How do we deal with loneliness?
Everyone can get lonely, but here I want to speak to believers. There are all sorts of reasons why one can be lonely, including having recently been orphaned or widowed. But of course being lonely is not the same thing as being alone. One can be quite lonely even in a crowd, or among family and friends, or in a church service.
And in part it depends on the sort of person you are that determines if you get lonely, and how good or bad that is. Some folks thrive on being by themselves, and being in crowds is just not to their liking. On the other hand, some folks are people persons who relish being around others and feel quite uncomfortable when they are alone.
Of interest, God may use some folks for special purposes based on these realities. For example, if God calls someone to be a watchman on the wall, or to have a prophetic sort of ministry, often the one he uses are those who are rather alone to begin with.
Those who just love to be with people all the time, or love the praises of men, or have a fear of man, will not likely provide the raw material that God can use to bring forth a prophetic witness. Prophets like Jeremiah were not only weeping prophets but rather lonely individuals.
A dozen years ago I penned a piece on this: “Prophets Who Stand Alone.” In it I mentioned a famous article by A. W. Tozer that became the final chapter of his 1966 classic book, Man: The Dwelling Place of God. Tozer began that piece with these words: “Most of the world’s great souls have been lonely. Loneliness seems to be one price the saint must pay for his saintliness.” I closed my article this way:
That is a spiritual principle which cannot be broken. As Tozer put it, “Always remember: you cannot carry a cross in company. Though a man were surrounded by a vast crowd, his cross is his alone and his carrying of it marks him as a man apart.”
May we faithfully and loyally carry our cross, no matter what the cost, and no matter how many friends and family members forsake us. That is the price we must pay for fully following our Lord. But to be alone with men is to be intimate with God. I know which one I prefer. Do you?
“I never sat in the company of revelers, never made merry with them; I sat alone because your hand was on me” (Jeremiah 15:17). https://billmuehlenberg.com/2011/09/11/prophets-who-stand-alone/
Here I want to speak about this issue a bit further. One person who knew about loneliness at times was Elisabeth Elliot. She had three husbands: the first of course was killed by Auca Indians, the second died of cancer, and the third outlived her.
In 1988 she wrote the book Loneliness. It was later released as The Path of Loneliness (Revell, 1998, 2001). Here I want to offer some choice quotes from it. My page numbering comes from the Revell edition.
“Suffering is a wilderness experience. We feel very much alone and helpless, cut off from others who cannot know how we suffer. We long for someone to come to our aid, be ‘company’ for us, get us out of this. Someone will. Some One will certainly come to our aid. He will be company for us if we’ll let Him. But get us out of it? Not necessarily.” 25
“Tears are not forever. There will be a morning without them. . . . ‘If God loves me, He´ll make me happy’. Well, yes and no. Happy isn’t the word, really. It´s joy, a far better thing. Not a sentiment, not mere ‘feeling good’, but something that can never be taken away.” 33-34
“God in His sovereign will had given me a new place. I could accept that place, with all its new responsibilities and bafflements, assured that ‘the Lord himself goes at your head; he will be with you; he will not fail you or forsake you. Do not be discouraged or afraid’ (Deut. 31:8 NEB). That strong promise cheered me on. The Auspices under which I worked had not changed. For each day’s demands, I found that the old rule, inscribed in an ancient parsonage in England, was my salvation: Doe the Nexte Thinge. As I tried to put that rule into shoe leather, as it were, taking each duty quietly as the will of God for that moment, I no longer felt like a misfit.” 52
“Discipleship is exactly like marriage in many ways. In both Old and New Testaments the profoundly intimate relationship between God and His people is represented by the analogy of bridegroom and bride. . . . Christ has already given us everything when he gave us Himself. He asks for everything in return – there must be no reserved corners, no secret disclaimers, no insistence on individual rights, no escape clauses.” 76
“To be a disciple of Jesus Christ is to have a Companion all the time. But that does not mean we will never suffer loneliness. In fact, it means that we may be lonely in ways we would not have been if we had not chosen to be disciples.” 89
