Without question, the emotion that most consistently brings me to the very fringes of myself is not frustration, not anger, but garden-variety loneliness. For me, this is the root of all the others. The belief that I’m alone in the world, that no one has my back, has the power to crank my emotional equilibrium left of center. My rationality swerves for the ditch. When the dust settles, my confidence is measured in shards.
As an introvert, it seems like I should be immune to loneliness. Give me a free day and I’ll scoop it up and steal away alone.
But there’s a big difference in being alone and feeling forgotten or unseen.
In recent years, I’ve faced this struggle more than ever before. Though fleeting, it always remembers my name. It hits in waves and leaves me gulping, flailing. I don’t understand why God allows it. Shouldn’t my faith be all the protection I need against this peril?
Two days ago, I finally recognized the power Satan has over me in this area. I hand him this weapon and he finds it quite effective. If he can convince me I’m alone in the world, I willingly fork over a portion of my holiness, no questions asked. He fuels my pain as I lash out or become withdrawn or paranoid. He greases the rails of vindictiveness and I ride. He double-binds me to myself — a guaranteed recipe for disaster.
This web widens, my fragility dangling more precariously in the balance with each silky loop. I circle-back, telling myself I’m all I’ve got, better buck up. Better get used to it. Who needs them, anyway?
Friends, I wish I could tell you loneliness is a lie, the economy of the enemy, dealing empty hands with dead eyes. But I keep watching the way God scoops me out of these valleys and I can’t find away around it.
It’s certain beauty, and I’m not so sure anymore that these are even ashes.
Aren’t we promised following Christ means some of our relationships will be chipped up, or even fractured? Are we not signing up for a measure of rejection? Doesn’t this count as suffering?
Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes in The Cost of Discipleship, “It is Christ’s will that [man] should be thus isolated, and that he should fix his eyes solely on Him.”
That is where my pitiful humanity wrecks this gift of loneliness. Over and over, rather than fixing my eyes on the One who loves me best, I frantically scan the horizon-line for a jeans-and-sneakers person to save me. I run to my husband or my mom. Affirmation is only a text message away. From the security of the school pick-up line, from the comfort of my kitchen, I can yell for help and someone will throw me a float.
And, yes, this is community. Yes, God loves His people through His people.
It is our unequivocal duty to love the lonely. We should be linking arms with the outcast, remembering that sometimes the outcast wears $200 jeans and drives an Audi. Sometimes the lonely sits in a nursing home, but she also sits next to us on the bleachers at gymnastics practice.
There are times when He moves and heals through us, but He doesn’t really have to. He’s fully enough, and I wonder how long it will take me to really believe that.
I’d like to begin living this part of life differently.
I’d like to allow God’s work to be completed by Him, rather than throwing the keys to my sworn enemy, the one who despises my life and plots my ruin. I feel like my relationships and my sanity might be protected if I learned to lean into His presence rather than fumbling for the sick comfort of anger and self-pity.
I know God allows me to occasionally feel the burn of loneliness not only because He wants to rescue me, but because He’s called me into community, where others are lonely. Sometimes we need to feel pain to recognize pain.
I am the one who answers your prayers and cares for you. (Hosea 14:8)
So, if you’re lonely tonight, let me remind you that you’re not alone. Alone doesn’t exist within the bounds of God’s love for you.
The truth about loneliness is that it brings us to the edge of ourselves, which is actually the goal. Refuse to wrestle this gift from the Giver, passing it off to the author of pain. Hold it as an opportunity to be cared for by the only One who really can. Let Him heal you. Then bear your scars as holy tattoos, connecting you to the rest of His kingdom, marking you as The Healed.Leave a Comment
Bev @ Walking Well With God says
Sometimes I just look up at God and I say, with a sense of yearning in my voice, “God, no one here ‘gets me’.” There are some days on this earth that is populated with billions of people, that I feel all alone. I want to be understood. I want someone to care on a level that is beyond human. How true that, like you said, “Loneliness brings us to the edge of ourselves.” I believe He calls me to that lonely place so that there is no place else to go, but to dive off the cliff and into Him. Knowing the pain of loneliness is not necessarily a curse…it is a bridge that takes us into the lonely places in others so that we might be the hands and arms of Christ that provide comfort. I have found, though, in my life that there have been times that God has had to remove all the comfortable people from around me so that, in my loneliness, He can be my enough. Beautiful post Shannan…
Thanks so much for writing this Shannan! It was such a blessing to read. This is an amazing perspective of loneliness. I have struggled (and continue to struggle) with feelings of loneliness. Yet after reading this, I think I finally understand why I’ve always chosen the to befriend those that most would cast aside. You said so beautifully “I know God allows me to occasionally feel the burn of loneliness not only because He wants to rescue me, but because He’s called me into community, where others are lonely. Sometimes we need to feel pain to recognize pain.” I will save and cherish your writing. May God bless you!
