One by one each member of my family has departed. And for thirty-six blissful hours I’ll enjoy my home alone. I cannot remember the last time I was at home, by myself, for more than a few hours. I will relish the time without negotiation, compromise, responsibility or interruption. And yet, too much of this good thing and my world would crash. What is it about this human plight of being alone and the loneliness that can result?
Loneliness is complex
Because Ian, during his long season of recovery, has struggled with loneliness I’ve been exploring the topic. Compared to his sister for example who lives independently and with abandon, at first glance it’s easy to understand why. But, as I’ve observed, read and studied, I’ve concluded there is much more to it. And even more notable, God has weighed in and impressed upon me some valuable truths that apply to me and every single solitary one of us.
Don’t confuse the two
First, it’s important to make the distinction between loneliness and being alone. We interchange the two terms all the time. To do so assumes that the person who is alone is always lonely; and that the person who is not alone can never be lonely. Both thoughts couldn’t be further from the truth. That’s why in the midst of the masses at Times Square on New Years Eve you can be lonely. Likewise, it’s possible for me to thoroughly enjoy my solitude as I write this, just me in the backyard with the birds. Being alone is a physical state of being. Being lonely is an emotional state of being. Sometimes the two coexist, but often they do not.
A God-shaped vacuum
The way I understand it, loneliness is an inner dissatisfaction, a restlessness in the heart, an indicator that something is missing. In the 17th century Pascal said, “there is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God the Creator, made known through Jesus Christ.”
I agree with Pascal. And I believe that vacuum is the place where all discontentment resides… including loneliness.
Say what, God?
And yet, looking back at how it all began in the garden, isn’t it curious that God says being alone is not good.
Genesis 2:18 The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”
If scripture is true why does God allow circumstances that cause us to be alone?
I think of the widow, or the single woman who longs to be married. Ian comes to mind, with his brain injury, isolated from his peers. There is the divorcee who never wanted it to happen, and the diseased victim whose body no longer cooperates.
In spite of all the connectedness technology provides today, it seems as if loneliness is more prevalent than ever.
Human Relationships can never satisfy
As I’ve studied the topic what I’ve come to understand is that God created people with a capacity for loneliness so that we would yearn for a relationship with Him. In other words, while human relationships are helpful and important, they will never fully satisfy. God never designed marriage for example, to be the ultimate eternal remedy for loneliness.
Doug and I had a long-sorted-non-typical courtship. In total, off and on, living on separate coasts, it took us nearly ten years to finally get married. Even having the advantage of few surprises, and being in our thirties, our first year was rocky. We lived in Scotland, away from familiarity, and had only each other. Even though I was excited to be Doug’s wife, at times, I felt lonely. How ironic — newly married living a dream in Edinburgh, the adventure of a lifetime, traveling throughout Europe for work and I was often lonely. It seemed so strange and confusing at the time. I see now that since Doug wasn’t filling my vacuum, as no human could, I was disappointed in him because I expected that from my husband. Ah yes… those damning expectations. This added undue pressure to our new marriage. Thankfully we endured and celebrate twenty-five years this December.
Loneliness takes prisoners
I’ve had a front row seat as I’ve witnessed what loneliness can do. Without tip-toeing around it, Ian blames God for his loneliness. And I can’t fault him for it. I get it.
Likewise, I’ve observed mature Christian friends who have experienced inexplicable loss. Even if it’s subconscious, disappointment with God is inevitable. On the heels of tragedy, the last thing we crave is intimacy with Him.
To make sense of our situation we try to understand it. When we can’t, God takes the hit. And yet, how ironic. The ONLY person who can truly satisfy and become the ultimate solution to our loneliness, begins as the object of our dis-appointment and hostility.
It’s human nature to look for a way out when loneliness blankets us. Sadly and sometimes dangerously, we seek escape in whatever is in front of us. It’s the easy answer. Bad habits, indulgences, rebound relationships, busy-ness. Our primary goal is to mask the pain. And it works for a season.
We can run, or fill or cover or avoid, but ultimately it finds us. Loneliness is essential to our human-ness. No-one escapes it. Our circumstances may appear to be the obvious culprit for our loneliness. But that’s not it. DON’T MISS THIS…
We’re lonely because we aren’t home yet.
Loneliness will only be fully eradicated when we get to heaven. That’s why every one of us experiences it. (young, old, single, married, brain injured, disabled or diseased). In the end, we are all in the same boat!
But there is good news
1. God meets us in our loneliness and uses it for kingdom purposes.
- The ache is often what eventually draws us back towards Him.
- The human connection we crave softens and expands our heart. We become more compassionate.
- The motivation to escape our loneliness invites creativity which often benefits our world.
Romans 8:28. 28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
2. God is gracious. He waits for us patiently as we regain our footing. Eventually we realize that even though we may feel alone, we are never alone.
Joshua 1:9 9 This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
A word to the lonely
If you are in a season of loneliness I say this with great sensitivity. God has not abandoned you. God sees you and loves you. My prayer is that you’d believe that truth and turn towards Him. He is your ultimate help.
Dear Heavenly Father, I praise you for being my sufficiency. You created me for relationship, for connection. I confess that I often rely on human relationships to satisfy me. Help me to see the futility. Give me a heart of compassion for those who are alone. Be especially near to them. Help us all to know the inevitability of loneliness this side of heaven. Cause us to yearn to be home. Amen.
For His Glory,