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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Growing in Grace through Soul Friendships

Are you growing in grace?

Do you have friendships in your life that draw you closer to the Lord?

The most important goal in life as a believer in Jesus Christ is to grow in knowing Him more and becoming more like Him. So, if that is your goal in life, then it only stands to reason that you would desire to have friends with similar feelings and wants.

We end up with many different relationships in life, and there is a range to the depth of intimacy our relationships reach. The people you are closest to have the greatest influence on you and you on them. Their influence can be for good or for the worst. This helps us recognize why it is so important to make wise decisions or choices especially in our closest relationships. This is also why I asked if you have friendships that draw you closer to the Lord. Growing in grace should be a top priority and a soul friend can be a great help in that.

You may be wondering at this point what I mean when I say “soul friend.” Soul friend is a term I read about when I was doing a little personal studying on the spiritual disciplines. I was familiar with many of the disciplines mentioned, like meditation, prayer, study, solitude and silence, but I had not heard of that of “soul friendship.”

The following qualities are found in a soul friend, she or he:

  • has an intimate relationship with the Lord
  • lifts you up in prayer
  • shares honestly and truthfully with you
  • listens and empathises with you
  • helps you find your way to the Lord when you are distracted, frustrated, hurting, angry, or overwhelmed
  • helps you to hear and know the Lord’s truth about your situation

Mindy Caliquire says that a “spiritual friend” or “soul friend” helps us sit with God and helps us pay attention to Him.

We can be real with a soul friend, confess our problems, sins, share our needs, and be fragile enough to say ‘I need help.’ These kinds of friendships take time to form and develop, and often, I believe, they really come in answer to prayer.

I have been blessed with three soul friends in my life.  Three women who I have known varying lengths of time, but have grown deep with each because of our sharing. These friends do not know each other, they may have only heard me mention the others names. In each of these relationships our sharing with one another is all about honesty, asking probing questions, encouraging each other to seek wisdom, and praying for each other as we would pray for ourselves.

Each one of these three friends is a person I can share my deepest pain with. I can share the part of myself that I rarely tell anyone about. The pain that gets triggered at the most unexpected time, the pain that really makes no sense in the current situation but is all about the hurt of the past. I can be real and share the hurt I feel in a situation, or explain why I reacted. I can explain my reaction as it is connected to my pain, and they will know and connect with me in it. They will reassure me. And it works both ways, I know their inner conflicts and deep hurts, as well as their insecurities and I can be there for them.

Our conversations center around life, how we feel about life, what the Lord is teaching us, and where we are struggling. Our conversations always include how we can pray for each other, sharing Bible verses that touch our hearts, and giving God the glory for what He is doing.

None of us are squeaky clean, on the verge of perfection and knowing it all. We all are struggling in our own ways and we all need help for this journey called life.

We each need at least one soul friend in our lives. There are a couple of verses from God’s Word that come to mind as I share about soul friends. One is Proverbs 27:17:

“As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another. 

A soul friend helps you grow in the things of the Lord, in learning about Him, in learning His Word, in learning about living in Christlikeness. Iron is sharpened.

The other verse is just a couple of verses further into chapter 17 of Proverbs at verse 19:

“Oil and perfume rejoice the heart; so does the sweetness of a friends counsel that comes from the heart.”

The “sweetness of a friends counsel,” words spoken in truth and with love are so sweet. Those words connect our hearts in very special ways and keep us coming back to one another for more support, encouragement, and help. And, more importantly, we find our soul friends leading us back to the love of the Lord, to His wisdom, and that is truly irresistable.

If you do not have a soul friend in your life right now, ask the Lord to show you who He desires you to have that kind of relationship with, and let Him lead you in it.  He can and will make it happen, because there is nothing He wants more than for us to be growing in knowing and loving Him as we enjoy His love in others. He wants us to be growing in grace. He answers these prayers in amazing ways! You won’t be disappointed.

Next post we will consider Growing in Grace through Meditation, Reflection, and Journaling.

Authenticity in the Adventure

Being transparent and authentic is difficult, actually it can be downright scary. But apart from choosing transparency in a friendship or relationship, there is emptiness. Sharing, holding heart secrets, being real about life, all build trust. Such friendships are great blessings. They feel safe, you feel understood, and you feel known. These kind of relationships do not come about in an instant. You don’t just sit down and begin sharing from the depths of your heart. These relationships take varying degrees of time to develop.

I have learned that it is very important to be intentional about keeping the Lord first in my life in the quest of building deep friendships. God truly is a jealous God. He wants our hearts to be satisfied in Him alone. I feel that at times the Lord has withheld deep friendships from me because He wanted me to be faithful in honoring Him first. I know in the past I have made idols out of friends, I mean, I chose a person over the Lord without realizing it or intending for it to be that way. I would seek their advice, their help, and/or their understanding, and bypass the Lord.

I have seen that as I am diligent about keeping the Lord first, He has blessed me with gifts of new and deep friendships. This may or may not be true of you and your life. The Lord deals with each one of us individually. He knows how to work with us, how to get our attention, and how to draw us back to Him when we seem to stray. He knows what needs to be taken away or regulated just as a parent knows what is not helpful or healthy for a child.

The Lord also knows exactly what our hearts need. He brings people into our lives, people who we can minster to or help in specific ways as He has gifted us, as well as, people who can bless us with their giftedness.

He knows what is in and on our hearts that needs comfort or holding. He knows our experiences, and how by sharing about those experiences we can find encouragement. He knows how in His wisdom a person truly may lead us to new understanding, maybe understanding that will push us forward in growing in Him.

He hears our prayers of emptiness, loneliness, and neediness. He meets us in the pain of those with community, sisters in Christ or brothers in Christ. The Lord is faithful to meet each of our needs in ways so amazing, in ways that bring our hearts so much satisfaction. But the glory in this all goes to Him because these friends are blessing of His love. Such authenticity deepens our relationships and brings us belonging, they bring us sisterhood or brotherhood.

If you are struggling with not having a close friend or a tribe of trusted ones, ask the Lord to show you His amazing knowledge of the neediness of your heart, ask Him to bring you the blessing of a friend or put you in a group of friends..
The Lord wants us to be in relationship, of course with Him first, and then with the people He puts around us and those He brings into our lives. He cares deeply about the needs of our hearts and He will give you the gift of deep authentic relationship in this adventure we call life.

Be blessed and be a blessing!