These are my teaching notes from Cornerstone Church in Moorpark, California’s women’s group, Legacy. Today’s topic was Combating Loneliness. I would appreciate your comments in the comments section. Be blessed today.
Loneliness is one of life’s most miserable experiences. As I was studying and preparing to speak at the women’s group at my church, I came across an article that called loneliness the “toothache of the soul”. As a dentist, of course, I was intrigued by that analogy – first because I understand the nature of a toothache but secondly because from time to time, I’m plagued with loneliness myself and that is what it can often feel like – like an ache in my soul.
I suspect that many of you reading this experience loneliness. In fact, statistics state that loneliness has doubled since the 1980s! In two recent surveys, 40% of adults said they were lonely, which is surprising because we are living in a time when in theory, we are more “socially connected” than ever before!
Take me for example, due to the nature of the various projects I’m involved with, I happen to be quite active on social media. I have about 650 friends on Facebook, over 1800 followers on Twitter, over 100 followers on Instagram, and over 200 on Pinterest, not to mention all of my blog followers and facebook group followers.
When I’m not online, I also have a private practice and we see many patients each week. I have also lived in my community for 13 years and have kids in various sports and activities so I am in touch with a high volume of people. I am highly connected and to some very interesting people! But the reality is, that having a friend on Facebook or having casual acquaintances is a poor substitute for having an actual, true “old school” friend.
So for me, it’s not that I don’t meet people or know people, I just don’t necessarily have a deeper connection with many of them. And in the past few months I’ve become aware of the fact that being known by others only in part, meaning having people only know a little bit about me, actually makes me feel unknown altogether.
For example, many people know me as a wife or a mother and I am both a wife and a mother, but I am also a writer and a thinker, someone who loves to discuss ideas and take walks with friends. I’m a novice photographer and I like to read books.
Many people know that I am a dentist and that I love learning about healthy living, but what most people don’t know is that I am addicted to See’s Candy and I can easily be bribed with Dark Chocolate Butter Chews. I also enjoy a nice glass of wine, especially while watching funny movies and eating a 9×9 pan of gluten-free brownies, all to myself.
So lately when I’ve experienced profound moments of loneliness, I’ve realized that I just want someone to know me, and I mean truly know me. Not just the me that they see at church or in the office, but the me that gets annoyed with stuff, or the me that is over the moon when I buy something on sale, the me that gets overwhelmed and needs prayer and a pep talk — the me that is real and raw and human.
Now, some of you may be thinking, ”Well, that’s my husband. He knows me that way”. And it’s true that if you live with someone long enough, you get to know a lot about them. And it’s a blessing to have that in your marriage but often times, even people who are married or have a family full of kids can find themselves burdened by loneliness. And aside from your husband, wouldn’t it be lovely to have a sister in Christ who could also know you in that way?
Being lonely is not necessarily about “alone-ness”, but about a lack of intimate, meaningful connections with other people. Most of us know what it is like to be lonely in a room full of people. Even celebrities who are surrounded by hundreds of adoring fans, can be deeply lonely because if there is no one who really knows you or no one you can rely on, you will feel disconnected, isolated.
Lately, it’s popular to blame smart phones and social media for our increasing feelings of disconnectedness. And it’s true that there are ways in which social media hinders true relationship but as Christians it’s important to note that even people in the Bible were lonely.
In the Old Testament, well before smart phones, King David experienced profound moments of loneliness. Just as a quick review, this is the David of “David and Goliath” – an inexperienced boy who armed with only a stick and a few stones, confronted and killed, with a slingshot, a nine-foot, giant named Goliath. As a result of his bravery, the sitting King at the time, Saul, took him under his wing and looked after him. At some point Saul started to become jealous of David and his successes in life and he attempted to kill him. But because God had a plan for him, when it was time, David himself became King. And even though he was surround by people and had incredible opportunities and found favor in God’s eyes, life was not easy for him. And he found himself plagued by an emotional Goliath – loneliness. Lucky for us, he wrote about it.
David is credited with writing many of the Psalms in the bible and they give us insight into his heart. Some theologians tout the Book of Psalms as the place to go when you’re hurting because the Psalms describe human suffering so well and they also give examples of how to worship and praise God despite the suffering.
You see David wrote some of these psalms, these poems and songs, he wrote them to God even in times of isolation and profound loneliness. And he often begged God for mercy in those moments.
Psalm 25:16-17 – “Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted. Relieve the troubles of my heart and free me from my anguish.”
Psalms 142: 4-5 – “Look right beside me: See? No one pays attention to me. There’s no escape for me. No one cares about my life. I cry to you, Lord, for help.“You are my refuge,” I say. “You are all I have in the land of the living.”
And if we look in the New Testament, Jesus too, felt lonely at times. Especially when he was being persecuted and nailed on a cross. His disciples, the people who were in ministry with him and knew him best, abandoned him in his hour of need. His most faithful followers, who left their way of life to follow him, the people who loved him before he was crucified were no longer there for him. At the sign of trouble, they vanished! So even Jesus got to experience what it felt like to be lonely. So take comfort in knowing that He knows exactly what we go through when we experience those feelings.
Jesus’s loneliness, of course, reached its apex the moment he became sin for us on the cross. Even though He knew God’s will and was obedient to it, (He knew his job was to go to that cross and die for our sins so that those of us who believe in Him could be forgiven and therefore, we could restore our relationship with God). Jesus knew what the mission was, and He complied, yet He still felt God had abandoned Him in His moment of need.
Matthew 27:46 – “… Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’.”
You see, in that awful moment, Jesus was expressing His feelings of abandonment as God had placed the sins of the world on Him. Because God is holy and He can’t be in the presence of sin, God had to “turn away” from Jesus. And Jesus was feeling the disconnection. He was experiencing separation from God - which he had never experienced before. Jesus became sin for us, so He felt the loneliness and abandonment that sin produces, except that in His case, it was not His sin – it was ours.
So, I wanted to take some time to look at loneliness in the face so we can recognize it when we see it and we can learn how to combat it. I want us to contemplate what it really means. If anything, today is an invitation for us as Christians to communicate more openly about the loneliness we are all bound to experience at various seasons of our lives.
Loneliness is the feeling that engulfs you when you are lacking friendly companionship or a support system. At it’s core, loneliness is really “the want of intimacy” — we want to be known by others. We want to know that someone else really knows our true self, understands us and accepts us as works in progress. We want to know who we can rely on when the going gets tough. Who is going to stick around when we are being nailed to a cross?
The trick is that intimacy comes, in part, from the willingness to be vulnerable. It comes when we recognize that needing other people is not a sign of weakness but a mere fact of human existence. So often, in the Christian community, we feel like we have to keep up this facade of having it all together. After all, we are supposed to have everything in Christ.
We think that to admit we are lonely would be a sin. So we turn our feelings inward. We don’t dare verbalize our our longing for intimacy or others might think there is something terribly wrong or broken within us.
Our interpretation of being a Christian is that we should feel completely fulfilled in the fact that we belong to God. And so we are troubled or ashamed when we feel unpleasant emotions like loneliness. But I’d like for you to be free of this wrong thinking. Being lonely is not a sin, but it ispart of the human experience.
It’s also not a sign of not loving God or not being dependent on God. In fact, loneliness points us to the need for relationship and fellowship as designed by God. God made us to need other believers because even if you don’t recognize it or feel it, you are part of the greater body of Christ and you have a purpose in God’s plan.
Fellowship is addressed a few different places in the bible. But one that stands out to me is in the story of Adam and Eve. So review Genesis for a second. Remember Genesis? In the beginning, God made the heavens and the earth. He separated light from darkness. He made land and sea and all the living creatures and at each stage of creation, God paused and evaluated His work. And after examining what he had made “…He saw that it was good”.
Only one more task remained. Making man. So made in God’s image, Adam would fulfill a role no other creature could — he would have fellowship with God and be the object of God’s love.
But after placing Adam in the Garden, Genesis 2:18 tells us that God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.” Did you catch that? … “not good”. Everything else God had created to this point….good. Adam alone in the garden…not good. Loneliness was the first thing that God’s eye named “not good”.
God recognized Adam’s need for relationship with another human being — a need God had built into him. With the creation of Eve, Adam’s intimate relationship with God was complemented by communion and companionship with someone like himself, another human.
Sometimes, loneliness is like an acute dental problem that aches for a few hours or a couple days. But when you’re burdened by the ache for weeks, months, or even years, it’s definitely telling you something. It’s a warning signal that something is wrong. And like a toothache, if left unattended, it usually gets worse.
We need to be clear about what this warning sign means. You see, loneliness is a sign that you have a relationship problem. This is a huge revelation and if you can wrap your head around it, it will be a tremendous area of growth for you!
Going back to the Old Testament, if we look at the Ten Commandments, we see that the first four are about our relationship with God. The last six commandments are about our relationships with other people. This is so important to grasp. Because we can’t grow in our faith if we are not in relationship with God or with his people.
If you hang around Christians long enough and study God’s word enough, you eventually learn that we were put on this earth to worship God and to glorify Him. What does this mean? This means that our purpose is to recognize who God is in comparison to us – and by knowing who He is, because we have a relationship with Him, we can’t help but to worship such a mighty creator!
And the second part, to “glorify God” means that we show other people who God is by how we treat them. It means to bring Him honor through what we say, how we act, and how we think. To glorify God means to acknowledge His glory, His magnificence and to value it above all things. We glorify God through our faith and trust in Him. We glorify God through our love for him and others. We glorify God through our desire to obey Him and serve him by caring for his people. We glorify God through our desire to know Him and make Him known to others. And we can only make Him known to others when we are in relationship with other people.
Like a toothache, loneliness has symptoms that prove that the diagnosis is a problem with our relationships. I’m just going to cover a few symptoms of loneliness but I’m sure you could come up with more. Some of the symptoms of loneliness include: being intimidated by silence, a high attachment to familiarity and viewing relationships with fear.
Intimidated by Silence
A lonely person will turn some appliance on whenever they enter a room, even if it is not conducive to whatever the task is at hand. A radio, TV or anything just to break the spell of quietness. Silence can be a thing of great beauty, especially when your kids are small and noisy! But to a lonely person, silence is like a coffin. It’s uncomfortable – because God forbid your mind goes to wondering and you start thinking about or actually feeling your loneliness.
I put excessive TV watching into this category as well. When I was in dental school, the show Melrose Place was popular and I used to watch that show religiously. Looking back, it was a ridiculous show but back then, I would never miss an episode and the next morning, one of my lab partners (a woman) and I would discuss the whole episode from top to bottom. And we were seriously, emotionally invested in the characters and couldn’t believe that Jane believed Michael’s lies yet again! And what a homewrecker Amanda was and how could she get away with that?!
Well, one day our other lab partner (a man) who was likely sick of us yapping about the show said “Ummm, you guys know that they aren’t real right? They aren’t your actual friends. You don’t have to get so worked up about it, it’s just a show.”
But for us, it wasn’t just a show. We had become invested in their lives and we were experiencing their triumphs and tragedies each week and to us, they did start to feel like they were our friends! But in retrospect, my lady lab partner and I would’ve been better off investing in each other’s lives with that same passion.
Now, am I saying that if you watch a show regularly that you are lonely? No. But I’m trying to illustrate that if you take that same level of commitment and direct it toward a girlfriend – it will be more fulfilling, potentially as dramatic – or not, and that commitment will likely be reciprocated. TV characters don’t reciprocate the investment or relationship.
