Dealing with Loneliness Part 2: Practical Application
Loneliness is a painful but common experience.
Loneliness is the feeling of being alone, forsaken, and/or forgotten. There are times in everyone’s life that we feel empty and lacking in companionship, often accompanied by thoughts of “No one cares” or “I’m all alone.” As the Scripture references above give evidence, loneliness is no “respecter of persons.” It afflicts individuals without regard to a person’s spiritual condition or relationship with God.
Understanding and applying what the Bible says about loneliness can be a very effective remedy. Some passages are designed to show practical ways to reduce our times of loneliness, although we may be required to use the Word as a mirror for self-examination in order to bring about a necessary change. James 1:25, “But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.” Other passages will help us gain emotional and spiritual strength in preparation for those times when we cannot avoid being alone. Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ which [who] strengtheneth me.” Because God created each of us, we can take great comfort that He knows our needs, our strengths, and our weaknesses. Psalm 103:13-14, “Like as a father pitieth his children, so the LORD pitieth them that fear him. For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust.”
Different types of loneliness
Because loneliness can come from a variety of sources, identifying the factors that cause it is a very important step. In this section we’ll review some of the most common causes of loneliness so that we can more clearly identify helpful strategies for dealing with them.
Some people experience loneliness due to being separated physically from other people. For example, some people move away from family and friends for a career or educational opportunity. These types of transitions can cause loneliness due to being physically distanced from the comfort of the familiar. Even if the new experience is laced with excitement, there still can be a sobering element due to the unknown.
Loneliness is also experienced by the friends and family that are left behind when a loved one moves away. The loved one who moves away simply cannot be replaced and so leaves an emptiness behind. The reasons surrounding the move or separation impact the intensity of loneliness and the degree to which the loss needs to be grieved. If marriage takes a son or daughter away, that kind of loneliness is laced with both joy and sadness. In contrast, if a serious family disagreement causes a family member to move away and become estranged from the family, that type of loneliness can leave a more intense feeling of emptiness.
Passing of a loved one
Another type of loneliness due to physical separation can be experienced when a spouse, family member, or friend dies. Even though you may hold memories of this loved one in your mind, he or she is no longer physically present. After losing a young child or infant, you may long to hold her in your arms; after losing a spouse, you may ache for his touch. These types of experiences of loneliness require time for healing to occur—and it’s very difficult to be patient through times of emotional pain, grief, and loss. To be clear, when we lose a loved one, the void cannot be completely filled by other individuals; however, other individuals can help build up our ability to manage the difficulties. In a sense, they can help absorb some of the shock that comes from working through grief and loss.
Another type of loneliness may be experienced on an emotional level. Many things can contribute to this emotional experience. Depression, anxiety, and low self-worth often involve feelings of loneliness and isolation. At these times, people often report feeling lonely even when surrounded by friends and family. Depressive and anxious thoughts can confirm that we are alone and that no one cares even when there may be a number of friends and family members who want to provide help and support.
Loneliness may also be experienced due to not having close relationships. If your interactions with other people only occur on a “surface,” impersonal level, loneliness is likely.
We were created with a desire to know and to be truly known; and when we keep people at a distance, we will likely experience loneliness.
Sometimes people find the vulnerability necessary for close relationships to be threatening.You may need to take a risk and reach out to others. Proverbs 18:24 advises us by stating, “A man that hath friends must show himself friendly.”
We each need at least a few individuals whose relationship with us is characterized by honesty, accountability, authenticity, and encouragement. It is wise to look at your circle of relationships and see if you could make some of your surface relationships deeper. When we have relationships with individuals who care enough about us to challenge us in a loving, selfless way, we are less likely to feel lonely. Proverbs 27:17 describes how friends “sharpen” one another: “Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend.” Even though the sharpening process may involve some discomfort when we have to put our flesh aside, it is well worth it. Superficial relationships can be as isolating as not having relationships. Below are two types of commonly experienced relational gaps.
Isolation from peers: At times, feelings of loneliness result from the reality that there aren’t many (if any) individuals in a similar life position as you. For example, you may experience loneliness due to being the only unmarried person in your peer group; or perhaps you feel significantly older or significantly younger than others in your church group. Maybe you feel isolated from others of like mindset, values, and experience. These feelings can be painful and often lead to struggles with loneliness.
One key to managing isolation from peers is to broaden your definition of your peer group. For example, if you are the only unmarried working female in your church, you could think of your peer group as “women” or “professionals” rather than people who are just like you. Also, remember that God designed the church to be made up of various people who fulfill different aspects of the whole body. These distinctions are intentional and ensure that the needs of the body are taken care of and that God’s work is accomplished. Read 1 Corinthians 12 for a more complete description of the body of Christ.
Not being at a relational stage you expected to be: Unmet expectations can be difficult and even painful to face. Perhaps you pictured your life being “settled” by a certain age or dreamed about becoming a parent, and now you find that you are facing a reality that it did not come to pass. Perhaps you anticipated having your emotional needs met in marriage (or other relationship) and you now have to adjust to not having your needs met in that way or as fully as you hoped. Conversely, you may have experienced relationships that were initially intact, but then saw them disintegrate, and now the pain of divorce or relationship conflicts may leave you feeling alone.
The key to managing loneliness that stems from unmet expectations is (1) to acknowledge the losses and (2) to shift your mindset accordingly. The process of mourning these losses takes time and, often, the feelings of loss come and go and come again. After your losses have been mourned, you need to face the facts of your current life stage and to pray for the grace and strength to be able to make the most out of it. God often has opportunities in store that we could not even have imagined. As the Lord says in Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.”
Some people may experience spiritual loneliness. This type of loneliness is experienced on two different levels.
- Individuals who have never begun a relationship with Christ have a true sense of spiritual loneliness, being separated from God. The good news about this type of loneliness is that it can be completely cured! The way to remedy this level of spiritual loneliness is to come in faith believing that Jesus will forgive all those who repent for their sins. He wants all to be saved and to be part of His family!
- Others have a personal relationship with Christ, but do not feel close to Him at times. This situation is an example of when we can know something logically, but do not feel it is true. In these cases, we need to be reminded to trust what we know is true rather than to trust our fickle emotions.
Whenever we experience spiritual loneliness, we often need to change our perspective, for God is constant and always available. We just don’t always feel or acknowledge His presence. Psalm 139:5-7, “Thou hast beset me behind and before, and laid thine hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it. Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence?”
This verse from the book of Psalms reminds us that there is no where we can go to escape the presence of God. Two characteristics of God, His omniscience (knowing all) and omnipresence (being present everywhere), assure us that this is true. Paul, in his letter to the Romans, reminds us that nothing can separate us from God’s love: Romans 8:38-39, “For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
A first-century Christian theologian, St. Augustine, described the source of much of our restlessness: “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee.” The longings for fulfillment we sense are a result of being made by God, for God. We have genuine needs that only He can fill. When we look to other sources to try and fill these needs, we will continue to be restless and unfulfilled.
When we participate in our relationship with the Lord, growing in our Christian walk, we can find our rest in God. Through reading and listening to the Word, prayer and meditation, and being mentored and discipled by other Christian brothers and sisters, we participate in the growth process.
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For Further Information:
Lonely But Never Alone This booklet describes the spiritual and interpersonal aspects of loneliness and offers biblically-based guidance for dealing with those experiences. [ODB Ministries]