According to the Oxford dictionary, loneliness is sadness because someone is without friends or company. Our yearning to know and be known is threatened by loneliness. Does that make loneliness the enemy?
I don’t believe so. When I think about loneliness, I think of it more as a deep longing. The visceral ache in my heart, and the racing fears that clutter my mind are equal parts emotional, cognitive, spiritual, and embodied. Everything in me desires it to go away. When loneliness lingers, its presence can feel mocking. It seems to whisper:
You’re not loved.
You’re not wanted.
Something is wrong with you.
If you were _____, you wouldn’t be alone.
If you were _____, people would want to be with you.
The Bible says, “It’s not good for man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18). And it’s not. This short Scripture verse petitions us to look at and value community. It pushes us to connect with others in fellowship through friendship, with the family of God, and in marriage, when it is given. Even in the garden of Eden—where everything was perfect before the fall— God desired communion for us. He wanted us to connect with Him and with the family of God.
Ironically, in your loneliness, you’re not alone. I don’t know of any humans who do not experience loneliness to one degree or another. Single. Married. Introverted. Extroverted. Stay-at-home moms and working moms. Children and adults. People going out on Friday nights, and those staying in. All of them, all of us, feel lonely at times. We all want to know others and be known in turn. More to the point: our ache to know and be known can be good when we allow it to turn us toward action steps that promote health and flourishing.
How do I know this? Because even Jesus, our Savior, was lonely. Picture Jesus (Matthew 26:36–46) as He headed toward the cross. He faithfully prepared for His mission. He met with His Father; He invited His friends to join Him in prayer.
In the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus poured His heart out to God. He begged and pleaded, blood dripping down His forehead. And after the “no’s” from His Father, He retreated to His friends only to find them fast asleep.
I wonder what He hoped for at that moment. What did He long to receive from His friends? In the wake of their frailty and inability to support and stay with Him, what waves of emotion crashed in His heart, mind, and body?
This moment of unmet desire was a mere shadow of the isolation He had experienced and would experience. He lived His life misunderstood by His family (Luke 2:41–52); He lived without a roof over His head (Matthew 8:20); and He was not believed when He spoke the truth. His enemies, and even some of His friends, abandoned, humiliated, and mocked Him as He stumbled toward the cross. And as His body surrendered to the torture He endured, the Father turned His face from Jesus. That moment—that is the pinnacle of loneliness.
Where we taste loneliness, Jesus gulped it. Where we feel disappointment—Jesus was crushed. Jesus knows our loneliness far more than we can fathom. Jesus entered into it so that He could bear it with us. He is our faithful and sympathetic high priest (Hebrews 2:16–18, 4:14–16). Just as Jesus modeled the rightness of grief as He wept at Lazarus’ death, He shows us in Gethsemane the ability to be disappointed by friends yet still faithfully walk where nobody else would.
The “goodness” of loneliness is determined by what we do with it. Do we allow it to draw us closer to God and others as He has called us to? Or does it turn us inward, leading us to isolation, depression, and despair?
The turn inward is a dangerous turn, so how do we prevent it? How do we take our sadness to the Lord, trusting that He sees us and that He cares? How do we wrestle with Him through the messy emotion of loneliness?
First, we must look to Jesus.
1 Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1–2)
Jesus calls us to fix our eyes—to stare diligently at Him. Why? When we fix our eyes on someone, we form an attachment to them. I believe this Scripture invites us to gaze at Jesus confidently and not break that stare. When we do, we allow Jesus to show us His tender affection for us and to remember our identity in and through Him. He is the Founder and Perfecter of our faith. He knows our story from beginning to end, and has promised us victory through Him.
Second, we have to challenge the thoughts, feelings, and narratives we naturally operate out of.
1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2)
This passage teaches us to test our thoughts and make them obedient to Christ. We have to sift our thoughts to determine which ones to hold on to and which ones to discard. Taking this step requires knowing the good, beautiful, true things of Scripture and leaning into the Lord through the power of the Holy Spirit.
What does this filtering look like? How can Scripture help us relate to our loneliness in healthy ways? Here are a few examples:
If I’m lonely, does this mean I’m not loved?
Of course not. You are loved with an everlasting love (Jeremiah 31:3). Jesus was sent for you, securing your victory (Romans 8). You were given the Holy Spirit to guide you and protect you (John 14:15–31).You are and forever will be loved (Isaiah 43:1).
If I’m lonely, does this mean I’m not wanted?
No. You are chosen in love (Ephesians 1). You are fought for (Exodus 14:14). You are sung over and delighted in (Zephaniah 3:17). You are being kept by God for all of eternity (Genesis 28:15).
If I’m lonely, is there something wrong with me?
Yes and no–we are all sinful. You’re human (Romans 3:23). But Jesus covered your sin (Romans 6:23), and there is no condemnation . God knows and delights in your frame (Psalm 139). He made you with immense purpose, and He will carry those plans to completion (Philippians 1:6). Your value is set by your Heavenly Father (Matthew 10:31), not by other people.
The faith-filled life is one of tension. We grieve with hope. We persevere exhausted. We receive the gift of salvation through a homeless, holy God-man King. And—our loneliness can be the very thing that draws our hearts toward the intimacy we most long for and need.
By meeting God in our loneliness, we can develop a greater intimacy with Him. We can nurture intimacy with people, too. God gives us the good, beautiful gift of human relationships. He knits us together in unity with His ever-present Spirit (Ephesians 2:19–22). And we are taught to participate within the family of God for our flourishing and the well-being of the church (Acts 4: 32–35; Hebrews 10:25; Ephesians 4:1–16).
We are called to know and be known by others. But those relationships are as imperfect as the individuals who make them up, including you (Romans 3:23). So when we are disappointed, hurt, left-out, or forgotten, we should not turn away, toward isolation and despair. We should turn to the Lord Jesus, who knows all those feelings to their depths.
Loneliness is not the enemy. Loneliness is an invitation. May our experiences of loneliness draw us into further intimacy with the Lord. May our suffering produce a knowing of Jesus, which is a sweeter gift than never being hurt (1 Peter 4:13). Through bringing our loneliness to Him, we will see the beauty of our Savior and savor His faithfulness to us all the more.
Want to learn more about how loneliness affects us and how we can better relate to it? Join The Austin Stone Institute and The Austin Stone Counseling Center on May 5 for a seminar about loneliness’ negative turns toward depression and self-harm, along with advice for how to be a good support to ourselves and one another. Then, come back for another seminar all about friendship on May 18!