We live in an age where people are more connected than ever through social media and email, yet loneliness is rampant in all age groups. It’s easy to feel lonely even when we’re surrounded by people both online and in our own lives. We’re not the only ones who feel this way.
Mother Teresa once said, “The greatest disease in the West today is not TB or leprosy; it is being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for. We can cure physical diseases with medicine, but the only cure for loneliness, despair, and hopelessness is love.”
In this post and podcast episode, I’d like to talk about how to cure loneliness if you’re a Christian. We’ll begin with asking the question, “Is it normal to feel lonely?”
Is it normal for Christians to feel lonely?
I would answer that question with a resounding “Yes!” Even Jesus felt lonely. In the Garden of Gethsemane He wanted his disciples with Him yet they were asleep. I’m guessing He also felt lonely at the cross when so many of His disciples had deserted him. And I can’t imagine He didn’t feel lonely in ministry at times. Over and over, we see Him leaving the crowds and going off to be alone with His Father where He was strengthened to once again do ministry.
We also see King David who had both friends and followers feeling lonely. In Psalm 25:16, he prays, “Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted.”
And we see Elijah, hiding in a cave in 1 King 19 feeling lonely. God says, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” And Elijah replies, “I’ve been zealous for you, Lord, but I’m the only one left!” Elijah was feeling alone in ministry. God basically tells Elijah, “You are not alone, Elijah! There are 7000 others besides you who haven’t bent the knee to Baal.”
Why does God allow loneliness?
So why does God allow Christian loneliness? Well, the simple answer is that God is not a micromanager! He lets us do our own thing, and often the things we do lead to loneliness. Technology also contributes to loneliness. Think back to the day before television, the Internet, and even the radio weren’t invented yet. My guess is that people were less lonely in those days because they spent more time visiting with each other.
I think God also allows Christians to feel lonely sometimes for things He wants to accomplish in our lives. I remember when several of my good friends moved far away when my kids were young. I was super lonely and unhappy in that phase of my life, but God used my loneliness to draw me closer to Him and also to mature in ways He wanted me to mature.
That said, God doesn’t want us to stay in our loneliness! The two greatest commandments, love God and love others, both speak to relationship. God wants us to be close to Him and others. And He wants us to love well. The more we do that, the less lonely we’ll feel. Loving others involves effort. And the interesting this is that working on breaking free from loneliness will lead toward loving others well. The first step to overcoming loneliness is to find out what is causing it.
What causes loneliness?
I can think of four different causes of Christian loneliness.
Situational Christian Loneliness
The most obvious cause is that we don’t have enough friends or family. Or we have friends but they’re not close friends. Or we have friends in our regular life, but we’re currently someplace else where we don’t have friends. We may also feel lonely if we’re with a group of people who know each other well, yet we’re not part of their group.
Emotional Christian Loneliness
At other times, we do have friends and family, but we don’t feel like they love us. This happened to me when my kids were young. For some reason, I got on a no-one-loves-me kick and it was hard to get out of it. It can also happen to us if we’re with a group of people who all believe differently than we do, especially if we’ve heard those people condemn people like us. They may still love us (and probably do!) but we think they don’t because we know they don’t care for our beliefs. It can also happen when we see people doing things on social media that we weren’t invited to.
Social Christian Loneliness
Another type of Christian loneliness we might experience is a social loneliness. If we’re naturally shy or socially awkward, or if we have low self-esteem, we can look at all those confident outgoing people out there and think we’ll never be able to make friends. This makes us feel more lonely than ever because we don’t feel like we have any hope. And because we’re Christians, we can beat ourselves up over this because we think, “I should be better at this since I’m a Christian!”
Spiritual Christian Loneliness
As Christians, we have one other opportunity for loneliness and that’s loneliness in our relationship with God. If we’re not feeling close to Him, that can make us feel more lonely than ever.
How do I stop being lonely?
So how do you stop being lonely? After all, we can’t just snap our fingers and feel like we belong all of a sudden! The truth is that it can take quite a bit of work to overcome loneliness. To be successful, we need to make overcoming loneliness a goal, not a desire. And goals take work to accomplish. But it is possible! Following are some steps to end Christian loneliness based on what type of loneliness you’re experiencing.
- Be proactive in making friends. This is something I did a few years back when I found myself in the position of needing a couple more friends. I made it a project: find new friends! I had to force myself out of my comfort zone and start asking people to do things. Here’s what I found: The first time you ask someone to go out for coffee or a walk, it feels super awkward. The second time, it’s slightly less awkward. And the third time, it’s fun. But it can take awhile to find a friend. You’ll need to find out if you enjoy being with them, if you have common interests, if you like to talk about the same things, and if they want to spend as much time with you as you want to spend with them. Don’t take it personally if they don’t! Some people don’t value relationships and some are just super busy and don’t have time.
- Connect with old friends via the phone. You can also connect with old friends who have moved away. Now that we’re traveling the country (my husband is a travel physical therapist), I’ll often call a friend or family member and visit with them while I walk. Or the two of us will meet with another couple via Facebook for a little chat.
- Be proactive in building community. One of the best ways to make friends is to start groups that meet every week. It will take a little effort in the beginning to set these up, but after you get them set up, you’ll have community each week with very little effort on your part! You could join (or start) a home group at your church, attend a Bible study, form a mom’s group where you visit while the kids play, or find a group that meets around one of your hobbies. My daughter and her husband have a craft night with some of their friends and another friend has a scrapbooking group. When we’re in Montana, we usually go hiking with a big group of friends after church on Sundays. We began it by just asking people at church to go hiking with us one Sunday. We probably rounded up a group of 10 or 12 people just by asking at church! When we’re on the road, we join a home group or Bible study as soon as possible so we have community even though we know we’ll only be in the area for 13 weeks. And it’s surprising how close you can get to people in just 13 weeks!
