Leaving Loneliness

     Almost every person experiences loneliness at one time or another.  Loneliness is the “state of sadness that comes from feeling alone, isolated, or cut off from others” (Loneliness, June Hunt, 11).  The faces of loneliness are varied, from the widow reaching out in the night for a partner that is no longer there to a kid on the playground rejected by his peers.   We even occasionally hear stories of a “lonely death,” where a person died and no one noticed for months.  Surprisingly, even in God’s original garden paradise this problem rears its ugly head.  After each day of creation God simply says, “It is good.”  But after making Adam, the very pinnacle of creation, one made in the image of God, the Creator pauses and says, “It is not good for man to be alone. . . ” (Genesis 2:18a).   He then makes Eve, a companion, a wife, a friend. 
     But loneliness continues to plague humanity.  In the ancient book of Job we see the hero of the story, Job himself, cry out, “All of my intimate friends detest me; those I love have turned against me” (Job 19:19).  This ancient problem seems to be growing.  One reason is increasing urbanization.  For example, in a small town if you have to walk a few blocks most likely you will say hello to each person you encounter or at least nod in acknowledgement.  But if you walked those same few blocks in Los Angeles, California the sheer number of people you would encounter would strongly discourage personal engagement.  Surrounded by people the walker might even isolate with headphones and music.   Another reason for growing loneliness is how transient Americans are becoming, they tend to move every few years.  For example, here in Fairbanks because of the University and the military bases many of the people you meet will only be here two or three years.  I love Fairbanks but the long, dark, brutally cold winters don’t help us either; sometimes after one winter people leave.  Yet when I return to the church I grew up in Indiana I can look over and see my Sunday School teachers and youth sponsors from decades ago.  In addition, the incredible divorce rates and brokenness in families has led to a social fracturing that has left a wake of loneliness.   Finally, added to all of this a global pandemic where lockdowns and social distancing are the primary weapons has massively magnified isolation.  Think of those in some nursing homes and group homes who have not seen their families in a year.  Even before the pandemic 3 in 5 American adults consider themselves lonely (The Lonely Century, Noreena Hertz, 6).
     Loneliness is a huge problem for people and has massive ramifications.  Mother Teresa once said,  “Loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is the most terrible poverty.”  One study said that long-term loneliness has the physical effects of smoking 15 cigarettes a day (The Lonely Century, Noreena Hertz, 8).   The effects of chronic loneliness are so significant that in 2017 the British Prime Minister appointed a “minister of loneliness” (The Loneliness Solution, Jack Eason, 18).  When I used to work for a crisis line there many times that people called simply because they were lonely.  We were as helpful as possible because there are at least 130 studies that found a link between loneliness and suicide (The Lonely Century, Noreena Hertz, 31).   Apparently there is money to be made off loneliness; I chuckled when I learned that RentAFriend is an actual business!       
      So how do we deal with loneliness?  First, SLOW DOWN.  Too many of us are always “on.”  Our smartphones have made us constantly available to our jobs.  It is so easy to check your email when you are at home with your family.  We all have seen or been the family in the restaurant where everyone is on their phone.  We must slow down.  Protect time we are not available.  We must have face to face time with people.  Honestly, I think this is part of the power of Christian camps.  Kids unhook from the illusion of connection of social media and spend time in God’s creation and having face to face conversations with other kids and with adults who are willing to invest in them. 
     Second, EXPERIENCE GOD’S PRESENCE.  Famous Missionary Elisabeth Elliot who was widowed three times was once asked about a husband meeting a wife’s emotional needs.  In essence, she responded “I have found that no one of them, or even all three of them together if I had been a polyandrist, could ‘meet all my needs.’  The Bible promises me that my God, not my husband, shall supply all my needs” (The Path of Loneliness, 90).   God made us for relationship with Him.  He is where we will find wholeness and completion, not another person.   Heaven is the ultimate fulfillment of our longing.  Imagine every relationship is devoid of dishonesty or selfishness.  Imagine no rejection or neglect.  The Heavenly presence of God will be completely satisfying. 
      Third, TRUST GOD’S PROCESS.  If God is truly sovereign, then everything in your life is from Him or at least allowed by Him.  We cannot always avoid loneliness but we can learn lessons from it.  Maybe we are lonely in singleness and yet there are advantages in singleness.  Maybe we are feeling lonely in our marriages, yet there in that emotional crucible is where we may experience substantial spiritual growth.   In the midst of all suffering God whispers to us, ‘Trust me.”   When Elisabeth Elliot was asked how she could move forward in her grief over the murder of her first husband by a war like tribe that he had tried to share the gospel with she said in the midst of her loneliness she chose to trust God and do the next thing. Whether the next thing was washing dishes or taking care of her children or sharing the gospel with the very men who killed her husband she simply took the next step and did the next right thing. 
     Fourth, to leave loneliness ENGAGE GOD’S PEOPLE.  King David wrote, “God sets the lonely in families . . .” (Psalm 68:6a).   The church is the world’s largest and greatest family.  We have a perfect Father who loves us each individually and powerfully.  Yes, church is a messy family but as one who has spent decades enjoying it I can tell you it is a beautiful mess.  Every morning at 7 a.m. a small group meets at Journey Church and prays for each other, our church, other churches, this community and the country.  It is a remarkable way to start each day.     
      Finally, when Jesus was dying on the cross as he experienced the wrath of God for the sins of the world, he cried out “My God, My God why have your forsaken me.” Jesus experienced excruciating loneliness! Understand Jesus experienced the ultimate loneliness so that you and I could experience the ultimate connection to God Himself.  

Pastor Derek Dickinson
Journey Christian Church