I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, who will stay with you forever (John 14:16)
"Loneliness was the first thing that God's eye named not good." - John Milton
It was the sixth day. God Almighty had just finished creating all the living creatures that move along the ground. As He had at each stage of creation, God paused and evaluated His work. "And God saw that it was good" (Genesis 1:25). Only one more task remained.
"And the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being" (Genesis 2:7).
Here was God's only creation that would not live its life in total ignorance of its Creator. Rather, made in God's image, Adam would fulfill a role no other creature could -- he would have fellowship with God and be the object of His love. But after placing Adam in the Garden, God observed that there was still something missing.
"The Lord God said, 'It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him'" (Genesis 2:18).
God recognized Adam's need for contact with another human being -- a need God had built into him. More than just a fellow inhabitant of Eden, Eve would be the object of Adam's love and would love him in return. She would share the wonders of creation and the responsibilities of stewardship. With the creation of Eve, Adam's intimate relationship with God was complemented by communion and companionship with someone like himself.
By God's design we have an innate need to be loved and belong. As children we learn to give and receive affection and are taught the skills that will help us find acceptance in society. Through our relationships with family, friends, co-workers and others, we form our sense of individuality and find our place in the mosaic of life. It's when that need for affection and fellowship goes unfulfilled, that we become restless, unhappy...lonely.
If you are struggling with loneliness, you're not alone. Everyone experiences seasons of isolation for one reason or another. Usually we overcome loneliness by meeting new friends, entering new social circles, or taking some other action that reengages us with people.
However, a variety of personal factors and other circumstances can sometimes short-circuit our ability to connect with others. Perhaps you have become insecure about meeting new people after the death of a loved one. Maybe some social setbacks have led you to think that no one would be interested in your company. Relocating to a new area may have left you yearning for old friendships and unable to start new ones. There are many ways that long-term loneliness can take over our lives.
Causes of Loneliness
Loneliness doesn't develop overnight. It can be the result of a lifetime of influences that shape our personality. Or it can evolve after a major transition or trauma. Often we are unaware of the subtle forces that can slowly lead us into self-imposed isolation.
Some people tend to be loners because of circumstances in their childhood development. For example, growing up with an unaffectionate or overly critical parent may make one shy away from intimacy with others. Some people simply never learn to communicate well or get along with their peers. Others have overly aggressive or demanding personalities that make people withdraw out of intimidation. Conversely, people with low self-esteem often withdraw from social situations they believe will lead to rejection. Loneliness can become a lifestyle for the person who struggles with poorly developed interpersonal skills.
There are also many social factors that contribute to loneliness. We live in an age in which modern technology has made it easier to do things without other people and without leaving our homes. Television is the chief culprit that robs us of time with relatives and neighbors. For some, especially the elderly, the increased likelihood of becoming the victim of a crime keeps them from venturing out of their homes. Also, because our society is more mobile than in the past, families may relocate several times for career advancement or other reasons, which tends to discourage the development of deep friendships.
Loneliness can result from "situational factors," circumstances in life that increase the possibility of isolation. People who are unmarried, divorced or widowed are more likely to encounter loneliness simply because they are more likely to be alone. However, loneliness can also occur when a marriage relationship doesn't produce the closeness we expect. The student separated from home, the leader who must remain aloof from his subordinates, the individual with a disability or disease -- all face a greater chance of loneliness due to a situation in their lives.
Often loneliness brought on by developmental, social or situational factors leads to problems that only worsen loneliness. Alcoholism, drug abuse, family breakdown and other social ills are frequently rooted in loneliness and usually lead to greater alienation from meaningful human contact. The proliferation of gangs, religious cults and other deviant social groups can be attributed largely to people's need to belong somewhere and their failure to find acceptance in a traditional setting.
Whatever may be contributing to your loneliness, there is a way out. It begins with confronting a cause of loneliness that every human being must come to terms with -- the spiritual loneliness of being separated from God. Each of us has a need to connect with something larger than ourselves in order to fill the spiritual vacuum that exists within us all. The Bible is God's plan for developing the most important relationship in our lives.
Loneliness and The Bible
As the story of Adam and Eve illustrates, God intends for us to share our lives with other people. The importance of personal relationships in God's eyes is evident in the amount of space devoted to them in the Bible. Both the Old and New Testaments have a lot to say about marriage, parenthood, friendship and church fellowship. But it is also clear from God's Word that there is one relationship that is preeminent from God's point of view. That is the fellowship He wants to have with us, which forms the foundation of all other relationships.
When we accept God's gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ, we enter into communion with the Creator of the universe. God Almighty becomes our Heavenly Father and He places His Holy Spirit within us. Jesus referred to the Holy Spirit as the "Counselor" (John 14:16), whose presence would guide us into all truth (John 16:13). The Apostles Paul and John said God's Spirit would fill believers with assurance of our membership in God's family (Romans 8:16; I John 14:13). Day by day, through prayer and Bible reading, we can experience the wonderful fellowship that God wants to have with each of His children. He is never too busy to listen.
A dynamic walk with God is a solid foundation for building relationships with others. As God's children, we are members of an incredibly large extended family that encompasses the world. Our brothers and sisters inhabit every nation on the globe. Spiritually speaking, our "immediate family" is the group of believers with whom we attend church. They form an important support group that functions much like our natural family does. Christians who don't go to church or don't get involved in church activities cut themselves off from a rich source of companionship.
If you are a Christian who is suffering from loneliness, ask yourself if you have taken full possession of the abundant life God wants you to have. Are you spending regular quality time with your Heavenly Father? Are you active in a local church? Ask God to lead you into a deeper relationship with Him and greater involvement with fellow believers.
If you have never invited Jesus Christ to be your Savior, now is a good time to do so. Making Jesus the Lord of your life will put you on a path that leads to intimacy with God, new friendships with fellow Christians in this life and an eternal place in God's presence in the life hereafter.
Steps for Overcoming Loneliness
Perhaps you've heard these suggestions from well-meaning friends: "Why not join a club?" or "You should do some traveling." They aren't bad ideas but they aren't solutions to the problem of loneliness either. The following steps will help you break free from thinking, emotions and behaviors that may be at the root of your loneliness. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you identify actions you can take to overcome loneliness.
Admit the Problem - Only after you acknowledge that you are lonely can you take the steps necessary to escape from your isolation.
Consider the causes - Evaluate your life honestly in light of the factors mentioned above. Do any of them apply to you?
Accept What Cannot Be Changed - The death of a spouse, a relocation away from old friends, and other unalterable circumstances must be faced squarely. God can use transitions in our lives to open doors to new experiences, but we must be willing to let go of the past and move on.
Alter What Can Be Changed - Many of the causes of loneliness discussed above can be overcome. Do you fear rejection because you feel inadequate? Do you stay in your home watching television when you could be at a social function? Has your best friend just moved away? Regardless of the reason for your loneliness, you owe it to yourself to take measures that will meet the problem head-on.
- Work on developing self-esteem by stopping destructive self-talk, such as telling yourself that you are unlikable. There are many good books on the subjects or rational thinking and misbelief therapy that can help you.
- Practice looking at yourself from God's perspective. Study the Scriptures and meditate on verses that depict God's view of His children.
- Make it a point to get out of the house at least once a week. Attend church activities; participate in community functions; take a class, etc...
- Get involved in a cause. There are many groups looking for faithful volunteers who want to make a difference. Of course, working for a ministry or charity is also a great way to meet people.
Develop New Habits That Build Up Your Inner Self - As you become a stronger, more self-assured person, you'll find it easier to make new friends and encounter new situations. Try some of these strategies for self-improvement:
- Meditate on God's Word for relaxation and to ease the effects of stress on your life.
- Establish a schedule for a day, weekend or a week. Loneliness often seems more intense when we have nothing to do. Organize your time and be sure to include some outside activities.
- Start exercising regularly. Take walks around your neighborhood, a local park or a shopping mall. You'll feel better physically and emotionally.
Make the most out of your time alone. Aloneness (as opposed to loneliness) can be a very positive experience. Aloneness, or solitude, gives us a chance to reflect on our lives, to meditate on God's will for us and to find healing for the wounds inflicted by the world. Many experts feel that we spend too little time alone and that we would all be better off by planning regular times of solitude in our lives.
Make an Effort to Make New Friends - Often all that is required to escape loneliness is the determination to seek out a new friend. Overcoming shyness and the fear of rejection are usually the biggest obstacles to initiating a friendship. Keep the following in mind as you try to establish new relationships:
- Look for someone with whom you share a common interest.
- Take the initiative and give the person a call. Chances are that person may be looking for a friend as well.
- Build a friendship slowly. Don't overwhelm a new acquaintance with your problems and opinions. With time the openness to express feelings will develop. Give compliments and be thoughtful. Refrain from giving unsolicited advice. Be a good listener.
Consider Buying a Pet - Pets can be a wonderful source of companionship. Don't overlook the possibilities. Pets offer uncomplicated companionship and unquestioning affection. They can even become the catalyst for friendships with other pet owners.
Loneliness can be overcome. But it's up to you to take the steps necessary to break free from its grip. Ask your Heavenly Father for the courage to reach out to others and try new things. Trust Him to give you what He wants you to have -- an abundant life that includes intimate and faithful friends.