I am like a desert owl of the wilderness,
like an owl of the waste places;
I lie awake;
I am like a lonely sparrow on the housetop.
Psalm 102:6-7 (ESV)
It seems to me that we are the most connected yet disconnected generation ever. We have so many avenues and tools to keep us “in the know” about the affairs of other people and yet we ourselves are not known. We are strangers many times in a crowd.
It also seems to me that as God’s people we should be the least likely to be alone and isolated. But having been a pastor for 30+ years, I know that loneliness plagues the church. Sunday mornings can be the “fakest” day of the week, if we are not careful. Many walk through the doors with masks to veneer the pain or confusion or wonderings that we want to hide. The result of this kind of living can be loneliness.
Admittedly, there are a plethora of reasons for feeling lonely. There are events and seasons when one might feel alone, misunderstood and unseen. But, as I have been musing over these things, I want to highlight three reasons why we may feel lonely or isolated:
The Loneliness of Suffering
There are times in our lives when we experience the pain of suffering. Hard times, whether self-inflicted or not are unavoidable. “In this world you WILL have tribulations”, Jesus said. No matter how others try to empathize and identify with us, it seems that we must endure alone. The death of a loved ones; the severing of relationships; the loss of a job; the failing of health, the isolation of misunderstanding, can leave us feeling cut off from the rest of the world. Isolated. Alone. It’s not that others aren’t around us or that no one cares but the fact is, no one can take your place in suffering. No one feels exactly the way you feel. There is even a sense that God Himself has abandoned.
The great suffering patriarch Job, knew this well. Having lost it all; his children, his business, his health, his reputation and in a supportive way, even his wife. His sufferings left him feeling isolated and alone. Listen to the way he put it:
Job 19:13-15 (NIV)
13 “He (God) has alienated my family from me;
my acquaintances are completely estranged from me.
14 My relatives have gone away;
my closest friends have forgotten me.
15 My guests and my female servants count me a foreigner;
they look on me as on a stranger.
Look at those words, “alienated”, “estranged”, “gone away”, “forgotten”, “foreigner”, and “stranger”…they SCREAM, loneliness and isolation. Ever been there? Surrounded by people who may even love you, yet the suffering seems to erect a barrier between you and “them”. Yes, there is a loneliness that comes with suffering
The Loneliness of Sin
There is also a loneliness that comes with sin. It is amazing how deceitful the pleasure and lure of sin can be. It calls out to us through our senses and our soul and promises to fulfill our every need. Whether it is the promise of happiness or relief or independence and safety, it all ends up the same…isolation…aloneness…separation. Our first parents experienced this in the Garden of Eden. That tricky serpent of old, promised freedom and independence and self-sufficiency and all they got was bondage, death and separation.
Their choice of sin brought loneliness and isolation from the Creator Himself. They ran and hid from the very Person who loved them most. It didn’t stop there; sin seeped into the very fiber of their being and separated them from each other as well. They began to experience, cover-up, hiding, shame (I’ll talk about that in a moment) and blame. This once intimate couple were now victims of brokenness and isolation. And we too, today experience the same thing .
Sin causes us to draw back and away from one another. I have found that when God’s people are living in sin the first place they abandon is the place of community. They run from those who can speak into their lives and help them bear their burden. They choose to be “alone”. Sin will blind you, that way!
Proverbs 18: 1 says: “Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment.”
You see, sin fools us into believing that our own way is the best way. And the best way is to shut out all the other voices of community. When we draw back from fellowship with God and others, the Enemy has more opportunity to devour us and whisper the lie that says, “You Are Alone!” There is a loneliness that comes with sin because it separates us from God and those around us
The Loneliness of Shame
There is the loneliness of shame as well. This feeling of shame can be devastating and a master at making us feel isolated and extremely alone. I am trying to make my way through a book entitled The Soul of Shame by Curt Thompson, MD. He says in one of his beginning chapters that, “Researchers have described shame as a feeling that is deeply associated with a person’s sense of self, apart from any interactions with others.” He goes on to say that “Guilt… emerges as a result of something I have done that negatively affects someone else. Guilt is something I feel because I have done something bad. Shame (on the other hand) is something I feel because I am bad.” WOW!
This is Genesis 3:7-13 in action. After sin entered the picture, our first parents were not just guilt ridden they were “shame infected”. This virus of shame entered into the very blood stream that you and I have inherited. We are all shame progenies. We take after our parents.
Knowing that we are bad propels us to run and hide from each other. We don’t want to be known or found out. We spend our lives covering up with ineffective “fig leaves”, (pride, success, material stuff, people pleasing, anger, amusement, drugs, alcohol, sex , etc.) which leads to more loneliness and isolation.
Shame incases us in a life behind frosted glass; transparent enough for people to see in but not clear enough to truly see us or touch us. This is certainly a lonely life!
Suffering, Sin and Shame can all lead us down the path of isolation. BUT, it doesn’t have to be that way. If you find yourself in the grips of loneliness, I want to encourage you to sit and ponder…is it because of your response to suffering or is it because of willful sin or maybe, it’s because of inward shame?(maybe none of the above). If so, remember these counterintuitive ways of addressing loneliness:
Rejoice…when suffering. Say like the sufferer Job said just a few verses after expressing feelings of abandonment… “For I know that my Redeemer lives!” This life is not random. Your suffering is not pointless. Your Redeemer is working on your behalf. He will make sense of all of this. And one day , as Job also said…you will see Him face to face. This life is short and confusing but God is all wise and is accomplishing His purposes and you are a part of His plan. Rejoice in that!
Repent…when sinning. Believe it or not ,though he recognized that he had not caused his suffering, Job, did realize that he had sinned during his suffering. Near the end of the book of Job he says, “I had heard of you (God) by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes”. Job 42:4,5
You may be caught in the cycle of sin and have chosen to remove yourself from the fellowship of God and others. It’s time to repent, to turn around and RUN to God. Recognize His goodness and your sinfulness. Stop separating yourself from the One who knows you best and loves you most. Repent to God and confess your sin to others, which leads me to:
Risk…when filled with shame. Risk = verb….expose (someone or something valued) to danger, harm, or loss.
Adding that definition makes it sound even “riskier”. Yes, you are exposing yourself to danger, harm or even loss when it comes to relationships. But, don’t let shame keep you from the incredible blessing of being known and loved. It’s time to share (appropriately), time to open up, to be vulnerable and real. Risk it. Another word for risk is FAITH. Trust that God Himself will take your broken, frosted glass of transparency and turn it into a beautiful, stained glass masterpiece fitted for the community.
I will end with what most people quote during a wedding ceremony, but believe to be fundamental to us as human beings… “It is not good that the man should be alone;” This reality applies to us ALL! May we spend our days in community rather than in the loneliness of isolation.