At one time or another, we all feel alone. And sometimes that feeling is amplified by the people we're around. Most of us have had moments where we feel utterly alone in a crowd. Sometimes that loneliness is exacerbated by the expectation that Christian community should insulate us from ever feeling that way.
Don't believe the lies
Feelings of seclusion and loneliness can be challenging enough on their own, but they're often accompanied by thought processes that only make it worse. It's one thing to feel alone, but things can get out of hand fast when we follow those thoughts up by telling ourselves:
- No one really understands what I'm going through.
- I've always been alone.
- I'm anxious that things will only get worse.
- My feelings of loneliness are proof that God or the church is failing me.
- Feeling alone is a sign that there's something wrong with me. I don't have enough faith.
Once we add these narratives to our loneliness, we're headed for trouble. Our feelings start becoming an accusation against ourselves and others.
Like many emotional states that we would identify as negative, there are two main dangers with loneliness. The first is that we would indulge it, meaning that we pursue and dwell on bad feelings and develop some of those previously discussed thoughts. We might fall into a cycle where we define ourselves by those feelings.
But occasionally the opposite is true—and just as treacherous. We might try to mask those feelings by drowning them out with food, alcohol, drugs, sex, etc. When avoidance becomes our primary goal, we end up putting off the inevitable and potentially introduce all new problems.
The key is learning to recognize and identify loneliness without trying to avoid it or completely yield to it. When we're prayerfully present, our emotions can teach us a lot.
What can we learn from feeling alone?
Off the top, it's essential to recognize that these feelings could be a sign of underlying medical issues. If you have a tendency toward depression, feelings of isolation can signal that something is off and it might be time to see your counselor or doctor. There is absolutely no shame in reaching out for help when you're overwhelmed and lonely.
There are others for whom loneliness is a fairly infrequent intruder. And it can be extremely helpful to spend time in prayer and reflection probing those feelings. Sometimes God intends to use these difficult feelings to move us into new areas.
Feelings of alienation could be a prompt encouraging us to reach out. It could be a sign that we've allowed ourselves to become too busy or gotten lost in our own world—a reminder to reconnect with the people in our life. When you think about it, it's strange that we tend to withdraw more when we feel alienated. Sometimes the most obvious answer is the right one—and we simply need to reach out to those around us.
The Lord could also be using these feelings to teach us empathy. There are so many people who feel unloved and alone and need others who are willing to come to them. One of the first demographics that comes to mind is the elderly. About 28% in the U.S. live alone, and that isolation can have a dramatic impact on their physical and mental health. One of the most significant things we can do to combat feelings of being alone is to serve those whose lives are marked by isolation.
After all, the idea that we can find wholeness by loving and serving others seems like the kind of thing Jesus would suggest.
Reconnecting with Jesus
Feeling alone can also be a sign that we've become disconnected from Jesus. It might signal a need to repent of a behavior that's infringing on our ability to feel close to God, but not necessarily. It might have nothing to do with sin; it might just be time to recommit to drawing close.
Either way, we should consider incorporating some new spiritual disciplines, or recommitting to some that we've allowed to slip. Do we need more time in God's Word or prayer? Is it time to fast and seek the Lord? Do we need to cut out some noise and distraction and spend time in reflection? Maybe we need to reach out to a pastor or friend for spiritual guidance.
Sometimes feelings of loneliness are a sign that we need to reconnect to our first love.
Remember, Jesus experienced loneliness, too. Here's what Isaiah said the Messiah would be like:
"He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem" (Isaiah 53:3).
Jesus experienced many sorrows in His life, and understood our feelings of rejection and alienation. There's no healthier place to bring those feelings than to the foot of the cross.
If you're looking for more inspiration for a difficult season, check out How to Be Thankful in the Most Difficult Times. Its advice will help you pull through rough seasons.
And if you're looking to start a conversation with someone about loneliness, check out our 8-minute short film "A Man By the Name of Frederick Pennyhouse." We've even included discussion questions to help spark deeper conversations. We hope this film will help you talk about isolation and the ultimate source of hope when we feel alone, Jesus.