Shannan Martin says
It means so much that you feel the heart and soul of my words here!
Shannan Martin says
Thank you, Bev, for being very “with” me in this. I think you’re right about God sometimes stripping away all of our comforts. Hoping we both find more of Him today.
Bev, dear sister, I understand your wanting others to understand. I live in a beautiful culture that doesn’t quite understand “where I am coming from”, making it hard to connect. But your words ring so true that this is where we lean and press harder into the One who never leaves us, never forsakes us, knew us before we were formed. Thank you for your gracious words, to our Lord for providing them 🙂
Bev @ Walking Well With God says
Thanks, as always, for your beautiful words of encouragement!!
Kelli McKnight says
Beautiful words as always Shannan! Loneliness, as you so eloquently share, truly is the teacher of empathy. You learn to spot a kindred lonely heart and community can grow in the unlikeliest of places because of it. Thanks for reminding us that we can either lean in to Gods presence or give the keys to our enemy. Happy new year, sister!
Shannan Martin says
Sister, same to YOU! Always grateful to see your pretty face and kind heart pop up.
Michele Morin says
Such a helpful distinction! The words of that old song “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus” came to mind as I read, because so often we don’t “look full at His wonderful face” when we are distracted by all the other faces (and stuff) with which we surround ourselves. I needed this reminder to get alone with the One who knows me best.
Shannan Martin says
Oooh, I love this thought! I’ll never hear this song the same way again.
I can fully identify. At the depth of my utter loneliness, unable to build friendships yet since we moved, far far away from home, my own side of the family and my friends, God brought a little baby girl into my life to stop ‘feeling sorry for myself’ and let Him in to enlighten why He allowed that season to teach me ‘greater grace’, how to enter in deeper intimacy. Today that loneliness is gone. It taught my heart and eyes to focus on Him, so He can fill it to lead me to who He wants me to reach out to. Thank you very much for your sharing. It’s so encouraging and helpful, remnding us always who is in control
Beth Williams says
I feel God makes us lonely to get our attention. We get so distracted with day to day activities. Most don’t take much time, if any, to think about God. He needs to bring us back to Himself. He also wants us back in community with others. He allows trials so that as
2 Corinthians 1:4 says “who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. ” We will then be able to empathize with others.
Have a blessed New Years! 🙂
Indeed, this is a beautiful post. I have felt these feelings of loneliness. But that is exactly what they are! FEELINGS! I KNOW that through God all things work for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose! And Oh, how I love Him. And Oh how He loves me and you and Bev and ALL of us. We recognize the lonely and hurting people around us and reach out to them because we have felt this way ourselves. Maybe that is one of the purposes that God has called us to. I know that your posts certainly fill this purpose. Thank you so much and thank God, literally.
With Love, ~ Kay
Thank you Shannan. I was so touched by your raw honesty and encouraged for when I am struggling with the same pain.
Just beautiful. I was also so touched by your raw honesty. I find if I don’t fight it….whatever pain He has allowed ….I will soon be blessed with His consolations..tiny whispers that remind me I am not alone.
Corena Hall says
Growing up an only child and an introvert with parents who earned well but who lived extremely simply it was a blessing early on to realize that as long as God was in that space only He could fill in my heart I could be alone but I was never lonely. I cannot tell you how much comfort that is. Immigrating to America and over the 30 plus years I know just what a blessing that is. We are quick in America to condemn other societies for class and cast divisions but those are present in this wealthy,industrialized nation. We embrace isolation and call it privacy, we embrace wealth and call it blessing, we embrace a particular race and call it ethnic diversity.
All of it causes division and loneliness.
Jesus came to the fringes of society to honor the weak, heal the sick, and teach the ones who perhaps were not worthy to be in a temple. He taught us to be present in people’s lives so we lived in community. He knew we are made stronger by how we define family. Heaven on earth will come in His time at His will, but while we wait how could each of us do our best to live His way ending segregation and loneliness? Thank you for reinforcing what He is really forcing me to look at in this season in my life.
