Recently a young, single woman quit her job in the city and moved back to her small hometown, abandoning her career and leaving a place of service in the church she had joined. When asked why, she replied, “I just got tired of eating supper alone.” No one is immune from it. Even one of the most brilliant men who ever lived, Albert Einstein, complained, “It is strange to be known so universally and yet to be so lonely.”1
In his book The Devil’s Advocate, Morris West says we need to understand that loneliness is not new. “It comes to all of us sooner or later. Friends die, family dies, too. We get old; we get sick…. In a society where people live in impersonal cities or suburbs, where electronic entertainment often replaces one-to-one conversation, where people move from job to job, and state to state, and marriage to marriage, loneliness has become an epidemic.”2
Lonely in Marriage
It’s amazing to me how many spouses are lonely. Marriage, the institution God created to provide intimacy, often becomes a place of great loneliness. I received a letter from a woman who said, “My husband and I are both Christians … but my emotional needs are rarely met because he works all the time. It’s the case of two people living parallel lives but never really meeting at all. He has heard and read a little about how a husband can create a good relationship with his wife, but it must all pass over him without making an impression. I’m not going to nag. I try not to think about it. But the hurt is deep. I am a very lonely person.”
Perhaps the loneliest people are survivors, those who live on after a loved one has died. Those who have buried a husband or wife experience a kind of pain which, I’m told, is so intense there’s nothing to which it can be compared. Often it’s divorce that causes the survivor to be left alone; and divorce can be more painful than death, for there is an awful sense of personal rejection that goes with the loneliness.
Lonely Heroes in the Bible
Did you realize the heroes in the Bible also suffered acute loneliness? I remember reading in the Psalms on one occasion when David talked about how he felt in the aloneness of his life. For my days are consumed like smoke, he wrote in Psalm 102:3, 6-7, and my bones are burned like a hearth…. I am like a pelican of the wilderness; I am like an owl of the desert. I lie awake, and am like a sparrow alone on the housetop.
Jeremiah suffered crippling loneliness. He preached faithfully, but few heeded his messages. Oh, that I had in the wilderness a lodging place for wayfaring men, he wrote in Jeremiah 9:2 (Third Millennium Bible), that I might leave my people, and go from them! For they are all adulterers, an assembly of treacherous men. Even the apostle Paul described the loneliness of his heart in the last chapter of the last epistle he wrote. Be diligent to come to me quickly, he said in 2 Timothy 4:9-10, 16, for Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world, and has departed for Thessalonica—Crescens for Galatia, Titus for Dalmatia. … At my first defense no one stood with me, but all forsook me.
It’s not a sin to be alone; it is not a sin to experience loneliness. It only becomes a sin when we start indulging it and when we fail to obey the instruction of the Word of God, given to help us dispel loneliness from our lives. It isn’t wrong to visit loneliness, but it is wrong to move in and let loneliness take over our lives.
Don’t just say, “Well, I’m not going to admit that I’m alone. I’m just going to accept the fact that I’m a Christian and that Jesus is always with me. I may feel alone, but I know I’m not alone, so I will just deny the feeling.” Instead, tap into three sources of encouragement God has provided when we feel the pain of loneliness.
1. Embrace Intimacy With God
Only God can solve the problem of loneliness. He created us in such a way that we have an emptiness that can only be filled by an intimate relationship with Himself. Until God is at home in our hearts, we’ll always feel incomplete; and He makes our hearts His home through the work of Jesus Christ on the cross. Christ experienced the most awful aloneness possible. As He was rejected by His Father, He cried out My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me? (Matthew 27:46) He was left alone so that we might never be alone. He was left alone so that sin would be paid in full and that we could come to Him in faith, accepting what He did for us on the cross. Through Christ, God comes to live within us, filling the empty spaces in our hearts.
I’ve been watching people go through crises now for over thirty years, and I can tell you that it’s possible to tell whether a person is a Christian or not just by watching their response to the difficulties of life. If we don’t have the inner strength that comes through a personal relationship with Almighty God, we’re left alone to handle the stresses and crises of life. But as F. B. Meyer put it, “Loneliness is an opportunity for Jesus to make Himself known.”
When Paul was describing his loneliness in 2 Timothy 4:16-17, he concluded by saying, No one stood with me, but all forsook me…. But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me.
He will do that for you, too.
2. Allow God’s Word to Fill Your Heart and Mind
If you’re a Christian experiencing loneliness, you need to hear the Lord’s voice speak to you. You need to hear the Lord speak to your problem, and He will do that if you will read the Word of God. Search His Word for verses that reassure the lonely heart, verses like these:
- When my father and my mother forsake me, then the Lord will take care of me (Psalm 27:10).
- In Your presence is fullness of joy (Psalm 16:11).
- The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms (Deuteronomy 33:27).
- I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever (John 14:16).
- Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8).
These are just representative Scriptures to remind us that the pages of the Bible contain all the promises we need when we feel the pain of loneliness.
3. Activate Your Network of Christian Friends
Did you know that every time the word “saint” appears in the Bible, it appears in the plural because saints are not left in isolation? We are the saints of God, and we come together for mutual support and encouragement. Moments of being alone may not be a choice, but lingering in the house of loneliness is your decision. God has first of all given us His Son, He has given us His Word, and He has given us His people. He has put us into the community of believers called the Church.
There are Sunday school classes, small groups, ministry teams, and opportunities to activate a network of brothers and sisters in the Lord. Psalm 68:6 says, God sets the lonely in families, He leads out the prisoners with singing (NIV). Take the initiative and seek out places to serve. Forget about your own needs long enough to meet the needs of someone else. God’s wonderful secret for victory over chronic, soul-crippling loneliness is a combination of His Son, His Scriptures, and His Saints.
For fifty years Agnes Frazier and her husband Emit had morning Bible reading and prayer at the breakfast table. On the day he died, she went to bed thinking that she could never again start the day with devotional exercises. But the next morning she bravely sat at the kitchen table and opened her Bible to the spot where she and her husband had quit their reading twenty-four hours before. The verse that stared up at her was Isaiah 54:5—For your Maker is your husband. She smiled and said, “Thank you, Lord.”
We can smile and thank God, too. He never leaves us alone—not for an instant. In His presence is fullness of joy.
2Morris L. West, The Devil’s Advocate (New York: Dell, 1959), 334-335.