- Find new ways to serve people locally or online. Often we think community is all about fun and family, but there is great community in serving others, and God would love to see us doing this! Spend some time brainstorming ways you could serve. We have friends who do Habitat for Humanity, and I think there’s a group of handymen at our church who do home repairs for people. You could call the Chamber of Commerce and see if there is a volunteer organization in your town that matches volunteers with programs. Or look for ways to serve through your church.
- Let go of unrealistic expectations for how people love you. The first step to overcoming emotional loneliness is to recognize that it’s natural to feel lonely at times. We live in a fallen world and no one is perfect at loving so sometimes we’ll feel lonely because others aren’t loving us well.
- Let go of envy. It also helps to recognize that we don’t know the whole story when it comes to other people’s relationships. So when you see that perfect couple on Facebook, you don’t know how perfect they are in real life. I remember at a low point in my own marriage, looking at two other marriages in my town and thinking, “I wish my husband were more like that man.” Well, both of those marriages ended up in divorce a few years down the road because even though those men had many wonderful traits, they also had some really non-wonderful traits that caused their wives to leave them.
- Recognize that some stages of life are more prone to loneliness. Also recognize that each stage of life has its pluses and minuses in the loneliness department. When my kids were middle schoolers and teenagers I was rarely lonely because I had built-in friends in the house. But when they all left home, I had plenty of opportunities for loneliness. I also remember being lonely in college when I lived alone but not so lonely when I lived in a dorm full of friends. So if you’re in a more lonely stage of life, you’ll have to be more proactive (see situational loneliness for ideas) about making friends.
- Believe that people love you. It also helps to think about who does love you when you’re feeling lonely. Name actual names of people! This doesn’t always work though because when I was going through my no-one-loves-me phase, I felt like the only person who loved me was our super loving two year old! I was wrong. Lots of people loved me but I was too insecure to see it. Renewing my mind (see #2 in Social Loneliness) would have helped me greatly at that time in my life but I hadn’t written my book yet so I didn’t have that tool!
- Develop a thankfulness habit. This is a great step to take no matter what our problem is! For loneliness, it will help if we start thanking God for all the people in our lives. Thank Him for all the people who love you and that will help you to believe that they love you.
- Focus on others. If your loneliness is caused by shyness or social awkwardness, it helps to focus on others. At one stage of my life when I felt intimidated at social gatherings, I would pray through 1 Corinthians 13 on the way to the gathering with the people there in mind. It helped me to get the focus off myself and onto others, which led to feeling more comfortable at the gather and also experiencing more connection since I was focused on others, not myself.
- Renew your mind. If you have low self-esteem, try renewing your mind before you meet with a friend or go to a social event. Use any of the insecurity questions in my books The Renewing of the Mind Project or my I Deserve a Donut app. It can take a bit of work to get to the point where we don’t feel insecure, but it’s worth the work! The key to overcoming insecurity is not to get to the point where we think we’re great, but to get to the point where we’re more focused on others rather than ourselves and where we’re willing to be vulnerable to love them well.
- Ask God to help you connect with others. Sometimes we’re lonely because we don’t value relationships. When I was a teenager, I remember playing the piano in my home and singing a song made popular by Barbra Streisand called “People.” The song said that people who need people were the luckiest people in the world – but I didn’t feel like I needed people at the time. So while I sang, I asked God to help me be a person who needed people. And He did! I love people and need people so I go out of my way to make connections with people. If you don’t feel that need, ask God to help you value people and relationships.
- Work on your faults. One last thing we can do to overcome social loneliness is to work on character traits that make people not want to be with us. We all have faults so we don’t want to slip into self-condemnation here, but some faults are harder to be around than others. If we’re constantly complaining or negative, or if we talk all the time, or say rude things or give advice all the time, or if we don’t talk at all and never ask questions of others–all of these things can make people not want to be with us. So out of love for others, we could go to God for help with changing those things so we can love others better.
- Put effort into your relationship with God. The only way to overcome spiritual Christian loneliness is to get closer to God. It’s been said that there is a God-shaped whole in each of us that can only be filled with God. Yet it takes work to grow closer to God! Jeremiah 29:13 says, “You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.” Seeking God with our whole hearts is different than just doing a 5-minute duty-driven quiet time each morning. Instead, it’s making a relationship with God as important as a relationship with a close friend or a spouse. Spending both quality and quantity time with Him.
- Develop a renewing habit. One of the best ways I’ve found to do this is to start a renewing of the mind habit. When I began a regular practice of going to God to see life and people through His perspective, I grew closer to Him. I started this journey with truth journaling more than twenty years ago and it has continued to draw me near to God all these year.
- Do a Bible study that helps you discuss life with God. Have you ever had an intimate conversation with someone you didn’t know that well? I find that those types of conversations always make me feel closer to that person. But often our conversations with God are one-sided. It can help us feel closer to Him if we learn how to discuss life with Him. I have lots of free Bible studies on this website that will help you with that (just look at the Bible study tab), or you could also try my James Bible study or RALLY Bible study. Here’s a lesson from the James Bible study: Letting Go of Anger and Annoyance.
Well, that’s about it. I hope you’re not feeling too overwhelmed by all these ideas! The bottom line is that we can break free from Christian loneliness but it takes a bit of work. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by all of these ideas, just print out this post and circle the ideas that appeal to you, then narrow it down to 1-3 ideas to start out with. Then ask God for help and give it a whirl! You’ll not only be helping yourself, you’ll also be helping all the other lonely people out there who are looking for friends!
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