You know what they say about assumptions, right?
Truth is though, we all make them…like, all the time. I don’t think I’m the only one when I say that assumptions plague my thoughts constantly, inviting such weapons of the enemy as insecurity, fear, self-doubt, and resentment into my heart.
And one assumption I hate that I make over and over again is…I bet she never feels lonely.
She has too many friends to feel lonely.
She’s so extroverted; I bet she never feels lonely.
She’s married, so she’s not lonely like I am.
Everyone knows who she is, so she’s never lonely.
She has such a great community, so of course she’s not lonely.
She has a big family at home, so she probably doesn’t experience loneliness.
We compare, and it tears us down in ways that other people never could.
I’m willing to bet that you, my friend, laughed at one of those examples I just gave because, despite fitting that bill (lots of friends, extrovert, married, known, in community, big family), you have indeed experienced loneliness in your life.
Because truly, loneliness has much less to do with our circumstances, and far more to do with our condition as humans. Loneliness is a universal experience. It plagues the known and the nobody, the extrovert and the introvert, the popular and the outcast, and the single and the married. The mother, the sister, and the one and only alike, all experience loneliness.
Our assumption – that the circumstances of our lives are the sole reason for our loneliness, and, therefore, people in different, seemingly more ideal circumstances, must not experience it – is incorrect.
Loneliness is universal, and it’s a favorite tactic of the enemy in his efforts to keep you isolated from the life of community for which God designed you.
And lest you think I’m being a bit of a downer today, here’s why this understanding matters:
There’s nothing wrong with you. Loneliness just means you’re alive.
When we realize that our loneliness isn’t something we are doing wrong or something God is doing to us, I think it loses some of its power over our hearts.
Because when I believe that loneliness is a symptom of me not being a good enough friend, I’m paralyzed by insecurity or motivated to run myself ragged trying too hard to be better.
When I believe that my loneliness could be eliminated by an external circumstance changing, I spend more time dreaming and wishing than talking and engaging with those who are around me.
When I believe that my loneliness is a punishment from God, I live frustrated and mad at the only One who could actually rescue me from it.
The truth is that circumstances, selfishness, or insecurities could contribute to our feelings of loneliness, but when we assume that changing those things will fix our loneliness problem, we’re setting ourselves up for disappointment. And when we blame God for our loneliness instead of running to his ever-present, ever-open arms with our scuffed-up hearts, we’re pushing away the One to whom we need to be praying for deliverance.
See, when it comes to loneliness, it’s not just you. It’s not just your problem; it’s a human problem. Finding better friends or even being better friends ourselves isn’t enough to fix our loneliness problem.
Jesus said, “Do not worry about your life. What you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear…For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom and righteousness, and all these things will be given to you, as well” (Matt. 6:25a, 32-33).
In this teaching about worry, Jesus highlights common stressors like sustainment and provision, but I think we can apply relationships to his words too. Clearly, Jesus knew that relationships could cause anxiety in our lives; he experienced relational conflict (Luke 4, John 7:5, John 13:21, for example) and talked about it (Matthew 7:4-5, 18:15-20) . But he also knew that they were vital to the human experience and chose to engage in all types of friendships during his time on earth (some examples: John 2:2, John 15:14, Luke 6:13, Matt. 26:37-38).
So if we’re thinking relationships here, we could apply Jesus’ words in this way: The pagan (those who don’t follow God) way is to run after friendships to fill your cup and make you feel less anxious. And God knows that you need friendships; he doesn’t want us to live lonely. But chasing after better friends won’t ever completely satisfy the lonely hole in our hearts. He tells us to seek the Kingdom of God (the upside-down way of living that he described back in Matt. 5) and God’s righteousness (God’s way of doing things). And when we pour ourselves into those things first, our other needs, like community, relationships, and friendship, will come along with it.
I don’t think that means that if we’re living lonely that we’re not seeking the Lord. Rather, think of it this way: seeking the Lord should be our first response to feelings of loneliness. So often I run to a friend (or worse, to social media) to make me feel better. And while there’s nothing wrong with going to our friends when we feel lonely, I think we’re missing the full measure of his comfort when we don’t take those feelings directly to the Lord, first.
This doesn’t have to be complicated; it could be as simple as praying something like this:
Ask: God, I’m feeling lonely right now. What is true?
Answer: You’re not alone. You are loved. Your identity is not defined by others. And yet, because I know what you need, I have given you people around you. Go to them out of love, not for love.
Action: Stay off social media for a few hours – or more! Smile and say hi to someone if you’re in a public place. Text a friend to let them know you could use a prayer or to schedule a friend date. Call a friend to talk, and actually tell them you’re feeling lonely today.
See friends, it’s not so much a question of whether we go to God with our loneliness or the people in our lives. It’s a question of source, a question of order. As the source of community, the Lord offers confidence in our identity, which then empowers and emboldens us to reach out to others as a demonstration of his love for us. When we try to make our friends our source, we are setting ourselves up to be let down.
The cure for our loneliness doesn’t lie outside of us in changed circumstances or other people. Those things can help, act as a balm to soothe the sting. But the true cure for loneliness can only be found in the confidence that our identity is rooted in the Lord’s affection for us, not anyone else’s.
Love ya, friend.
Your Sister, Kimber
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