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“We are experiencing an epidemic of loneliness,” said Torrey Conference speaker and Reality LA lead pastor Jeremy Treat. He quoted these words from former U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murphy to begin his talk about the incarnation of the Spirit in our lives.
The conversation about the effects of loneliness and its widespread nature within society has seen more coverage in recent years, as the fruits of this epidemic begin to show themselves. You hardly have to look far to find an article or advice column offering its own unique take on how to avoid that dreaded state of feeling alone. This is perfectly understandable.
According to The Week, suffering from chronic loneliness decreases an otherwise healthy person’s life span by up to 15 years, the same as if you smoked a pack of cigarettes every day. Depression, anxiety, violence, hateful rhetoric, intolerant behavior, partisan rage, suicide––these have all increased exponentially because of loneliness. Loneliness appears to be an ailment that should be avoided at all costs. However, God uses loneliness as a forcible reminder to his children of his sovereignty and desire for us.
GIFT OF HUMAN CONNECTION
During the Sermon on the Mount, Christ declared “blessed are the poor.” This is a passage that is often quoted to remind us of how material wealth can distract from our true purpose in pursuing and serving God. But there are more kinds of poverty than financial, and more kinds of riches than material. If a person is blessed with a charismatic personality, a welcoming persona or an attractive talent for listening, they will be just as distracted from relying on God than if they inherited a billion dollars.
C.S. Lewis puts it beautifully in this passage from “Mere Christianity,” “Often people who have all these natural kinds of goodness cannot be brought to recognize their need for Christ at all until, one day, the natural goodness lets them down and their self-satisfaction is shattered.”
We forget that any good we do is from God. If we are able to make friends easily, that is because God has given us the ability to listen and empathize. If we are able to support our friends when they need us that is because God has gifted us with some tiny fraction of his unfathomable love for us to turn around and give to others. Our ability to build supportive networks of friends and family is due totally and completely to God’s provisional grace in our lives. Human love and connection is as much a gift from him as financial and material prosperity. We are to use it just like the servants with the talents—to edify God and grow his kingdom on Earth.
So why are we blessed if we are lonely? The good that comes from human connection and love stems from the ultimate good that is God. It cannot exist without God and disappears like late spring snow without him. It can and often does serve as a signpost to direct us on our way back to him, but it is not the end goal in and of itself.
When we inevitably find ourselves in a place of loneliness, and every single one of us will many times throughout our lives, the first thing we should ask ourselves is not: “How can I make more friends and spend more time with them?” It should be: “What is God trying to make me pay attention to?”
When God isolates us, he does not do so because he is cruel and likes to watch us suffer in loneliness. Our pain hurts him more than we can ever understand. If he is placing us in a lonely situation, it is because our relationships with each other—however God-honoring and wholesome they may be—have become a distraction from the most important aspect of our lives: loving and devoting our entire selves to him.
GOD USES LONELINESS
All this may not be helpful to you if you are feeling lonely. I know from personal experience that words do not often help much when I am sitting in the depths of the dark prison inside my own head, feeling utterly alone. But I think the lesson to be learned from loneliness has never been to simply avoid it. We need to learn to sit in loneliness, just for a brief time, to see if God may have something he needs to draw our attention to. I know this is hard. But I pray that you can find the strength to trust God not just with your salvation, but with your happiness.