Corena, Amen! We are all family-our Lord died to bring down those divisions you spoke of so that we could each other as family in love 🙂 Thank you for speaking this 🙂
My family left me out again yesterday. It hurt so badly. This is so perfectly timed & worded. I’m so grateful. All afternoon & into the night I was trying to jerk my thoughts away from the loneliness & to find the comfort of Jesus. He is so richly blessing me with this post. Thank you.
Corena Hall says
I understand how that feels. God allows me to experience the same thing a lot through my husbands family. But this I know He who is inside me never leaves. People are people in a fallen world. But Jesus is alive and with us…in the simple thoughts and deeds of life. He gives us His sight to catch glimpses of Him so we need never be lonely.
Brook L. says
Wonderful words and reminder about community.
Susan Shipe says
It is such a ploy of the enemy…always working in opposition of what The Word says. The Word says, “I will never leave you lonely nor will I ever forsake you.” The stupid devil says, “You are all alone, no one cares about you, no one would even notice if you disappeared.”
We must arm ourselves every single day WITH TRUTH.
God brings us to His feet over and over again until we finally realize that the only things or people that matter is HIM! How often He has to help me refocus on Him! I am a slow learner but He is so faithful to remind me that”On Christ Alone I stand.” Your message resonated in my heart today. Thank you.
Jasmine Ryan says
Shannan, you way with words never ceases to surprise and enthrall me. This life is complicated, and the topic of loneliness is a messy, tangled knot. You could take a machete to it and trim, trim, trim away the messiness until it’s simple. But that doesn’t really solve the problem. Rather, you knead it, massage it, work with it, and pull it apart, peeling back the layers so we can see what we’ve all got here. The loneliness hurts. The loneliness is a weapon. The loneliness is a gift. The loneliness helps the lonely hurt less. Your words today help me feel less lonely; sort of like we’re sitting together and picking through this big knot, together.
So needed this. I have been feeling alone a lot lately and I give in to the despair.
I have been struggling with this the last week or so. Christmas time always gets me! I have a loving family and many friends. I am, however, a introvert trapped in a extroverts body! I become lonely, bitter and at times, angry. So, thank you for this! It brings my feelings into perspective.
The loneliness feels like it’s going to kill me. I hate this feeling. Almost like you can’t breathe. Your words were like a life savior thrown this drowning sister. Thank you.
karina allen says
Shannan! It’s like you were in my head! There is such a sting in loneliness. But, you are right. I don’t want to run to people to meet my need to belong and feel connected first. I want to learn how to let God meet that need first and foremost before anyone else.
Thank you for such a great post!
Rebecca L Jones says
I do believe that the loneliness we often feel is God wanting to speak to us.
Shannan, I praise the Lord for these beautiful words and thoughts that you have written. Loneliness can cause so much pain, yet the you spoke wonderfully to the beauty of the inherent invitation that our Lord presents to draw close to Him. What gracious goodness that He gives us in this evil place, turning what is harmful for good. I have struggled with this for some years now and our Lord is faithful to meet me there in it, in those Hagar moments that you talked about for He always sees and knows. May each of us be enveloped in His great and tender love today that speaks to our souls and hearts that we are never alone and always known 🙂
I am trying hard to imagine a very popular blogger understanding and experiencing loneliness. I have lived in a city for 20 years without a single friend. God has set me free me from caring about it anymore, but for a long time it sucked. And He has become better to me than 10 friends so to speak.
I just cannot fathom that she truly get loneliness. js
I’m really struggling with rejection at work, and it’s hard to go in every day when I know it’s not going to change. At times it’s so suffocating that I make mistakes and that adds to feeling alone and worthless. I take scripture cards with me to remind myself of Gods love and who I am in Him. But the bad feelings and loneliness win out most of the time. It reminds me of how important any small gesture of kindness can be to someone who is hurting. I just need a few small gestures myself right now.
Thank you for your blog today. Your words were so poetic in their description of loneliness and what it does to a person. I was feeling like this loneliness I feel is a little like Dr. Jekle and Mr. Hyde. Depending on where my mind goes and how strong these feelings are I don’t know who I am sometimes. This leads to isolation. I am learning take responsibility for these feelings and not play the victim. I will be reading your words again. Thanks for reminding us that we can either lean in to Gods presence or give the keys to our enemy. Happy new year, sister!
Jessica Diaz says
This touched me so deeply. Thanks.
I love reading your beautiful writing and insights