‘Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted.’ Psalm 25:16
‘A Father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in His holy dwelling. God sets the lonely in families…’ Psalm 65:5-6
Although I have shied away from writing about this topic I think that this blog will not be complete without an honest discussion of loneliness. There is such stigma and shame attached to loneliness that most of us, myself included, struggle to admit it even to our friends let alone to anyone else. When you have been waiting a decade or more to an answer to prayer for a spouse (or indeed other relational issues), the loneliness that can creep up on you feels very real and can be very debilitating at times. What is worse though is that as this is rarely discussed openly we can start to think that we are the only ones who feel lonely. Then we start to think perhaps it is my fault I am lonely. Maybe I am not a strong enough Christian, maybe I do not have enough faith, maybe there is something inherently wrong with me.
Loneliness to me is a feeling that I am facing the world alone, without any support, without someone who has my back, who celebrates me, whom I celebrate. It is waking up many days feeling like I have to pretend to be ok that I eat alone, sleep alone, watch tv alone and do so many things alone when I really do not want to do any, or at least most, of these things on my own. It is pretending that going on holidays alone is perfectly fine, when actually a holiday alone often just serves to further highlight the loneliness in my life even more. Loneliness feels like we are always on the outside looking in, as the song goes.
Feelings of loneliness can cause tears to spring from nowhere and can cast such a shadow over our lives that often we wonder will they ever end? We wonder will I ever get to celebrate at least some of things that others around me celebrate? An engagement, a wedding, the birth of a child, the birthday of a spouse or a wedding anniversary for example.
Loneliness is also often misunderstood. When you are a single person over a certain age people often assume that because you are single your life must be lonely and sad. This is not actually the case as being alone and being lonely are two very different things (see Bella DePaulo’s excellent work on this). The loneliness of the unmarried (who wish to be married) is usually not a result of a lack of friends, or people or hobbies or time with God. It is the result of an unfulfilled desire for a partner with whom to share our faith and life with. The unmet desire to have someone who will walk with us and come alongside us, someone who we can love and celebrate. It is an absence of someone with whom we can be intimate with in the fullest sense of the word, on this earth. However very few people understand this and so our singlness or aloneness becomes equated to our loneliness. As a result we receive well-meaning but redundant advice such as the benefits of ‘having a hobby’ or ‘getting out more’ or ‘spending more time with God’. And in our desire to not be ‘that pathetic single person’ we often end up suffering alone and in doing so experience our loneliness even more acutely as we are free only to admit it to ourselves. And in these shadows our loneliness, and our subsequent shame at feeling lonely, grow like a cancer.
Behind the feelings of loneliness however loom darker feelings of disappointment. In particular a profound sense of a disappointment with God. And it is this disappointment that that leads us to thoughts such as: God hasn’t come through for me, God has forgotten me and God doesn’t care about me. We start to think that maybe He doesn’t love us as much as all those other seemingly perfect Christian couples with their gorgeous families and smug social media feeds populated with hashtags such as ‘happymom’ and ‘happywife’. This disappointment leads to new feelings of isolation but this time from God. The loneliness we feel intensifies, for now not only do we lack a very particular human connection, but we now also feel far from God and more alone than ever.
But how can we deal with loneliness and profound disappointment? As I write this I realize that I cannot end this post in a state of despair, but neither do I wish to trivialize or diminish the pain that so many of us feel while we wait and hope for a spouse. I think it is important to say firstly that we have not done anything wrong to deserve this pain. Contrary to what so many would have us believe we have not been too picky or too difficult, or too focused on our careers (For a wonderful and highly amusing book on this topic check out It’s Not You 27 (wrong) Reasons You’re Single). Rather we have been living our lives just like everyone else on the planet.
Likewise if you are feeling lonely in marriage, you have not made a mistake or married the wrong person or done something to deserve your current situation. I will not heap blame and shame upon any wounded soul that is crying out for compassion and understanding. The truth is I do not have an answer to why we are waiting or why we feel so lonely. The truth is sometimes I am gripped with such a sense of loneliness and disappointment in God that all I can do is cry out, please Lord take these feelings, as I have no idea what to do with them. I do not believe that God wants us to deny our feelings. I believe that He wants us to tell Him how we feel, to share our pain and suffering with Him because in truth He is the only one who can help us.
I remind myself when I am feeling lonely that while my feelings are real they are not always reflective of reality and they are certainly not reflective of the reality of who God is and who we are in Him. When we hit rock bottom we need to find The Rock (Psalm 18:2) and we need to anchor our little row boats, blown about in the storms of life, to unmovable truths of who God is. We have to decide, as Eric Johnson from Bethel talks about, that there are certain truths that we will take to the bank, that we will not move from, no matter what happens in our lives, remembering that we live by faith and not by sight. We have to declare that God is good and that He loves us and that He promises to work ALL things together for our good (Romans 8:28). We have to look to the cross as the proof of His love for us and to the ministry and words of Jesus as the truth about who God is, as Jesus said whoever has seen me has seen the Father (John 14:9). When we are anchored to these truths, we can offer the Lord a true sacrifice of praise, praise in the face of suffering, praise in the loneliness, praise in the disappointment. We can say, with tears streaming down our faces, I do not understand Lord but I trust you because you always keep your word, because you made me and you love me and you have planned a life of purpose and hope and a future for me (Jeremiah 29:11).
