Lonely Me: A Pastoral Perspective

August 15, 2011

Lonely Me

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 a 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.

Join the Conversation

Whether single or married, how does your relationship to Christ impact how you handle loneliness in life?

Note: This post originally appeared at the Gospel Coalition and is used by permission of TGC and Pastor Steve DeWitt. Read the original post: Lonely Me: A Pastoral Perspective.

8 thoughts on “Lonely Me: A Pastoral Perspective

  1. O how this page resonates with me! As a divorced man for the last two and a half years, loneliness literally drives me to the Word where the promises of God Himself comfort me like nothing else. Oftentimes, the promised peace from the Lord does not come right away, but I have learned to “pour out my heart to Him” as best as I can and wait for the “peace that surpasses all understanding.” The LORD is faithful and never fails to bring my troubled soul “beside the still waters. He restores my soul,” time and again.

  2. Oh, how I wish Christians would get this! After basically being single all my life, Once delivered, I became content in my singleness and then…God amazed me in sending His choice of mate and only now I see the “beyond human imagination” BLESSING God sends when we get obedient to God’s Word in the way we live, using our God given gifts to help others and being CONTENT in singleness!

  3. Have you read Debbie Maken’s book, “Getting Serious About Getting Married?”

  4. Great post, but I am also mystified as to why Steve is single. It is not good that man is alone! I enjoyed “Get Married” by Candace Waters.
    -Beth (single, christian woman who has to wait for single, christian men to initiate). 

  5. Great post! Thanks for sharing! I struggle with seasons of deep loneliness even though, for all intense purposes, I shouldn’t. As you said, ultimately, loneliness is not about our circumstances (marital status, distance from loved ones, etc.) or our season of life (stay-at-home-mom with lots of littles, empty-nester, widow, etc.), but rather about the deeper ache that we all have to be filled and satisfied in God alone. Great counsel in this post!! Thanks for sharing!!

    The only thing that I would add to a post of this nature is a bit of Gospel truth. Something of which God gently reminded me the last time I was feeling a little lonely is that Jesus was the loneliest man that ever walked this
    earth. He was forsaken so that I might never be THAT lonely. Because He
    endured being forsaken by God, God will never leave me or forsake me.
    What an awesome thing to rejoice in as we walk through seasons of
    loneliness in this broken world! Hebrews 12 is a great reminder to keep our focus on Christ as we run this race. 🙂

    Again, thanks for sharing your thoughts! This is a post to which I will return again and share with others when feelings of loneliness surface.

  6. Pastor Steve has been busy pouring his heart out there. Never heard of
    him until a couple of weeks ago and now I’m seeing his face and this
    article all over the Internet!

    Anyway, hope you don’t mind me
    saying I found your post to be soooo funny! I’m as curious as anybody,
    but I wouldn’t dare! You’re a brave one! LOL…

    Beth you made my night! :) 

  7. I was encouraged by the
    post, yet almost equally as discouraged by the comments I read… how
    interesting. I struggle GREATLY with hearing so many women tell me, “once
    I became content in God, THEN He blessed me with a husband” as though THAT
    is the magic formula… get content, do whatever it takes, because that’s when
    God will decide to bless you. We totally miss what God is doing here, in those
    moments… to become content in Christ is the goal, not to get a husband!
    Finding my contentment and solitude in the Lord is my goal–if that means I one
    day end up a wife or NOT! Singleness IS a blessing, as is marriage. The
    question is, which blessing have do you have now? It changes… I hear singles
    wishing to be married, and marrieds wishing they were single again, able to
    serve undistractedly. Do we use our singleness to be undistractedly devoted to
    the Lord? Or is it more opportunity for sin? Singleness is not a curse
    (although, at times, it sure can feel like one! But where is my focus in those
    moments, when it feeeeeels so horrible to be precisely where God has put me?).

    Then we move into
    “hey, I know a woman for you…” comments. That baffled me. How does
    that build up the author to live in a Christlike way? It becomes a meat
    market… So, I return to a question that the author himself asked: Is God
    enough? When He is enough… we stop looking at every single that walks through
    the door as a potential mate for the future, we stop trying to ‘hook up’
    everyone in the universe, and we humble ourselves before GOD, waiting on Him to
    reveal His perfect will in every situation… moment by moment, knowing that if
    He wishes me to marry, the perfect man will walk into my life for this purpose,
    and NOTHING I can do will thwart God’s purposes. I cannot drive off the man God
    has put in my path for me to marry! So, I sit, waiting for God’s man to
    initiate, as does countless other single women in the church… and I wait,
    finding my contentment in God… but I’m not waiting for a husband. I’m waiting
    for my Lord to work out His perfect will in me. 

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