Moving into my apartment in February brought me onto a roller coaster ride like I have never before felt. As a recent graduate from a large university, I had lived on my own for the past four years, but never completely alone. Everywhere I lived, I joined someone there—I had always lived with family or roommates. But now, for the first time, I was living alone.
On the surface, my full schedule seemed to satisfy my longing to stay busy: I spent the majority of each day in the office of the architecture firm where I worked, then went on a run after I clocked out, and retired by driving home, eating a home-cooked dinner and going to bed. My hours were full, and I thought that was what I wanted.
It wasn’t. I had filled my calendar but left my soul empty. And one of the main causes for that emptiness was loneliness. I had a busy life but no one with whom I could regularly share it.
Loneliness hurts. We have all felt it, whether in a weak way or intensely, whether for a day or for years, whether intermittently or consistently. And the pain is different than anything else. It has no medical diagnosis, so it might not even fit in the definition of pain, but it is definitely painful.
Loneliness also feels like a void. As if something vital is missing from our lives. Yet we cannot produce the solution which we seek on our own. It must come from someone else. That is a bleak thought when no one will choose to be that solution.
Nothing is strong enough to distract us from that pain, that void, except the antidote: spending time with others. And not just any others; those who can cure it must be people we love. Anyone to whom we feel indifferent is only a quick splash of water on an open wound, washing away the mess for a moment but unable to stop the blood flow. When we can’t have that antidote, the pain often leads us to despair.
We weren’t meant to live alone. We loathe loneliness.
So how can we find comfort amidst our loneliness?
I’ll give you my strategy. When I feel lonely, I first look in the Bible. God has given us this book to show how He is bringing restoration to the world from brokenness. The Bible contains countless stories of people who have felt lonely (sometimes we are told outright, sometimes we must imagine what we would feel in their circumstances). Some who come to my mind are Adam, Job, Moses, David, Elijah, Jesus, the twelve disciples, and the apostle Paul. Indeed, I am certain every person mentioned in the Bible felt lonely at some point. Even though they are characters in the Bible, they are human, just like us, and felt the languishing pang of loneliness. Yet God still loved for them and accomplished great things through them, and He loves us and can do the same with us.
My second action is to find people and spend time with them. During my time in my apartment, my close friends were rarely available when I felt the most acute sting of loneliness. In lieu of this, I tried to make new friends. Making new friends was difficult for me, and I’m sure it is for most other people as well, especially when we are longing for the people who already know us well. However, instead of living in the past, we can respond to our current situation. When we want to ease the pain of loneliness by making new friends, we must be honest with them. If we lock up our pain, we won’t lose it. But if we trust the new friend and tell them how we feel, they can give the friendship we want, the solution for which we have searched all along. (And it’s even more wonderful to realize that we can ease their loneliness at the same time.)
While we take these actions, we must remember that seasons of loneliness are seasons of growth. For one thing, they reveal how much we need a savior, someone to care for us and always provide for us, because we cannot provide our needs for ourselves. Indeed, in these times we can find that our God has been inviting us to turn to Him and see that we are never truly alone. For another, these times can help us mature in many ways: in discipline, patience, commitment, persistence and empathy. In short, seasons of loneliness can help improve our character (see Romans 5:1-5).
God knows when we feel lonely, and He loves us so much that He offers us comfort us in these times with his words. All we must do to access it is to listen to what He has said and trust Him. Above all, Jesus teaches us, we have two commands to remember in all seasons, including when we feel lonely: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your might,” (Matthew 22:37; Deuteronomy 6:5) and “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39; Leviticus 19:18). These can help us remember that God still has a purpose for us while we feel lonely. In the seemingly-menial things that we do to show God’s love and our care for other people, we bring glory to God and bring light to the darkness in the world. Over time, daily faithfulness produces an abundance of spiritual fruit.
Perspective is also important when we feel alone. My usual outlook on life when I feel lonely is that my life will never matter: since I am not doing anything meaningful now, I never will. This is a lie. As I said above, when built on the foundation of Christ Jesus, small, consistent acts of faith and love build into a house that will not crumble in any stormy season. Instead of despairing that your life is useless, take one day at a time. Focus on what you will do today and today only. If you are like me and enjoy making plans far in advance, this makes you cringe; but this helps me calm down and not despair, and I am confident it can help anyone else as well . Don’t throw out your long-term perspective; keep it, but change it to focus on the good God is accomplishing in your life and other people’s lives. This is another guard against despair and a reminder that we have hope in our God.
Loneliness is not good. We weren’t meant to be alone. But we can respond to our loneliness in ways that will both bring us out of the lonely situation and help us trust and love God and love the people around us. Then we are not only helping ourselves feel better, we are helping other people feel better as well. In this way, little by little we will bring God’s shalom (peace, wholeness and love) to the world.