I am lonely. Any echo in your own heart, or is it just me? Those who know me casually might be surprised to see such a confession. After all, I am a pastor leading a bustling church, and my life is a swirl of people and relationships. On any given night, there are hundreds of homes I could call or stop by for a warm welcome. I am living proof that you can be lonely in a crowd.
Deep levels of friendship can be more difficult as a pastor. Recently I was talking to one gregarious senior pastor who spent years as a youth pastor and made friends very easily. Now as a senior pastor he is befuddled at how challenging friendships are. He feels lonely, too.
Perhaps I am lonely because I am single. We singles live with the hope that a spouse will eliminate the lonely ache. For those of us who would like to be married, one of our favorite verses is Genesis 2:18, “It is not good that man be alone.” While the church provides wonderful relational blessings, the absence of daily companionship is a difficult trial for singles. We may think a spouse is what is missing. Is it?
Our emotions can help if we hear them properly. In this way, loneliness is not an enemy or a scourge but a friend and a kind of helpful companion. When I feel lonely, I am feeling powerful theological truth in my soul. Why?
Made for Deep Intimacy with My God
Loneliness has an edge to it. Its sting comes from the reality of God’s image stamped on us. As Genesis 1:27 makes clear, from the inception of our being and design, we were made by God and for God. This provides us with a spiritual and relational capacity to relate to God that only God can fill and satisfy. As Augustine famously said, “Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee.” We tend to wrongly interpret why we feel as we do. We think we need ______________(fill in the blank) for the ache to go away, but all of these _____________ (s) are shadows of the reality. Friends and other companions may be a wonderful blessing, but they are neither ultimate nor adequate for a heart made for God. Loneliness acts like a divine sticky note that says, “Don’t forget for whom you were made.”
For those of us who struggle more intensely with loneliness, what I am about to say may seem delusional. However I share this out of my own struggle to overcome and make sense of this powerful emotion.
Embrace Loneliness as a Guide and Friend
We look at loneliness as an enemy to be avoided at all costs. But this side of redemption’s consummation, our lives will never be free from loneliness. God uses it to get our attention. So when a wave of loneliness hits, I try to consciously think, Why do I feel this way? I feel this way because I was made for God. Following the counsel of Elisabeth Elliot, I turn my loneliness into solitude and my solitude into prayer.
In this way, loneliness ceases to be a devil to us. Actually, it becomes a guide and a friend. But this is only true when we respond to it in the way that God intends. If we go on a shopping spree or eat chocolates or sit and stew over the person who left us, we stunt loneliness’ profound ability to deepen our walk with God.
Battle ‘Aloneness’ with the Power of Community
There is a difference between “aloneness” and loneliness. God didn’t intend man to be alone. This is why he created Eve and marriage. This is why he instituted the family. This is why the church is called a body. God doesn’t want anyone to be alone. Solitary confinement is for prisons, not the church.
The church is designed by God to be a place of belonging (Rom. 12:5). We are the family of God. But we will be a lonely family as long as we come expecting everybody else to meet our needs. We overcome loneliness when we forget ourselves and become concerned with other people and their needs, especially people we don’t perceive as able to meet our needs.
Singles ministries are famous for missing this. I remember years ago visiting a singles ministry with the terrifying feeling only a single knows from walking into a room filled with people you don’t know. You might as well wear a sign that says, “Hi, I’m needy.” As the door closed behind me, everybody stopped talking. The whole room paused, looked me up and down, and then went back to their
conversations. What happened in that moment? I think the group looked me over to see if I might be someone to meet their needs. Based on their response, apparently not. This is seen throughout the body of Christ when God’s people involve themselves in the life of the church in order to get their needs met. It doesn’t work, and this is why so many of us are extremely lonely. We are looking for mere mortals to satisfy the ache for God we feel.
The power of Christian community is this: when we invert our natural desire to be loved and choose to love and serve others, the love of God through us mitigates the loneliness in us. As Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). Love has a byproduct of blessing to it. Self-giving love doesn’t merely bless others—it is the life of God through the Spirit experienced within me. Try it and see what happens with your loneliness.
Do I Really Believe God Is Enough?
Loneliness has an ugly twin sister named fear. When I am lonely, I fear that life will always be this way. Am I unlovable? Is there something wrong with me? Here loneliness can lead us to a most wonderful truth: God didn’t love us because we are loveable but simply because he is love. Remember: “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8), and, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Rom. 8:32). We find that God’s love is not something you dress up for or qualify yourself by being loveable. We simply receive it as the gracious, free gift he offers. This love is the love for which my loneliness longs. To have Christ is to know this love.
