"…he himself has said, 'I will never leave you or abandon you.' Therefore, we may boldly say, 'The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?"
Hebrews 13:5-6 CSB, quoting Deuteronomy 31:6 and Psalm 118:6
|Flame-hued sunset after a stormy afternoon|
Are you lonely, friend?
If news headlines and my circle of acquaintances are representative, there's a good chance you are, and I am so sorry. Loneliness causes such heartache in the best of times, and during the holidays it tends to cause even more pain. My heart goes out to you, truly. If you aren't lonely as you read this, it is likely you have been recently or we'll be soon. As Elisabeth Elliot says, we are lonely because we are human. Loneliness entered human life in the garden of Eden, when spiritual death resulting from sin separated Adam and Eve from their first and truest friend, the Lord God who created them.
Chronic illness (and really, any kind of suffering) tend to isolate sufferers and their families. Holidays may intensify any preexisting loneliness, whether we can't be with our loved ones or feel lonely because of differences or tensions alienating us from the people around us to some degree. We all want someone who truly sees us, knows us, and loves us anyway. Any diminishment or lack of that soothing security can feel lonely, whether we are literally alone or surrounded by people. No human can satisfy that longing fully; hence, loneliness is part of the human experience of walking around with a God-shaped vacuum inside us, an emptiness that can never completely be filled in this life.
How is the Christian to respond to loneliness when it assails us? With heartfelt prayers for your encouragement, I offer four suggestions:
- Lament the losses.
- Let go of my rights, expectations, and any sin in my response.
- Love the communion of the saints.
- Lean into the fellowship of the Triune God.
First, we may lament the losses that have brought us to this place of isolation and loneliness. Whether loss of health, friends, church, spouse, or job, whether empty nest or prodigal loved ones, whether estrangement and misunderstanding or some combination of all these fuels our loneliness, we can and should lament them. We grieve because we love. We grieve because it mattered. We grieve our own sins and the sins committed against us that have fractured relationships. Lament is an act of faith that turns toward God in our grief; pours out our complaint honestly to Him who knows it all; asks Him to intervene and heal the brokenness causing us pain; and trusts Him to hear and answer, even if His answer isn't what we want. He loves us and wants us to come to Him in our need. He is not repelled by sorrow and tears and even anger, but catches our tears in His bottle like treasure.
Second, we may let go. We may let go of our right to retaliate at anyone whose sin has contributed to our loneliness. We may need to let go by forgiving others. We may need to let go of our rights and expectations regarding relationships, holidays, and others' treatment of us. And we may need to let go of our own sinful responses to our loneliness: self-pity, resentment, bitterness, for example. We may need to let go of those things that will only infect our soul's wound and prevent it from healing well and fully.
Third, we may find solace in loving the communion of the saints mentioned in the ancient creed. Have you ever given much thought to that doctrine, beyond your local church fellowship? Prolonged periods of isolation have deepened my understanding of it. God, through the apostle Paul, says, "There is one body and one Spirit--just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call--one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all (Ephesians 4:4-6, ESV). Again, in a different letter, God through Paul says, "For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body--Jews or Greeks, slaves or free--and all were made to drink of one Spirit" (1 Corinthians 12:13, ESV). The one body of Christ, then, comprises all who belong to the Lord through faith, all in whom the Spirit dwells, all who can rightly call God Father. This is not constrained to one location at one point in time. All the children of God through faith in Christ, throughout all the world, throughout all of time, are united in one body, as we will fully realize in the coming eternal kingdom and must take by faith now. The same spiritual blood and breath unite us, and in that regard we are always in spiritual communion with our brother and sister saints, however alone we may be in body.