Question: I don’t like coming home to my apartment. It’s cold and dark. The first thing I do is turn on the television just to hear some human voices. I eat alone, flip channels, maybe do a little reading, and then go to bed. I’ve been in and out of relationships, and none of them turned out well. I see couples in the mall walking hand-in-hand, and my heart longs for someone to share my life. I know people can see the loneliness in my eyes, and it probably chases them away. But what can I do?
Answer: We’re sorry that you struggle with loneliness as much as you do. The cry of every human heart is for companionship. God designed us to live in relationship with each other, and it’s natural to feel an ache in your soul when you’re alone.
You may be surprised at how many Christians struggle with loneliness. A. W. Tozer once said, “Most of the world’s great souls have been lonely.”1 Think of the godly people in Scripture who felt alone, and consider the reasons for their loneliness. Job felt alone in his troubles (Job 6:14-15); Joseph, in his rejection from family (Genesis 37:23-28); Elijah, as a result of intense spiritual warfare (1 Kings 19:10, 14); David, as a result of his enemy’s relentless attacks (Psalm 25:16); Jeremiah, because of his stand for the Lord (Jeremiah 15:15-18); and Jesus, in the Garden of Gethsemane when He needed His friends the most (Matthew 26:36-45).
Yes, even the Son of God knows what it’s like to be lonely. Isn’t that a comforting thought? Jesus walked this valley before us. He felt Satan’s attack in the lonely wilderness of temptation. He felt the pang of isolation in the Garden of Gethsemane. And He felt the ultimate loneliness on the cross when He bore our sin. Because He has gone before us, He is our lifeline of hope. The author of the letter to the Hebrews assures us,
For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:15-16)
Jesus will meet you in your loneliness with a word of understanding and a heart of compassion.
With Christ, you can be alone without feeling the sadness of loneliness. Right now, your aloneness is like an emotional desert, where the landscape is barren and all you feel is the heat of the sun and an awful thirst for companionship. Now, contrast this desert image with a garden image. Imagine yourself alone in a garden, listening to the soothing sounds of the birds and the relaxing rhythm of the wind in the trees. In the garden, you experience solitude—an entirely different sensation. Solitude brings refreshment, peace, and meaning.
How can you start feeling less like you’re in a desert and more like you’re in God’s garden?
First, stay close to the Lord through prayer and Bible reading. God invites you to share everything that you’re experiencing with Him:
Trust in Him at all times, O people;
Pour out your heart before Him;
God is a refuge for us. Selah. (Psalm 62:8)
Spend time in the Psalms—their composers often wrote out of loneliness, so they’re great tools for deepening your walk with God, even when He seems distant and aloof. You may want to memorize certain sections or even entire Psalms that speak to you.
Second, look for people who need a friend and show Christ’s love to them. Seek out people who are likely to relate to you, those with whom you share common interests. Often people around us are also lonely and looking for companionship. Maybe you could connect with others in your church or your neighborhood.
Third, look for situations that naturally lend themselves to developing friendly relationships. Friendships rarely happen as the result of a chance meeting—they often develop from belonging to a group whose members have a common identity. Sports or recreation teams, reading clubs, or special-interest groups are all examples of this kind of group. Maybe your hobbies or skills could be used in a group setting. Think of groups you would enjoy being a part of and join one or two. You will be pleasantly surprised by the results.
One of the best ways to develop relationships is to serve at your church. Most churches offer dozens of opportunities to serve, and every one of them will bring you together with others. Volunteer work is one of the best settings in which to bond with other people. Every time your church hosts a workday, be there. If opportunities arise for you to serve on committees or leadership teams, take advantage of them. If you find an occasion to join a service team that helps the needy, do it. Working with other believers quickly fosters unity and friendship. As you know, building relationships just on Sunday mornings can be frustrating, because everyone is in a hurry.
Home Bible studies also provide a setting that is conducive to fellowship. If your church has such groups, join one. You may even want to host such a group in your home.
Church retreats are also great places to build relationships. Whether the outing is a group picnic in a city park or a weekend in the mountains, outdoor activities provide many opportunities for interaction.
You mentioned your frustration with dating. Christian counselors often give the following tips to people who feel that their loneliness makes them more vulnerable. Be careful; avoid getting into relationships just to soothe your loneliness. The best relationships come at times when we feel the most content and stable. The irony is that when you’re feeling the least desperate, you’ll find the healthiest relationships, because you’re making good decisions.
Work through these points with a Christian counselor, pastor, or good friend.
- Keep a journal of your feelings.
- Write a loneliness history or perhaps a timeline of your loneliness. You might include magazine pictures to portray what the loneliness felt like at different times. (Even when you were in a relationship, you may have felt lonely. Include those times as well.)
- When you feel tempted to pursue a dating relationship to soothe your loneliness, ask yourself, “Is this individual interested in me just because I’m lonely and vulnerable?” Take off the rose-colored glasses that obscure the true nature of the other person.
- Don’t start a new relationship until you have dealt with your loneliness. The lonely feelings will hinder you from thinking clearly or sensing danger.
- Don’t attempt to run from loneliness. Embrace the pain. Let the tears flow. Walk through the dark valley rather than run from it or avoid it. You’ll know you’re ready for a serious relationship when you can be alone and feel content in the Lord.
- Be aware that loneliness can spiral into depression, so watch for signs that you need to consult a physician—changes in eating and sleeping habits, weight loss or gain, preoccupation with thoughts of death, sad or flat feelings that last for a couple of weeks, inability to concentrate or enjoy pleasurable activities, and fatigue.
- God can turn deserts into gardens. He really can. May you find His peace in your lonely place.
- A. W. Tozer, The Best of A. W. Tozer: 52 Favorite Chapters, compiled by Warren W. Wiersbe (Harrisburg, Pa.: Christian Publications, 1978), 198.