I may not have a wife, but I have Christ. You may not have a husband, but you have Christ. You may be separated from family, but you have Christ. You may be a widow, but you have Christ. You may be rejected by your spouse, but you have Christ. And since you and I are made for him, to have him is to have his Spirit as a guarantee that someday I won’t ever feel lonely again. Therefore, we cannot invest our ultimate hope in a new relationship, friendship, or romance. Our hope as a Christian must be in the full realization of who we already have. In our moments of inward desolation, the Lord is there and with him there is a path through the valley of loneliness.
In my worst moments of relational despair and unfulfilled longings, I look at the possibility of a life alone, and my loneliness guides me down a secret passageway to divine assurances. When I allow it to lead me there, I find the God-sized ache softened with his presence and promise. “Aloneness” doesn’t have to mean loneliness; it can actually be the path God uses for my soul to find its rest in him.
Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
© 2011 Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction.
25 commentsAdd Yours
Thank you for letting God use you in a powerful way as illustrated by the writing of this article!
On another note, let me point out what I believe is a typo…in the second to the last paragraph, sentence 5 reads “You may be rejected by my spouse…” I believe you meant to say “your”.
Oh well, copyists also made many mistakes in in the transmission of the biblical text, but it still doesn’t negate the doctrine of inerrancy, amen?
Thanks for this post. It was encouraging to my heart this morning. And I didn’t even know I needed it.
One of the reasons you are so well loved by your Bethel “flock” is that you honestly share some of your struggles. And one of the things that makes you a great Pastor is that, even in the sharing of the struggles, you point us to Christ. I can’t think of anyone who could understand our loneliness more than Jesus himself. Human relationships will always fall short of fulfilling our longings because only God loves us perfectly. But like you said, someday we won’t ever feel lonely again, or betrayed, or abandoned, or disappointed, or any of the many other hurts that are a part of this world. Oh Glorious Day!
“Its sting comes from the reality of God’s image stamped on us…..Friends and other companions may be a wonderful blessing, but they are neither ultimate nor adequate for a heart made for God. Loneliness acts like a divine sticky note that says, “Don’t forget for whom you were made.”
Thank you and praise God.
Singleness hits me hard when December approaches and Christmas arrives. Several months ago my pastor (International Baptist Church in Dominican Republic) mentioned something that stuck with me: the life of the apostle Paul.
Now, whenever I feel lonesome, I think of him. This extraordinary man was able to do extraordinary things because he remained single. Singleness if not for everyone, but for him it was a blessing. Still need to discover why He wants me to remain single, but “Father knows best”. Mi life is in His hands.
Beautifully written and very well said, thank you for sharing!
Hello Steve, from Sydney, Australia. I found your article on the Gospel Coalition website, and I think it was a “God-thing” that I did. Your thoughtfulness and reflections on the reality of loneliness in the life of single people blessed my heart. God has been leading my thoughts along the same path about what to do with my loneliness, and those longings for intimacy. I love your point that we need to let loneliness lead us to God. What a blessing that He is nearer to our hearts than any person will ever be. I’ve been reminded recently to stop each day, and spend time just being aware of His presence. Thank you for your honest sharing, and I praise God for His confirmation through your blog. Blessings to you.
Thanks for writing about this subject! It’s so true and gave me some insight as I settle into being a football widow! My husband is a coach, and there are times that I feel very lonely. I pray that I will be able to focus less on my loneliness and instead turn my feeling and thoughts to the Lord who ultimately desires to fill that emptiness and loneliness in my heart!
Thank you, Pastor Steve for writing this piece. I love the part about single ministries – I experienced the same thing. Thank you as well for reminding us again that God is enough – He is the one who completes us.
“Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” Psalm 43:5
God bless you more!
Thank you Steve for the encouragement! I have been considering on seeking your thoughts on the subject of our singleness. I’ve also considered how Paul spoke about how he thought it better to be single so that we are less distracted on serving Christ. I’m not entirely sure where I was headed, but i do want to thank you again for sharing!
Thanks for writing this! I’ve also been traveling through the valley of lonliness and have been learning more and more to rely on Christ.
“…when we invert our natural desire to be loved and choose to love and serve others, the love of God through us mitigates the loneliness in us.” How true! It’s tempting to focus on myself in my lonliness, but that only leads to bitterness. True joy comes from focusing on serving and loving others!
I’m in my early 30s and single. Most of my friends are married and starting families by now, so it’s easy to feel left behind and tempting to fear a future alone. But I have Christ! He will supply all my needs according to his riches in glory.
I enjoy your four “blogs” on your iPhone apps. they are good GOD FOOD. wish you placed them more often. ..
Today has been one of those days. I know God is with me, but I needed human warmth for this once. Therefore, decided to visit my nieces and nephews. Thought about cuddling and watching cartoons with them, but they had other plans in mind:
My seven-month-old nephew kept jumping up and down on top of me; 9 year old, said “hi” while eating ice cream and ignored me; 7 year old had to hug me because I didn’t give her a choice and my 5-year-old earthquake gave me a kiss with two grapes in her mouth.