A High Attachment to Familiarity
A lonely person attaches themselves to the familiar things in life. They would rather stay at home than venture out since the home is a place of safety and protection. They fear new experiences or adventures, even in controlled environments such as church.
I recently confessed to a couple of the Legacy leaders that I was annoyed when on the first day of the semester we had to pick our tables out of a hat. That was uncomfortable for me. I wanted to be at a table where I’d be with familiar people. I ended up at a table where the only person I knew was our mentor mom. Now as it turns out, my table is awesome. And so far I have been blessed by everyone’s stories and their prayers as well as their praises! So, stepping out of my comfort zone was uncomfortable but it was also a blessing. Now, of course all of us feel more secure with the familiar things in our lives but the key is when you are bent on being around familiarity constantly or you are really uneasy about about doing something unfamiliar.
Being Resistant to Meaningful Relationships.
When we are lonely, we tend to engage in what scientists call “social evasion.” Meaning we avoid being social or getting deep in our relationships. This is usually because past hurts have made us distrustful. We become less concerned with meaningful interactions and more concerned with self-preservation so we stick to the periphery, away from people we do not know if we can trust.
Many of us have been trained to accept rejection as a way of life after experiencing it in various other relationships. It’s no wonder that we start to fear being vulnerable around other people. If we resist or avoid deep connections with others, then in a sense we are the ones rejecting people and on some level, that allows us to feel in control of the situation. But sisters, this is deceit of the highest. And right where Satan wants us right? – being afraid of what God wants for us, fellowship and relationship.
For many of us, improving our relationships with others and letting them get close to us is as anxiety provoking as going to the dentist to have your toothache evaluated. We’re afraid to open up (literally and figuratively). And we’re afraid of what the other person is going to tell us! Some of us don’t want to be burdened by another’s life. We are drowning in our own burdens! Or worse, they might try to make us feel better about our burdens instead of just letting us vent and talk it out.
In Galations 6:2, we are told to share each other’s burdens. And to be there for one another so that if someone falls into sin, we can help restore them. After all we might be needing forgiveness and help ourselves in just a matter of time.
So what does that mean, carrying each other’s burden? It means to get involved. Getting to know others places us in a position to recognize how to best help them. Carrying burdens means knowing the mission – which is restoration. We should work to restore the emotional, spiritual, mental, or physical health of others.
It means having the right modus operandi, the right method: love. 1 Peter 4:8 says, “Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins.”
Carrying burdens means having the right strategy: gentleness. We must approach others with compassion when bearing their burdens. A gentle person is one who is patient, caring, loving, kind, forgiving, and accepting. So yes, satisfying, meaningful relationships take time and effort.
Intimate friendships require giving, but they also requires taking, and many of us would rather be independent than feel like we are burdening someone. If I haven’t really talked to you in a few months, I am much less likely to want to call you when I’m struggling. I don’t want to be like “Hey, haven’t talked to you in a while but do you have some time for me to dump on you?” But if you are in regular communication with someone and sharing the ups of life as well as the downs, you will not be a Debbie Downer. You’ll just be human and it will all be in the natural flow of conversation.
Avoiding deep relationships is like using novocaine to mask the pain of a toothache. Sooner or later the numbness wears off. Then the pain comes back, as strong as ever, because you haven’t taken the time to address the problem. You might be getting along fine now without deep relationships, because you’re busy with your husband and growing family. But remember, eventually, kids grow up, they go to school and then they move out. And where will you be? Where are your girlfriends who will help you navigate the transitions in life? Who will give you a kleenex when the emotion overtakes you and will understand because they are a mom too?
Again, I’m not trying to discredit your husband’s ability to be there for you. But afterall, they are men. They have a different frame of reference, a different perspective, they feel things differently and experience things differently than we do. And we need that perspective too. But we also need women in our lives who understand “women things” and the way women think.
Opening up is a risk but through prayer and trusting in God’s design, your risk in reaching out toward others will be rewarded. You’ll find someone who understands and cares, and you’ll find others whom you understand and you care about as well. Ultimately, you’ll see that like a visit to the dentist, addressing the problem is much less painful than you feared.
