A few years ago, the health service organization Cigna conducted a study on loneliness1 in the United States and found it to be a strikingly prevalent issue across the nation. The study found that forty-six percent of adults in the country report feeling lonely “at least sometimes” or "all of the time”. At the end of the study, Cigna described the findings to be a statistic of “epidemic” proportions.
While that sort of description may come across in bad taste considering our current context, it is certainly worth noting. All nonessential businesses are closed, and our normal, every day life rhythms have all but come to a stand-still across many parts of the globe due to Covid-19. Schools, businesses, and churches have shut down physical operations. Meetings with anyone other than those we live with are highly discouraged and even illegal in some places. That means that the twenty-five percent of people who live alone in our country really aren’t able to see anyone in person if they can help it. And what is more, there was actually a higher percentage of expressed loneliness among single parents and guardians, as compared to those living alone. That is to say, feelings of loneliness are not exclusive to those in total isolation. If there is one major takeaway from this study, it is this: loneliness is a common struggle.
For Those Who Are Lonely, You Are Not Alone In Your Loneliness
Given our forced isolation, I think it's worth it to take a look at some key features of loneliness and see how the good news of Jesus in the gospel interacts with and helps us battle against this common feeling.
Feeling Lonely Often Means Feeling Misunderstood
Loneliness does not just mean physical isolation. Being made in the image of God means we desire to be deeply connected in the same way that the Father, through the Spirit, is deeply connected to the Son. The Spirit of God searches the depths of God and knows the innermost parts of who He is.
A word often used to convey this idea within the Bible is the Hebrew word yada or as it often translates into English, “to know”. This word can be seen in how God “knew” the sufferings of the Israelites in Egyptian captivity. It’s meant to describe a sense of observation or care, and to convey noticing and recognition of who they were and what they were going through. The English word we have that most closely connects us to this idea is the word intimacy. To be made in the image of God is to desire being noticed, acknowledged, and understood by someone else in relationship. Lonely people, even those with friends, often feel lonely, because they don’t feel understood or known.
Shame And Loneliness Often Go Hand In Hand
Shame has a way of making us feel as if we are the only one screwed up enough to do what we do, think what we think, and say what we say. This can compound feelings of loneliness within us and isolate us even further, because we feel as if we are unique in our brokenness. In the same way that Adam and Eve hid when they disgraced themselves in the garden, we tend to hide, covering our shame and isolating ourselves from others. This hiding takes many shapes — including canceled plans or unanswered phone calls, texts, and emails.
Loneliness Is Often A Pattern
To make things more difficult, even acknowledging that we are lonely can be something we feel a sense of shame over. Our deceitful hearts can convince us not to burden others with our struggle. Admitting our feelings to ourselves or someone else is an uncomfortable thing to do. As we face our discomfort, we often drift towards the familiar: isolation, escapism, and hiding. Being known becomes an even higher mountain to climb. As hard as it can be, loneliness is often easier than being known.
This is not meant to discourage you or heap shame upon you in any way! In order to understand something, sometimes you have to break it down to see it for what it is. Once you understand your loneliness better, the good news of Jesus can come flooding in like a fresh water spring to your heart.
Here are three things I believe Jesus wants you to know in your loneliness:
1. Jesus, Too, Felt Lonely
It is often said, “heavy is the head that wears the crown”. This common phrase is meant to convey the sense of weight that comes with a particular role or responsibility. With that weight comes a feeling of isolation. This was a feeling that King Jesus felt frequently. In fact, it would sometimes move him to tears.
I love how Sally Lloyd Jones retells the night in the garden before Jesus’ death.
“'Stay up with me?', Jesus asked his friends. They said yes,… but were tired and soon fell asleep. Jesus walked ahead alone, into the dark”.2
Jesus bore our burdens in every sense. He knows not only the weight of your sin, but the weight of your isolation too. Remember the word yada? He knows how you feel.
2. Jesus Provides Freedom From Shame And Loneliness
The self-isolating nature of shame is destroyed in the work of Jesus on your behalf. You don’t need to be afraid of others judging you or finding your sin too hard to stomach. The church of Jesus is full of blood-bought sinners, given grace by the same God and Father who gives it to you. We have no debt any longer before Him! The intimacy you long for is found first and foremost in Jesus — but because of what Jesus has done, it can also be found in other people! Even when you feel lonely, the sturdy, steadfast promises of God remain.
3. Depth In Relationship Destroys Loneliness
It was interesting to see one of Cigna’s key findings within the study — of all generations experiencing loneliness, Generation Z (adults aged 18-24) experience the most significant levels of loneliness. The most connected generation “socially” speaking, was found to be the most prone to feeling lonely. Why do you think this is? The study found that having a wider span of friends, did very little to scratch the loneliness itch within people. What really scratches that itch? Deep, meaningful relationships.
Friends, don’t allow this season to be one of retreat. Don’t fall into the same patterns of shame that have governed your relationships in the past. Jesus stands ready to love you completely, because for him, nothing within you is hidden and he still loves you. That same intimate knowing of Jesus has been extended to every Christian within the church. This is what allows us to have deep, meaningful relationships with others: the shared experience of Jesus in our place.
If you struggle with loneliness, know that Jesus knows how you feel! If you need freedom from loneliness, you can find it if you’re willing. Jesus stands ready, and so does your church family.
1 “Many Americans are Lonely… study finds” CBS News (2018): 78-93. CBS News Online. Web. May 3, 2018 <https://www.cbsnews.com/news/many-americans-are-lonely-and-gen-z-most-of-all-study-finds/>
2 Jones, Sally L. The Jesus Storybook Bible. Zonderkids, 2007.
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