Remembered this article and read it again. I’m ashamed to say I ended up feeling better. Oceans may separate us, but God’s solace bring us together!
Foolish, I know, but stopped crying and had to laugh when (out of the blue) a song started to play in my head while writing this: “Two Less Lonely People in the World” by Air Supply, nonetheless.
Not THE case but brought a smile to my face! I’m so grateful I found this blog!
My apologies for invading your thread, but this sentence “I’m ashamed to say I ended up feeling better” is incomplete and may lead to confusion. Forgot to add this part: “after realizing 9 people were in the same boat with me”. Sorry.
Thanks for the encouraging and God-breathed blog. What a wonderful way to start the day. Blessing to you for sharing your struggle with us and pointing us to our Almighty Saviour!
Thank you for this post. I have really been struggling with loneliness in a crowd lately. Your thoughts and willingness to be honest while always pointing us to Christ is greatly appreciated. Blessings to you.
Thank You Pastor Steve for sharing your feelings of loneliness. It is certainly a topic that many people tend to avoid sharing. I like what you shared about walking in a room and “being looked at as I’m needy” Anyone who has ever experienced this knows exactly what you are talking about. It is not a very comfortable feeling.
I believe many of us feel lonely more than we would like to admit. There are always certain times especially Holidays, when families get together or couples plan for activities and events that I often feel alone. These are the times I try and remember that God summons my soul to do certain things alone. This often requires me to step out beyond the crowd, beyond my comfort level and beyond my fear.Then I realize that the feeling of loneliness increases. I ask myself, who do I talk to about this? Who will walk with me when I am too tired to walk alone? Who will allow me to cry and be myself? There is a hollow emptiness that is often unexplainable.
And then a comfort arises deep within me to remind me this is exactly what HE intends for me to feel….absolutely alone!! For me to come to Him on my knees, true humility and powerlessness reminding me…I can’t do this alone!! I don’t HAVE to do this alone!! The power of loneliness certainly moves me to a level of dependence like nothing else. I realize I am at a place where no one, no place and no situation could help me get to with their word or presence. In the loneliness, I am confronted with a version of myself that is far more real than any other status could bring. Here I face myself, my fears, my defects, my goals and my dreams. This is a constant reminder that God promises us he will never leave us nor forsake us.
Thank you once again for your honesty and humility Pastor Steve!
What a great topic for a sermon!
Thank you for this.
Thank you,that you shared God’s message with me and the other readers of this blog. I found your blog today and really needed this message about God’s love. A few moments ago I was wondering if aloneness and loneliness were always going to be in my path. Thank you for sharing that we are not alone in God and that loneiness is a big yellow post note to remind us to seek God.
Thank-you for this… words cannot express how much of it is almost like you are reading my mind, while being an amazing source of encouragement and truth as well.
I have Christ.
Good to hear these thoughts. I too am a single male pastor, I just turned 30. I hope to glean some wisdom from you in this area, since there are so few in this situation, and even fewer with my theological convictions. God Bless.
Well I heard you interviewed on one of my podcasts, A Christian world View. I listened twice… I thought about how beautiful and awesome God is to have given you His grace to write this and then speak about it. Your honest interview and blog was like finding a spring in the middle of a dessert. I have had a week of palpable blessings from God coming from Pastors and His Word. You said that lonliness is just a feeling but aloneness is a tragedy.. I know that God has such a perfect plan for us and in our earthly lives as we submit to Him He protects us and when I am feeling lonely I remind myself of His love for me and I also try to imagine how things could be if I took things into my own hands.. I am very thankful for His wisdom and for your sharing how He is working in your on this very personal subject. May you see His blessings even when they are in the form of a refiners fire. 🙂
Dear Steve, thanks for your honesty about your loneliness. Like so many, I identify with your words. I’m single, and for me, Sunday nights have been the most lonesome. But I’ve seen the same loneliness in the eyes and hearts of folks who are married, too. And, especially, I’ve seen it among the elderly. How much we all need to find our security in the Lord Jesus, to cultivate an affection for him, and to enjoy fellowship with him, so that we can say, “Well, Lord, its just you and me tonight. But thank you that you are with me! How wonderful that I’m never alone. And your plan for me is to be with people. So, please show me who I can bless this day…” You’re so right that the church can come into this reality of our fallen world and create new fellowship, not only corporately but individually, in our homes, in new relationships (as, say, singles begin to reach out of their loneliness and visit lonely elderly folks, or whomever). Loneliness in that way really is a gift, as you write, because it takes us from superficial pursuits that will never really satisfy, and turns us upward and outward, to Kingdom work that feeds the soul and shows the love of Jesus. Keep on writing :)!
Thanks, I needed that. I am a 37 year old pastor who just lost my wife of 35 years of age to cancer. we were highschool sweet hearts. together for 19 years. we have 3 boys together. 11, 4 and 2. Thanks again! I know I will get through this transistion.