“It is important to repeat that this acceptance I speak of is not passivism, Quietism, fatalism, or resignation. It is not capitulation to evil or a refusal to do what can and ought to be done to change things. It is a distilled act of faith, a lying one’s will alongside God’s, a putting of oneself at one with His kingdom and His will. Acceptance is abandonment, the great risk of great lovers, when an awesome power is given over – the power to hurt. No one in the world has such power to hurt as a husband, wife, or intimate friend. To love is to be vulnerable to that power which lies in the hands of the one loved. When a mother looks into the face of her tiny newborn child, she knows that that little creature already has the power to rake her soul with pain, a power which will grow as the child grows. ‘A sword shall pierce thy own soul,’ said old Simeon to Mary (Luke 2:35, KJV). To love means to open ourselves to suffering. Shall we shut our doors to love, and be ‘safe’? Acceptance of discipleship is the utter abandonment of the disciple, the surrender of all rights, to the Master. This abandonment, in all cases, will mean pain.” 101-102
“Who can compare sufferings? They are unique as each sufferer is unique. ‘The heart knows its own bitterness’ (Prov. 14:10, NEB). . . . There are many things God does not fix precisely because He loves us. Instead of extracting us from the problem, He calls us. In our sorrow or loneliness or pain He calls – ‘This is a necessary part of the journey. Even if it is the roughest part, it is only a part, and it will not last the whole long way. Remember where I am leading you. Remember what you will find at the end – a home and a haven and a heaven’.” 107
“Our loneliness cannot always be fixed, but it can always be accepted as the very will of God for now, and that turns into something beautiful. Perhaps it is like the field wherein lies the valuable treasure. We must buy the field. It is no sun drenched meadow embroidered with wildflowers. It is a bleak and empty place, but once we know it contains a jewel the whole picture changes. The empty scrap of forgotten land suddenly teems with possibilities. Here is something we can not only accept, but something worth selling everything to buy. In my case, ‘selling everything’ meant giving up the self-pity and the bitter questions. I do not mean we are to go out looking for chances to be as lonely as possible. I am talking about acceptance of the inevitable. And when, through a willed act we receive this thing we did not want, then Loneliness, the name of the field nobody wants, is transformed into a place of hidden treasure.” 109
“Loneliness is a wilderness, but through receiving it as a gift, accepting it from the hand of God, and offering it back to Him with thanksgiving, it may become a pathway to holiness, to glory, and to God himself.” 153
“It takes the fire of God to cleanse our hearts of selfishness in all its subtle forms. Even loneliness may be a form of selfishness. One can reject friendship when it is not offered on the terms one chooses. One can reject the grace of God as Naaman the leper came perilously close to doing because it was not offered with the kind of ceremony he felt befitted his station. One can magnify his loneliness out of all proportion, as though he suffered something that is not common to man, forgetting that ‘this is life’ – not more, not less. One can draw about himself a thick quilt of self-pity and isolate himself in other ways, but if one turns the loneliness into solitude and the solitude into prayer, there is release. It may require a willingness to be burned if burning is necessary as it was for Isaiah, but there is forgiveness and cleansing and peace. In Isaiah’s case, this was followed by God’s call for a volunteer to work for Him. With a heart at leisure now from itself, Isaiah could answer, ‘Here I am. Send me’.” 157-158
“Out of suffering comes holiness—in these forms: comfort, consolation, the fellowship of Christ’s suffering, salvation, strength, fortitude, endurance. This is what is meant by redemptive suffering. The greater the measure allotted to us, the greater is our material for sacrifice. As we make it a joyful offering to God, our potential is enhanced for becoming ‘instruments of His peace’—being ‘broken bread and poured-out wine,’ overflowing with consolation for the lonely and the suffering of the world.” 173
“What God calls us to do is always impossible. Impossible, that is, without His help. It is always too big for us, too demanding. The price is too high. Yet he calls us to count not our lives dear to ourselves. Fathers and mothers haven’t much time to think about the impossibilities. They must simply do the job. They haven’t much time to think about loneliness either.” 187