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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A Look at Depression: Naomi

The darkness of grief and depression can smother out the light of any hope and faith we may have.

The story of Naomi and her grief and depression is found in the book of Ruth. Naomi was the wife of a man named Elimilech. Naomi and Elimilech had two sons, Mahlon and Kilion. This family lived in Bethlehem until a famine came to the land and they moved to Moab. There in Moab, the two sons married Moabite women. Mahlon married Ruth and Kilion married Orpah. In the years that followed first Naomi’s husband, Elimilech, died and then Naomi’s sons also died.

Imagine the sorrow in Naomi’s heart losing her husband and sons, and still being in a foreign country. Naomi and her daughters-in-laws lost their providers and protectors. They were suddenly vulnerable with no person to stand up for them or take care of them. Or so it seems when your faith has faded and you see no reason for hope. Naomi only knew bitterness in her heart and the hopelessness of an unknown future.

Naomi came to believe that the Lord was punishing her and blames Him for her sorrow. She grew very bitter. With nowhere else to turn she decided that she would go back to her home country. She was prepared to do the trip alone, but her daughter-in-law Ruth offered to go with. Naomi refused, but Ruth was insistent.

Reading this account of Naomi’s life made me realize how she totally missed the reality of the grief her daughters-in-law must be experiencing. She could only see and feel her own pain.

Yet, Ruth still wanted to go with Naomi, despite Naomi’s bitter attitude. And so the two women returned to Naomi’s home country and were greeted by the local women. Naomi told them not to call her by her name which means “pleasant” but instead to call her Mara which means “bitter.”

Naomi was very depressed. She couldn’t see anything but the darkness, she couldn’t feel anything but the pain within and only responded with blame towards the Lord.

Grief can bring despair and depression, and Naomi had a lot to grieve about, first losing her husband and then her two sons.

When we suffer pain and loss in life it is easy to feel tempted to blame God. It is common to question Him and ask “why.” We often don’t understand His purpose in allowing such deep sorrow in our lives.

My depression stemmed from sorrow that I had buried when I was young. The grief within was hidden away for many years until it was triggered by a friend losing her mom. Then my buried grief spilled out in endless tears and my deep depression became apparent.

The pain of loss, whether it is that of a husband, child, parent, grandparent, or close friend, can be devastating. When your heart is attached to a loved one, the separation of death feels unbearable.

I was able to work through my grief all those years later in therapy. I said goodbye and let the pain spill out for my loss. I also worked through the many issues that the loss had brought about.

My heart wanted the need for the one I lost to be filled with the nurturing love that had been taken away by death. I wanted it to be done my way. But God… yes, He had a different, better plan for me. And that was true for Naomi as well. The Lord brought a man named Boaz into Ruth’s life as she tried to get food for her and Naomi. Boaz ended up marrying Ruth and together they had a child. The Lord blessed them with new hope and new life.

The darkness of grief and depression can smother any hope and faith we may have. We just can’t see how anything good is possible in the midst of the pain. We lose sight of the Lord, the God of the impossible. But He can bring hope, He can heal our hearts and nurture us in our neediness.

Oh, I know the pain is not erased. But the Lord works in and through our pain to help us know Him and His love in greater and deeper ways.

Naomi learned of the Lord’s faithfulness. The Lord supplied her with a “kinsman”. He blessed Boaz and Ruth with a son, and so Naomi had a grandson. It is from this grandson, Obed, that the Messiah would come.

“Kinsman” in these verses of Ruth, is the Hebrew word  “goel” from the root word meaning “to redeem.” “The “goel” among the Hebrews was the nearest male blood relation alive… If anyone from poverty was unable to redeem his inheritance it was the duty of the kinsman to redeem it” (Bible Study Tools).

The Lord gave Ruth and Naomi someone to redeem their inheritance. And through the birth of Obed, God has given us a Redeemer also. Jesus has redeemed our inheritance, in Him we have eternal life and everlasting hope.

Grief and depression affect many of us during the course of our lives, but in Christ there is help and hope. We only have to turn to Him. And as Sheila Walsh says, we only need to pray to Him, to call to Him out of the “cellar of our souls” and tell Him all that we feel. He will hear us and meet us there. He will bring hope and light in the darkness. If you are going through grief and depression, I pray that you find hope in Him.