Can Loneliness Be Seen as a Gift?
Have you felt lonely today, yesterday, this past year? Do you feel like you spend more time feeling isolated than feeling fulfilled by your social community? As cliché as this sounds, you are not alone in this, and that is why this is such an important thing to talk about seriously and to look at with a biblical lens. CNN reported in October 2023 that in a recent Meta-Gallup survey one in four adults worldwide reported that they feel fairly or very lonely. (Nicioli, 2023). This is the standard worldwide and we are no different in Canada (Statistics Canada, 2021). Loneliness is experienced by many people and can be debilitating.
To make sure that we are all thinking of the same thing here, I do not mean loneliness just in the single sense of “the state of being alone.” Instead, when I talk about loneliness, I am meaning a sad or even distressing experience that is the result of when a person’s feeling of social connection is seen to be less in quality or quantity than what is desired.
Loneliness – for me – is often an experience filled with guilt. Now what do I mean by that? I can be someone who often has the need to justify my feelings or emotions. If I don’t feel like I can quantify a good enough reason for something, then I am “obviously doing it wrong.” I can think through this list of relationships that I have:
- An amazing mother and father who I know love me and want the best for me.
- Two siblings (and two siblings-in-law) who care so much.
- Multiple nieces and nephews
- Two roommates who I get along with and are two good friends.
- Co-workers who feel more like family than work acquaintances.
- A church community that wants fellowship and connection.
And I could list even more! I am overfilled with beautiful and meaningful relationships. But I look at this and wonder, why in the world do I have moments of loneliness that can cripple me — rob me of joy — leave me in a place of distress — or in the extreme make me question my purpose and value altogether? What is it that I am perceiving as missing or lesser in quality?
There isn’t always an answer to the above questions for me, but there is one thing I know for certain. In my most destressing periods of loneliness, I know that God is never less than what I need. I think of Job who after hearing of the loss of his wealth and his family, instead of cursing God, falls to his knees both in grief and in worship.
One of the things that I have been learning, especially over the past couple of years, is to try and view my loneliness not just as a distressing emotion but also as an opportunity to grow in my reliance on God. In fact, looking back, loneliness has often ultimately been a gift that has given me a greater knowledge and appreciation for the love and care of my Heavenly Father.
Over the course of most of 2023, Psalm 62:5-7 was my comfort during waves of loneliness.
“Rest in God alone, my soul,
for my hope comes from him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation,
my stronghold; I will not be shaken.
My salvation and glory depend on God, my strong rock.
My refuge is in God.” (CSB)
God does not need me to pretend to be strong for Him. There is no need for a façade or a false sense of happiness. Instead, God wants me to rest in Him – to let him be my strength and my stronghold – to give him my feelings of loneliness and despair, and allow Him to be my gentle and gracious sustainer. Instead of dwelling in my inward focus of loneliness, God is calling me, and all of us, to instead turn our eyes upward to Him to see the most fulfilling relationship we can ever have. “Those who know your name trust in you because you have not abandoned those who seek you, LORD.” (Psalm 9:10, CSB).
Finally, I have two suggestions from my own experience – both for those experiencing loneliness, and for anyone not experiencing it, but knows someone who is.
When experiencing loneliness, as I mentioned above, first seek God. If you know Him as your Lord and Saviour, reach out to him for comfort, pour out your heart to Him in prayer, read His Scriptures (as you might have noticed, the Psalms are often my turning point during loneliness). If you do not know Him – still turn to Scriptures (The book of John is a great starting point!). My greatest comfort in loneliness is Him, and I would love for you to know Him too.
Once you do that, I encourage you to look outwards. See if your local church or a community group has an outreach to shut-ins or members of your community. Maybe your elders know of someone who is also struggling with loneliness and you could be a community to them? I have found that looking at others has often helped me find more meaningful relationships.
If you know someone who is struggling with loneliness, may I encourage you to be more of a Job 2:12-13 friend rather than Job 3 – 37 friends? Before they started to give advice to Job, his three friends came to sympathize and comfort. They grieved with him and sat with him in silence for 7 days. Now – I am not saying you need to sit with your friend in silence for 7 days (although who knows?), but I have found that often the most encouraging and helpful thing people can do when I am experiencing loneliness is to grieve with me, be present, and pray with me. Biblical advice may be offered but be willing to not be the friend with the answer. Sometimes we need the friend who is willing to come with tears, some tea, and the tissue box.
 Scripture quotations marked CSB have been taken from the Christian Standard Bible®, Copyright © 2017 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission. Christian Standard Bible® and CSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers.