’s helpful to remember that people have varying levels of comfort with depth of sharing, so we have to move forward carefully.

We all need acceptance and belonging in our lives and my post will delve into that topic next week. I hope that you will join me again.

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We Need the Lord and Each Other

If someone asked you to describe the Lord and your experience of Him, What would you say?

How does that influence your interactions with others and how you respond to pain and difficulties?

Shadows are the result of something blocking the light. There are many things in life that cast a shadow on our faith and make us question the Lord’s goodness, His power, His timing, or His wisdom. Roman’s 8:38-39 tells us that nothing can separate us from God’s love. Yet, Satan wants us to live in the dark places, and to have shadows cast on God’s love and faithfulness so our faith is shaken and we question God. Satan wants us to tremble with fear and feel very alone.

The Lord desires us to fully know His love and to share that love and build community. He wants us to be empathetic, authentic, transparent, and real about what we feel and need. He wants His love to touch our pain and to help us grow. He wants us to grow to know Him and His love more deeply. He wants us to pour out our hearts to Him (Psalms 62:8).  He also wants us to make confession of our sin to one another (James 5:16).  He desires us to live in a community of love.

When we as Christians are limited in our experience of knowing the reality and magnitude of God’s love, we fail to share and express it. We all need the Lord, the blessings of His love and grace, and we need each other, but how should this flow and work in life? And, more importantly, is it happening to the extent and in the way the Lord desires, or do some changes need to take place?

The Word of God is filled with people struggling with sin, pain, and fear in real life issues. We read about people who cry out to the Lord in desperation like Elijah (1 Kings 17-19), Ezra, and the Israelites (Ezra 10), and David (Psalms 42, 43, 69). People who authentically confessed their weakness, sin, and neediness. It is in those places in the Bible, in those places of authenticity and transparency, that I feel safe and not alone. I feel a level of community with them because they share their hurt,  and raw emotions with the Lord and with others.

We know that we are a sinful, rebellious people living in a world filled with pain, sickness, evil, and trouble. We know there is a cavernous emptiness within. It is in Jesus that we find grace and acceptance.

Yet, there are so many lonely Christians with dark secrets that they fear sharing. So many afraid to step into our churches because, more than being preached at or judged, they need to feel love and acceptance. There are so many hurting people; deeply wounded by abandonment, rejection, lies, betrayal, loss, grief, death, living in depression, or with another mental illnesses. There are many whose stories are walled off within because of fear, they live in self-protection. People who see plastered on smiles and hear “I’m fine” and wonder, “what’s wrong with me?” People who hear verses handed out like prescriptions, spiritual Band Aids slapped ineffectively on gaping wounds. People who hear Christian platitudes; the way it should be, but know that this isn’t their experience in life or their experience of God. These are people who desperately need to feel and know the love of Jesus in real, practical ways, but they are not finding it.

These are issues I want to discuss, issues I want to look at. You see, I have been on both sides of this problem. I have been the needy, desperate one feeling totally alone and misunderstood, as I felt when I was deep in my depression and people questioned my faith. And I have been that Christian, who has shared an unhelpful Christian platitude and walked away not hearing the pain of another. I think that most of us can probably say we have experienced both sides.

Many of us have been needy and desperate at some time. We have needed empathy, understanding, or a listening ear from a caring person, or maybe something more tangible. Yet we may have struggled to feel safe in asking to have that need met, and so have been left alone in our pain. We fear sharing the reality of our neediness, we question the safety in being fully seen and heard just as we are. Many of us know the pain of loneliness, neediness, or just wanting to know acceptance and have belonging. We feel left out, not good enough or just separate and different.

And many of us also have given out a verse when a listening ear was needed.

What can we as people and we as a part of the “Christian community” do? The change begins in us as individuals.

My next three posts will focus on loneliness, acceptance, belonging, Christian platitudes, and spiritual Band-Aids. I hope you will join me each week.