A man alone in the night city with a smartphone

Overcoming loneliness

Last Friday I found myself, unusually, with nothing to do. It’s a rare treat in a busy London life, but the thought did flit through my mind ‘I wonder if anyone wants to come over…’ I couldn’t really be bothered to come up with a plan, though, so I just stayed in and watched TV.
During the week I heard from a friend that both she and someone else in our church had been home alone and thinking much the same. If only we’d said something…
So why didn’t we?

During the week I heard from a friend that both she and someone else in our church had been home alone and thinking much the same. If only we’d said something…

So why didn’t we?

  1. Too much effort
    As I say, for me, it was just too much effort. I’m an introvert anyway, so the value to me of having people over, or going out to meet them, was outweighed by the effort of making it happen.
  2. Too ashamed
    As we talked about solutions, one difficulty we foresaw was that it is embarrassing to post on the church WhatsApp group or Facebook page that you’re lonely and in need. It takes a huge amount of courage, particularly for someone who might already be struggling with feeling unloved.
  3. Tired of always being the instigator
    I know some of my extrovert friends feel this acutely. They are always the one doing the running, making the plans, trying to find someone who isn’t already busy. It can sometimes feel like you’re begging others to meet your needs. Again.

So what is the solution? To figure that out, we need to understand the root issues that caused each of us to stay indoors alone when we could have been together. Buckle up – this is going to feel brutal, but unless we’re honest about the problem we’ll never find the solution.

  1. Selfishness
    When I considered inviting others to hang out I thought only of my own needs. I couldn’t be bothered. I was fine on my own. I was quite happy to have an evening ‘off’ where I could just chill (even though I had no plans for the weekend, so had plenty of alone-time coming up).
    I didn’t give a moment’s thought to whether others might be feeling lonely and wanting some company. It was all about me.
  2. Shame
    What stopped the person who really wanted – and needed – some company from posting a message to a group of godly people who she is in community with? It was the shame of revealing herself as someone who had nowhere to go and no one to go with, of revealing her vulnerability and need.
  3. Pride
    We can cut off our own noses to spite our faces sometimes, staying indoors sulking because no one has reached out to us, when it’s definitely their turn. ‘Can’t they make the effort once in a while?’ we fume, while missing the event we really want to go to, or the film we’re desperate to see. And all because we refuse to swallow our pride and ask again.

These are all huge barriers to surmount. Selfishness, shame and pride are life-sucking parasites on our hearts and minds, and once they’ve taken hold, they form an effective block against the nutrients offered by the love of God and the fellowship of other believers. And the absence of these nutrients, the virulent fungus of loneliness, disappointment and resentment takes over.

And of course, the more this fungus grows, the more we find ourselves trapped in the sinful attitudes and negative beliefs, and draw further and further away from the community of people who we fear might hurt us, reject us, or cost us too much.

How can we break this pattern?

We need to consciously choose to do the opposite of what our impulses say, to choose to love one another as Jesus has loved us (John 13:34) – no matter how we feel about it. Love is a choice, not a sentiment.

In Philippians 2:4, Paul exhorts us: “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Selfishness, shame and pride are all focussed on our own interests – pleasing ourselves, protecting ourselves, promoting ourselves. Love is all about considering the needs of others – giving of ourselves, dying to ourselves, humbling ourselves, and seeking others’ good as much as our own. And as we all – singles, couples and families – begin to live like this, to truly love one another, we will begin to see the fungus shrivel and die and the fruitfulness of a godly life begin to grow and flourish.

God’s kingdom has no place for loneliness – he has given us all the tools we need, let’s fight it. Together.

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