Paul’s loneliness seems unbearable. He aches to get mail from home! He has faith in God, but really struggles and asks, “Am I not trusting God enough for this? Why am I so lonely?” He’s been told the usual, “Just remember how much God loves you!” He does, but this lonely feeling is so strong!
Saying, “You’ve got to get out and meet people!” isn’t the answer either. We can be in a room full of people, but that feeling of loneliness can still come upon us. Hey married people can feel extremely alone even if they are together. The remedy for loneliness isn’t companionship. The cure for loneliness is being known. Meeting more people won’t help. It isn’t about being well known. It's about being known well.
One almost gets the impression when searching the scriptures for a remedy, that God simply doesn’t consider loneliness. “Lonely” is mentioned 2 times in Psalms, and 2 times in the gospels. But the word “lonely” here is not even talking about feelings. David was lonely amidst enemies. He was by himself. Jesus went out to lonely places to pray. It was the place He went to pray that was lonely. The word has more to do with being isolated or in solitude. Only once does the Bible mention lonely people, but even here, the Psalmist is talking about situation.
“A Father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in His holy dwelling. God sets the lonely in families, He leads forth the prisoners with singing; but the rebellious live in a sun scorched land.”
Perhaps God never mention loneliness because He’s already remedied it. He “sets the lonely in families.” While we are on earth, He simply provides us with family. I’ve known so many secret believers who, after moving back into Muslim villages, would amazingly find themselves meeting other secret believers. God does this! You’ll often read such encounters in missionary newsletters. When brother Abdullah was assigned a room at the factory he’d just started working and living at, he soon found that his roommate Enwer, was also a secret follower of Christ. They caught each other reading the Bible and were amazed, thanking God. God sets the lonely in families!
If a believer feels loneliness, they probably have either not let God put them into a family, or they are not being themselves while in the family that He has put them in. People try to not be seen as needy. To be “successful,” we learn to put on a mask of confidence. To need others is mistakenly considered a weakness.
My friend in prison tells me that in order to survive, he must appear mean. He only takes his mask off when he gets mail from people who know him well. In prison culture, there are predators who go after those perceived as weak. So his tough mask stays on. While writing letters home he can put down the mask and make himself known. This being known time gives him rest from his loneliness. Maybe that is why inmates and missionaries love getting mail from home.
We Church folk are famous for our happy masks! Visitors might think we are problem free. Yet our church prayer sheets are filled with desperate need! If we consistently keep our masks on at church, we’ll soon feel that nobody knows us. Loneliness sets in, and soon we’re looking for a “more loving” church. You can’t be known if the mask is on. Be sincere!
Our Heavenly Father leads us into families. The early church folk would meet daily at the Temple courts, and after hearing the apostle’s teaching, they’d devote themselves to fellowship, communion and prayer. Then they’d go to one another’s homes, and eat together “with glad and sincere hearts.” (Acts 2:42-47)
Sincere hearts don’t wear masks. Sincerity allows you to be known. Find a group of people who honor biblical teaching, and enter with your glad and sincere heart. Get to know others too and help dispell their loneliness! As folk get to know you, your loneliness will likewise subside.
Ann and I once moved to a place where very few westerners had ever been seen. We were a novelty. Half a world away from all who knew us, the local people would turn and stare, point and talk. Some would touch my clothes or perhaps while feeling the hair on my arms, mention something about evolution, and then just walk away. With limited language ability, it was hard to be known.
I remember this one day, when I was really tired, and feeling so alone. The language was so slow in coming! After months it seemed, nobody knew me. The loneliness was intense! All we could talk was the mundane, for shopping and getting directions. Nothing deep! Once after a winter’s afternoon in the bazaar, I shuffled on home, sliding over the icy road toward our apartment. I saw a family standing there: father, mother and daughter.
The little girl was staring at me, and the father was explaining me to her, so that she wouldn’t be scared. I smiled at them, but they just stared back expressionless. In order to be friendly, I spoke to them. “Hello! How are you today?” No response. They just stood there staring at me. I decided to try again, a bit louder this time. “It’s not too cold today, eh?” I waited for a response. Nothing. Finally the father turned to his wife and looked down at his daughter and said, “It can talk!” Then the three just turned and walked on leaving me standing there with my mouth opened.
It was one of those freeing moments with Jesus, when we can either despair, or else realizing God’s there, burst out laughing. If Satan intended for me to despair that day, he overplayed his hand. God was there, seeing and knowing what I was feeling and experiencing. With Him there, it was just too funny! His being there and knowing us, made instances like this something that Ann and I could laugh about. Time and language would soon enough make us some good friends, but for those early months, it could feel pretty lonely. The remedy came whenever we, realizing His presence with us, knew that He knew.
“Be still and know that I am God.”
We’ll sometimes feel lonely this side of heaven. But that isn’t God’s plan for us. He puts us into families and He wants the masks off! It is up to us to follow Him into His family, and we must each take off our own mask.
God already knows us completely:
“Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”
1 Corinthians 13:12
The power and joy of the Christian life is not that we love or know God. It is that we are loved by and are known by God.
“We love because He first loved us.”
1 John 4:19
Our very ability to love comes to us because we first are loved by God. If you love God, it is because He knows you.
“But the man who loves God is known by God.”
1 Corinthians 8:3
God has promised that we would not be alone in Him:
“God has said, “Never will I leave you;
never will I forsake you.”
Jesus’ final words to us in Matthew are:
“And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
The power of loneliness ends when we see that He fully knows us. Jesus died on that cross, so that He could reconnect us with God. Then He sent His Holy Spirit, so that we could know that He is with us, and realize how He knows us completely. When we see that God Himself is right here with us, the joy of the Lord will become our strength. Loneliness ends when we are being known.
Feeling lonely? Let God put you in with His family. We’ve all heard it said, “You can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family.” If you are not thrilled with His family there, take your mask off first, and let your glad and sincere heart encourage others to remove their masks also. And if it takes them a while, know that God sees what you are trying to do and know that He delights in you.
“Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—“
There’s just one friend
Who sticks closer than a brother.
Yet I fretted through one and then another,
and felt alone and sad and sighed
with Jesus right there by my side.
And all the angels here unseen
just cocked their heads and shrugged their wings
as I sat rescued and unharmed
through wasted days and slipped by hours
forgetting, ignoring, and begging Him too;
crying for friends as if He wouldn’t do.
And He will wait until I can see
that there’s no one greater who will ever love me.