Loneliness has been a regular visitor in my life since I was a teenager. He rarely announces in advance when he’s going to stop by. He doesn’t ring or text. He could swing by when I’m in a crowd or on my own.
Loneliness likes to surprise me like that.
Sure, sometimes his visits make sense. Loneliness may come singing his sad tunes when I perceive a slight from a friend. Unmet expectations from those I care about can open the door for his arrival. But other times he seems to come for no apparent reason – when relationships and work seem to be going well. I can be joyful and at peace for a good while… then loneliness drops a surprise kiss on my soul like a fart from hell.
Like all Christians, I also experience temptations to sin. Nothing exotic – just the ordinary type of damnables. But loneliness in itself is not sinful to feel – it’s a form of brokenness and a symptom of living in a fallen world. Other Christians deal with other types of brokenness like depression or doubt. But neither of them are frequent visitors of mine.
The pain loneliness brings with him hurts so badly at times, I become near paralyzed. I’m almost unable to work. I usually introvert my feelings, so only those who know me the best notice. But if I let it go, I’m not fun to be with. I just want to curl up in a ball on bed and cry or sleep or somehow just escape. As an adult, a father, a pastor, and a Christian I often feel ashamed for feeling that way – and even for writing it here. I sometimes think that if I was more emotionally mature, I wouldn’t feel this way.
Loneliness really is all it’s cracked up to be.
All types of people deal with intense loneliness: Muslims, Agnostics, Vegans, Christians, politicians, socialites, loners – it comes to married and unmarried people. Pin pointing the cause is not an exact science, but it probably has to do with life experiences, physiological make up, as well as spiritual and relational dynamics.
When I’m in such a state, words, time, and touches from loved ones help tremendously. (Yes, ‘touches’. I thrive on non-sexual, physical expressions of affection.) Everyone who deals with loneliness knows the comfort that can come from another human being. My wife – like a couple of other close friends – are good at speaking encouraging words when I’m down. But contrary to popular perception, marriage doesn’t make it just go away.
But as a Christian, I also find two unique kinds of help that can’t be found anywhere else.
The first is the Embrace of Grace. Christianity is the only belief system in the world that teaches that the Creator God voluntarily embraced loneliness. He didn’t have to. As the Triune God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – he eternally existed as a friendship, all within himself. He was always emotionally complete and happy.
But what did he do with that perfect acceptance and joy? He gave it all away. On the cross he put himself in our place and opened his arms wide to receive infinite rejection. And he did all this so that you and I can have the only type of acceptance that really matters – the embrace of the communal God.
The other comfort is the hope of Jesus’ promise. It won’t always be this way. If Jesus is who he says is – if he really did rise from the dead, then not only am I embraced by God, but I’m put in a new family. I’m so grateful for the fellow Christians in my life who love and accept me – people who I wouldn’t ever know if it weren’t for Christ. But as good as that is now, I know one day it will be far better. In this word Christians still struggling with sin like everyone else and we only see dimly.
But Jesus is preparing a place of perfect love for us. There will be no unrequited affection there. No embarrassment, insecurity or jealousy. You won’t have to be cool enough, pretty enough, or clever enough. The best moments of the most intoxicating relationship you’ve had here on earth is just a small foretaste of the love that is to come through that perfected family – for all eternity.
When loneliness visits me – this embrace and this hope gets me through.