Let’s say you’re starting to realize that you are lonely. Your first response may be to self-medicate – to try home remedies to make it go away.
Busyness is a common treatment. You may think that if you fill your life with consistent activity that you won’t have time to think about your loneliness, you’ll be cured.That’s like trying to heal a toothache by taking your mind off it. Busyness is only a distraction, not a cure.
Buying is another favorite therapy. Lonely people start to develop a degree of materialism by attempting to fill the voids in their life with things. Maybe if you purchase something new, you’ll feel better. And surprisingly, you do feel better – but only for a short while. This is the equivalent of bleaching your teeth when you have cavities that haven’t been filled. Sure, your teeth may look whiter and prettier but they also hurt because the bleaching gel is soaking into infected areas that haven’t been addressed.
Buying stuff doesn’t deliver a person from the bondage of loneliness, instead it projects them into other forms of pain: coveting, discontentment and debt.
Is there some secret elixir that will fix this toothache of the soul?
The cure to loneliness starts with a desire to reclaim your life for Christ and serve Him as our commander in Chief. When we follow God’s design of being in communion with him and in fellowship and service to each other, we will have our cure.
We may not have caused our loneliness but we may have nurtured it. I doesn’t really matter how you got there just make a commitment to start healing by developing relationships.
The first step to healing is getting into communion with God
How is your relationship with God? Is it close and intimate, like that of a loving, caring father and his child? Or is God more of an acquaintance, someone you kinda know and bump into on Sundays? Or maybe you feel God has forsaken you and now you’re holding a grudge?
I want to encourage you to spend time getting to know who God is. Don’t just know him in part. Know all of Him. Not because he is lonely but because like King David said in Psalm 145 – He is great and most worthy of praise. Study God’s attributes, those characteristics that helps us to understand who He truly is. A book that y pastor recommends is Knowledge of the Holy by A.W. Tozer.
As you reconnect with God and let your prayers become more conversational and less formal, you’ll actually feel God’s presence. When you talk to God remember that the key to breaking the loneliness grip on you is found in Matthew 7:7: “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you”. This reassurance is not just something we read or is in our imagination. We worship a God who lives among his people and He is right here to help you and pick you up.
ASK the Lord for:
- Boldness of spirit to reach out and connect with people in a meaningful way.
- Open doors of opportunity and to give you new experiences with the intention of gaining confidence and broadening your friendship base.
- Get specific — ask Him for a close, like-minded Christian friend
- Ask for discernment to recognize them when they appear! Sometimes, you already have that person in your life! You just have to invest in them.
Romans 8:28 says that for those who love God all things work together for good. Think of God using loneliness as a way of drawing us closer to him first, and then propelling us towards others.
He wants us in fellowship, in relationship, with each other. After all, we need each other! Hebrews 10:25 says that we should not stop gathering together with other believers, as some of us are doing. Instead, we must continue to encourage each other even more as we see the day of the Lord coming.
The second step to healing is to get into fellowship with each other.
When I say it’s a second step, I don’t meant that it comes after you figure out your relationship with God but that fellowship should be happening at the same time. It’s part 2 of the cure to loneliness, the second prescription if you will.
While it may seem obvious, there’s more to it than just surrounding yourself with people. God’s answer to loneliness is not the quantity of our relationships, but the quality. We don’t need 650 facebook friends, we just need a few close friends we can live life with and depend on and who can depend on us in return.
You’ll be praying for opportunities to meet like minded people so when you find someplace you believe you would fit in, go for it. Do not be afraid of new experiences or getting to know people. Especially because Satan has no problem grabbing onto those emotions. He will be glad to exchange your loneliness for fear. God does have a plan for you (it’s probably waiting for you right now) and he does have people for you, but you must trust Him to work all things for your good.
Don’t wait for people to come to you. You go to them. Don’t be intimidated to reach out to anyone – everyone loves to be thought about or pursued. I’ve often had people tell me that they thought to invite me to an event but didn’t because they figured I was too busy to attend. Well, my life is very full, but that doesn’t mean I can never attend anything! Give me the opportunity to decide if I can make an event or not. If I can’t make it, don’t take it as a rejection. I will tell you that I can’t this time, but try me again. And don’t let your fear of rejection keep you from reaching out to me again. Remember, you are obeying God by being in relationship with other believers.
Let’s say you’ve tried to get to know someone a little deeper but you do feel rejected or maybe you figure out that you don’t really click with someone in a way you thought might, it’s ok. Find another gal and try again. You are not rejecting someone by doing that. You still have invested in someone, practiced the process of making a friend, and have made the church a smaller place because you know more people.
Sometimes, you may know someone that would make a great friend to the gal you don’t have that much in common with. In fact, I remember meeting a very sweet gal at legacy last year. I really enjoyed her and I thought, ya know – she’d really get along with my other friend, so I set up a lunch date for the three of us so they could meet and get to know each other. And they have become friends and see each other more often than I see them!
When a church is functioning effectively, people find friendship, encouragement, help in time of need, and opportunities to use their God given skills in the service of others. But it doesn’t just happen to you. You have to make it happen. You have to move through your discomfort and be obedient to God when he says in John 15:12 “This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you.” He’s saying “see how I did that?” now “you — go love someone”.
How to get into fellowship with other ladies
Basic Training – Take Baby Steps
If you’re comfortable with social media and smart phones and spend a lot of time on there already, utilize it to take a first step — knowing that this is a baby step and that in order to nurture and grow intimacy, you will have to come face to face with people. Get used the idea but go ahead and utilize this technology to take the first steps. Tag people on posts you think they’d like, this let’s people know you’re thinking about them. Send a text. Exchange emails and phone numbers with people so you can reach out to them. Call them or if you’re thinking about them at 11 pm, send them an email and just say “Hey, I was thinking about you” and if you get that email, reply back!
Escalate – Take it to the Next Level
Stop at church on your way to the donuts and follow up on a prayer request. Grab lunch with someone after services. Join a book club or a bible study. Make a phone call and chat. When I was a teen ager, I used to spend hours on the phone talking to my friends about absolutely nothing…well, maybe boys. Now that I actually have stuff to talk about, I’m sure I could fill a 10 minute phone conversation. If you have a friend that calls and is a Chatty Kathy, don’t let it go to voicemail, answer the call and simply tell them what you’re time frame is. “Hey, I only have 10 minutes today, how are you?” If you’re the Chatty Kathy, respect their time frame. I will help the friendship! Schedule a playdate, let the kids play, get to know the other mom. Schedule a girls night out
Active Duty – Live life together
Run errands with a friend. If you both go to Costco each week, go together and catch up while you roam the isles. Get a coffee and just sit and be! If you’re a runner, or gym rat, find a workout buddy. Take your friend to their doctor appointment, read a book while you wait for them in the waiting room. Cook for the week together. See that chick flick or go to a museum, you know, do stuff your hubby doesn’t want to do with you!
What to teach your children about loneliness and fellowship
It’s ok to be alone and it’s good practice to learn how to be ok with being alone. Don’t inadvertently create a personality that has to be constantly entertained or surrounded by people either. There is a gift in being alone, even Jesus would go off and be alone like when he was praying in garden (Matthew 26:36-56) But teach them how to make a friend and how to be a friend. Encourage their friendships with like minded people.
But also teach them how to serve others and how to be a light for Christ. I often tell my boys to remember that some of the kids at school haven’t heard about Jesus. And the only thing they are going to know about Him today is either what you tell them about Him or how you treat them since they know you love Jesus and are trying to be like Him. Find age appropriate ways to get that point across.
If you muster the courage to restore your relationship with God and with others, you’ll find your loneliness lifting. This is not a temporary filling but a real cure that works.