Though I have felt drawn to write on this subject for some time, I have to admit that I was also dreading having to do it. Why? Well, lets face it, it is a huge subject to try and tackle. As any search on the internet will show you via reports from official studies, as well as numerous social media posts, loneliness is an epidemic in the United States and many other counties around the world. Studies show that it can affect anyone and everyone: the rich, the poor, men, women, the old, the young, the single, the married…no one is immune. And it can be life threatening. The lonely are more prone to certain health problems and resulting early death, as well as being at a higher risk of suicide.
I’ve fought loneliness for decades
I personally have fought this battle for decades. Literally decades. I’ve read stacks of books and articles on the subject over the years (including materials written by both mental health professionals and Christian authors) and sadly, a lot of them were a waste of time and money, offering the same old “solutions” that never worked for me, leaving me feeling lost and hopeless. I felt that if I was going to write on this subject, I wanted to actually offer some help and hope rather than just talk about the subject, offer some pat solutions and move on, but, I am not a mental health professional, so I think the best way I can try to help is to just offer my personal story about my struggle.
I’m a Christian but not a mental health professional
First I will tell you that this will be written from a Christian perspective. If you are not a Christian and have no interest in becoming one, you probably won’t find this very helpful. I will also warn you again that I am not a mental health professional, so if you are feeling suicidal, please seek help from a licensed professional or call 911. Okay, now that we have that out of the way, lets get to it.
What is loneliness?
We should probably start by remembering that loneliness is not the same as being alone. Many people can be alone and not feel lonely, including me. As an introvert, I actually enjoy a lot of alone time. You can also feel lonely when you are with other people, proving that loneliness doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with whether or not you are with other people.
So what is loneliness? A quick web search gave me several definitions, but, basically they say that loneliness is “a feeling of sadness when alone”. I guess that is true, but, it never covered it for me. As I mentioned above, you can feel lonely in a crowd, so is it really correct to say that loneliness is just sadness from being alone? I don’t believe so. I think the following definition that I found on Encyclopedia Britannica during my quick web search is much better:
Loneliness: distressing experience that occurs when a person’s social relationships are perceived by that person to be less in quantity, and especially in quality, than desired.
This definition of loneliness fits for me because I often feel lonely when the people that I do have in my life don’t get me on some level, making me feel mentally and emotionally alone more than physically alone. To be honest, I think we are all bound to suffer from that from time to time just because we are human. No matter how much someone may love us, the fact remains that no two people think alike or feel alike and we can’t read minds. We are also limited because we can’t really express ourselves as well as we would like, and those we are expressing ourselves to are limited in their ability to understand what we are trying to say. No matter how hard they may be trying to understand and support us, they can’t get inside our head and think and feel exactly what we think and feel. No human being can do that, so, we are alone in that sense and that can make us feel lonely.
The solution isn’t to have more people around
Before I came across the above definition of loneliness, I believed that I just needed to get out around more people and then I wouldn’t feel so lonely. After all, that’s what all the books and articles told me to do. Thing is, I should have known it wouldn’t work because of previous personaI experiences. For instance, I remember sitting with friends and other kids in school and feeling lonely because I just wasn’t interested in what they were talking about and often didn’t think or act like they did, especially in high school. I was always on the more quiet and mature side, as well as being a Christian, so I wasn’t into all the things that the teens felt were important and I certainly didn’t have the catty, nasty behavior that many of the girls exhibited. It made me feel different and left out, leading me to feeling lonely in a crowd.
As an adult, I worked around people all day and often felt loneliness at work because, once again, I didn’t fit in at times, especially being a Christian working around all the gossip and backbiting that was rampant in my line of work. So, here is another example of being around a lot of people yet still feeling lonely.
Still, everything I read told me to get out and meet people: join a club, go to church, etc. I did all of it! And it didn’t work. Worse, all these attempts to socialize were also very draining because, as I mentioned, I’m an introvert, so being around people too much tires me out and sucks up time I need to be alone to recharge. But, I pushed myself to go out (hating it most of the time) because that is what they tell you to do to fix your loneliness. It didn’t fix it.
Marriage will fix it, right?
Then, I started to think that the solution was to get married. I believed that marriage would solve the problem because I would always have someone with me that loved me and shared by values.
I won’t say that being married is not a help with some aspects of loneliness. It is…to a point. It’s nice to come home to a house with someone in it. It’s nice to live with someone you can share things with and someone who can help you with a problem. But, you don’t have to be married to experience this. A pet, relative, roommate or friend can offer you most of these comforts, so being single is not a reason to be lonely…and being married is not a cure for loneliness. I know this because I have experienced many moments of loneliness in my 27 years of marriage, in spite of my spouse’s efforts to comfort and support me.
Again, I think this is a normal human experience to a degree, related to our inability to get into each others heads and hearts. Still, the struggle has been a big problem for me. So much so that I knew there had to be something wrong.
My loneliness felt like desolation and caused a lot of anxiety
You see, my loneliness felt like desolation. I felt totally alone in the world, even when I wasn’t. The people around me couldn’t console me because I was always too worried about the what ifs to appreciate the present
. For instance, I was terrified that something would happen to my husband because, I thought, “If I feel this lonely while he is here, what will happen if he dies? I wouldn’t be able to stand it! I have all these health problems and I will have nobody to help me”. I felt I had no one else in this world that really cared about me, let alone would be there to help me. If my husband was gone, I believed I would be truly alone in the world. This got especially bad after my mom and brother, my only sibling, died five years apart.
This was a huge source of overwhelming anxiety for me. I was having panic attacks when I thought about my husband possibly dying. I kept praying to God for more friends…good friends…so that, if something happened to my husband, I would have someone to turn to… someone that cared. (Don’t get me wrong, I would still love to have a few close, like-minded friends, but I know I shouldn’t want them for selfish reasons. And, lets face it, as an introvert, I don’t need many friends because I would not have the ability to spend enough time with them and still maintain my sanity. Truth is, I would be miserable if I had to be out doing things with friends all the time or dealing with all their problems. A few friends would be more than enough). Anyway, I think you get my point. The anxiety from the loneliness was a big problem.
Counselling didn’t work
In case you are wondering, yes, I tried counseling more than once. Nothing. The loneliness remained. They tried to help, but it tended to be the same old “solutions”: join a club, volunteer, go to church. I did all of it and told them so. After that, they really had nothing else to offer.
The real solution
That brings us to the present and the solution to the problem. At least it was for me and I hope it will be for some of you. I had been doing a lot of reading on spiritual matters, as always…books, articles, etc. Suddenly I started noticing that I kept coming across the same information in several different places. These books and articles, and even daily inspiration quotes I was getting in my email, all seemed to be trying to tell me the same thing. This started a cascade of thinking and more reading, (which I truly believe is how God teaches us). In the end, I came to realize that the solution to my loneliness, and my anxiety in general, was simple, yet difficult: I, as a Christian, needed to apply what I had been taught. I needed to stop just reading Biblical material; I needed to actually believe what I was reading and live accordingly. There is even a Bible verse instructing us to do this.
Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. Philippians 4:9
Lets look at some examples of this.
Lets start with trust. The Bible tells us to trust God to provide for our every need.
And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:19
We are also told, repeatedly, not to worry, and to live one day at a time, while trusting God to take care of us.
Matthew 6:34 -Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
The fact that the Bible repeatedly commands this should tell you that this is a common problem for humans. Problem is, we have expectations of how things should be and we try to control everything to make those expectations happen. We don’t want God’s will to be done; want our will to be done. We worry about what tomorrow will bring and we try to anticipate it so we can control it.
Reality is, we can’t control it. But that doesn’t stop us from trying. As a result, we end up frustrated and anxious. Worry becomes are biggest hobby and biggest joy killer. We would be much better off if we decided to trust God and leave tomorrow in His hands since He is the only one that can control it anyway.
Worse than causing frustration and anxiety, trying to control things can lead to doubts about God when things are not what you expect them to be. For years I thought, “Trusting God to take care of me sounds good, but I am miserable NOW, today, so why should I trust God to take care of me tomorrow if He isn’t taking good care of me today?”.
Ah yes, the old ‘blame God for problems you are causing yourself’ routine. You see, I recently realized that God IS taking good care of me now, just as He has taken care of me in the past. He has provided a husband for me, my teenage nephew has been living with us since his parents died and he has been a blessing and helps a lot around the house/yard, I have a friend I have known since kindergarten. She doesn’t live locally anymore but we talk and email fairly regularly. I also have a few other relatives I talk to from time to time and I know they would help me with any problems if I asked them to.
Truth is is, I am NOT alone. Never have been. The quality of some of the relationships may not be what I would like them to be, but, they are there. God has provided me human companionship and help for today, so why should I not trust Him to provide it tomorrow? The failure has not been on His part, it has been on mine for worrying about tomorrow instead of recognizing and being thankful for the things He has done today and trusting Him for tomorrow.
I didn’t have to be someone I’m not
Oh, and let me say that God provided all of this without me having to go out and make myself miserable attending clubs and functions I don’t enjoy just to try to make friends. He made me an introvert and He cares for me accordingly without expecting me to be someone He didn’t design me to be. I finally realized that I didn’t have to become someone else in order to be happy. What a relief that was.
What about our inability to really get each other?
So far we’ve learned that I was making myself miserable by not appreciating what God has already done for me. But what about that part about all of us humans being alone due to our inability to fully connect on a deep level? How do you fix that problem? Again, it is about realizing and utilizing what you already have. If you are a Christian, God and Jesus Christ live in you via the Holy Spirit. You are therefore NEVER alone. Never. They are always with you! Always! I knew this before, but I didn’t live this.
If you haven’t already, look up the book by Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God. To sum it up quickly (it is worth the read though, so please do read it), Brother Lawrence was a monk who worked in the kitchen of the monastery, a job he used to be very bored and frustrated by. Then he started to live every moment of his life as though God was right there with him (because He was!). He did everything as though he were doing it, not for people, but for God, and he talked to God all day as he worked. In other words, he actually believed what the Bible tells us: God is always with you. His whole attitude towards his job changed and he was a much happier and contented person.
Now, this brings us to fixing the upset that comes from us not being fully understood by other people. As I said earlier, no person can fully “get” you. It’s impossible. Not only do we not have that ability to do that, but, worse, people are inherently selfish. We all have things to do, thoughts to think, dreams to dream. This is not meant to be depressing, but, the fact remains that the average worldly person isn’t that worried about what other people’s wants and needs because they are too busy worrying about their own problems and concerns. The average Christian may try hard not to be that way, but it is still a struggle because we are all human.
That being said, W]what we really need to understand is that God is the only one that fully gets you, fully accepts you and fully loves you. All human beings will fail you at some point, no matter how much they love you. God, on the other hand, will never fail you, He will never leave you.
Again, I knew this, but I didn’t live it. So there was another change I made. I decided to start being more aware of God’s continual presence, like Brother Lawrence did. I decided to stop worrying about what other people think. I no longer have to people-please to try to get people to like me in case I need them to help me. After all, isn’t that a form of using people? I can be nice to people now just because its the right thing to do, but I don’t compromise in an effort to people-please.
I realized that I don’t need to be selfish anymore, struggling in an effort to get my needs met my way. Instead I can trust God to meet my needs the best way because I know that God loves me and will take care of me. I can talk to Him anytime, anywhere, and I have His full attention and care. If you are a Christian, so do you. We are NEVER alone because He is always inside us. We never come home to an empty house, or sit by ourselves in a restaurant, because we always have His company, and you can’t find better company than that.
Don’t believe the world
Part of our problem is that we allow the world around us to influence us too much. We easily believe what it tells us rather than believing God. We believe we need to fight for our rights, get what’s ours, play the system, go along with the crowd to get along, have tons of so called, friends. Yet, they are not happy. The world is miserable. Don’t believe them. Don’t follow them, because their ways are not God’s ways and they won’t make you happy. Trust and believe God. He simply tells us to be still and trust Him to provide. There is no need for all of this stress.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. Isaiah 55:8
He says, “Be still, and know that I am God…Psalm 46:10
I’m not saying it is easy
Am I saying that any of this is easy? Am I saying that the problem is fixed for me? No. I have to remind myself of God’s presence, all He has done for me, and the need to trust Him to continue to care for me, several times a day. But when I do, it works. I don’t feel lonely anymore. Instead, I feel content. With His help I am able to enjoy the present and leave tomorrow in His hands.
If you have tried everything else to help your loneliness, I encourage you to try God’s way. It really works.