We need to recognize that we have an enemy too, something that we do not talk about much in modern religious circles. The devil we are told is a roaring lion seeking to kill, steal and destroy (John 10:10). He wants nothing more than for us to give up. To give up on our relationship with Jesus, to give up on our dreams or even worse to give up on life itself. He tells us the lie that things will not get better, that look how long you have waited, what possible reason can you have to believe that things will improve. This will never change, you will never meet someone, you will always be alone and you will always feel sad, disappointed and let down by God. These lies lurk in the shadows, in the corners of your mind, seemingly as if it came from your own mind and not from the pit of hell and the one who seeks to discredit our heavenly Father. The devil seeks to label God a bad father, a neglectful father, a sadistic or capricious father. The devil seeks to defame God at every given chance he can, because he knows that by doing this he will take away our hope and our confidence. He hopes that perhaps he can tempt us away altogether or at least break us so much that we become powerless and inactive in our faith. Not living out the glorious calling that the Lord has placed on our lives (see my last post).
If the devil can get us to doubt the character of God, especially His goodness and love for us then he can take us down a path that leads nowhere good. It is in some sense easy to write these words, but as I write them, sitting on a plane, flying back home after another holiday spent without that special someone, these words resonate with something deeper inside me and I hope something deeper inside you too. As I write I feel the Lord with me, willing me to keep my eyes fixed on Him, the author and finisher of my faith. I feel like He is saying don’t give up, don’t give in, don’t believe the lies of the enemy about who I am and who you are.
Loneliness is an affliction but the Lord promises to deliver us from all our fears (Psalm 34:4), and He will deliver us from this too. In fact He promises to set the lonely in families (Psalm 68:6). But the best news is that even when we cry and cry and say Lord what on earth are you, what is going on, it all hurts and I feel so alone in this world He is never angry or disappointed in us, He just keeps loving us. And when we feel no sense of His love at all and it seems that we have been abandoned to the world and we praise Him, in the cold, dark night of the soul, I believe He is so proud of us. He says to the devil, see my servant David, see my servant Lisa, see my servant Heba, see my servant Hyun, see my servant Samson. See how even when there is not even a glimmer of hope to be seen they cling to me. God is so proud of you. I believe that for those who have struggled, suffered, waited long and maybe not seen the promises of God yet, that there is as Paul writes in Romans says a glorious future (Romans 8:23), whether in this life or in the one to come.
The biggest lie that the devil plants in our mind is that this life is the one that matters most and by doing that he keeps our focus off eternity and on our present circumstances. He wants us to forget that we are eternal beings and that this life my dear friends is but the blink of an eye. The devil would have us lay down and die in this life so that we do not fulfil our calling (see earlier post) of bringing others in. While our minds are focused on our temporal sufferings his mind is focused on securing as many eternal souls for damnation as possible. He tricks us into playing the short game while he plays the long game and so with the help of the Holy Spirit we need to rally our minds to the reality of the long game, the reality of eternity, the reality of what will last and what will not (see 2 Corinthians 4:17-18).
This doesn’t mean we will not feel lonely but it also doesn’t mean that God will not answer our prayers. No, as my earlier post pointed out the overwhelming majority of people will get married, but we should not make marriage the main goal of our lives and see it as the only answer to our loneliness. In truth I think that when we feel lonely, it is really our souls crying out to the only One who really, truly knows us. Crying out for that connection that will only really be complete in the world to come. In some ways we can count ourselves privileged to be lonely and to know the ache of being unknown or not understood as it creates in us a desperation for the presence of God. Some people may never know this. They may never be so desperate as the devil uses other tactics to keep people from the Lord, some of which include comfortable circumstances and lives which feel no need for the Lord. But for those of us who have waited long we have been blessed to have had to throw ourselves on the Lord, to look to Him and depend on Him. George Muller of Bristol, who cared for thousands of orphans in his lifetime, in a letter to Hudson Taylor, the founder of the China Inland Mission, wrote of God-
‘On Him then reckon, to Him look, on Him depend; and be assured, if you walk with Him and look to Him, and expect help from Him, He will never fail you. An older brother who has known the Lord forty-four years, who writes this, says to you for your encouragement that He has never failed him. In the greatest difficulties, in the heaviest trials, in the deepest poverty and necessities, He has never failed me; but, because I was enabled by His grace to trust in Him, He has always appeared for my help. I delight in speaking well of His Name.’
Today be comforted that the Lord will not tempt you beyond what you can stand (1 Corinthians 10:13), even though it may regularly feel like He does. He is building your faith, increasing your resilience and making you stronger than you ever knew you could be (Romans 5: 3-5). He is making you a beacon of hope to those around you who have given up. He is saying look at my beloved daughter, look at my wonderful son, see them and take up your identity as their brother and sister. Don’t give up, don’t give in, don’t settle. Your feelings ultimately are just feelings, painful as they are, they are not predictors of your future. They merely reflect a present reading of current circumstances. If you are feeling lonely and forgotten today, know that this is NOT true. You are not forgotten or unloved, or unimportant, you are of great value and worth and you have a special purpose on your life. Paul in Ephesians 2:10 writes that we are God’s masterpiece created especially by Him with a mighty plan for each of our lives. Your loneliness is not here to stay, your circumstances will get better and there are wonderful relationships ahead of you, in this life and the one to come. Jesus said I have come that may have life and have it in abundance (John 10:10), never forget His words, keep them in your mind and on your heart and know that He will not loose His hold on you. No matter how you feel, you are and always will be His. One day everything will become clear and we will say with all the Saints through all eternity that it is well.
God bless you richly today xx