loneliness uninvited

You Aren't Alone in Feeling Lonely

2:13 PMHeather

Loneliness is like an old, unwelcomed acquaintance. For most seasons of my life, if I were to be perfectly honest, I have felt a deep sense of unrest. An aimless seeking to find my place and to belong. 
Perhaps it's born out of being an Army brat and moving around my whole childhood. Always the new girl. Always seeking to fit in. Maybe it's because I'm a creative with deep thoughts and deeper feelings. Could be that I'm a perfectionist and struggle to ever feel it's enough or that I'm enough. Or maybe it's my wrestling against being an introvert.

I'm just now embracing that it's okay to need quiet time alone. That I can long for deep connections and long, authentic conversations over cups of coffee. I can even enjoy a good social scene. And I can also embrace that it can feel like work and sometimes, in a crowd, I feel the lonely sensation of being an imposter who might be found out.

These are my true confessions of loneliness and of wanting to be wanted and looking to belong. Of, as I wrote last week, longing for a tribe. 

I've fought off loneliness as if it's an enemy who must be banished. Because loneliness often acts as a bully, pushing you around, mocking and taunting and denouncing your worth. Loneliness is a deceiver, lying to you that you are the only one. You are the only one who feels like the puzzle piece that doesn't fit, and everyone else is perfectly connected together.

It's really all just lies from the pit of hell. It's all the enemy selling us a bill of goods that we are less than, unworthy, incapable, unlovable, rejected, abandoned. 

Because he knows we are made in the image of God, who himself dwells in holy community as the Trinity. He knows if he can isolate us and push us down far enough, we will be stymied in our desires to live boldly and bravely and courageously -- in community. He knows that if he can convince us to not be vulnerable and honest than he can keep the body from connecting to one another with the commonality we all share as fallen humans striving for holiness in a broken world when we were made with eternity set in our hearts.

2016 has been a lonely year for me, for various reasons. This year has required care giving of family members and canceling activities. Some of my roles have shifted or been removed. God has also called me toward him, asking me to create margins in my life. He has impressed upon me to give myself more daily time in his Word and to chase after a rhythm of rest, with long sessions of Bible reading and prayer time. Lastly, he has asked me to be more present with my family, in this last year of having our eldest at home.

Pruning seasons are often lonely. The cutting and removal of things is painful.

Image courtesy of Unsplash
But this is what I am coming to know. This is the truth that is beckoning me, in a voice gaining strength and intensity, slowly drowning out the lies of loneliness.

Lonely seasons can be sacred seasons. We can co-exist with feelings of loneliness when we consider what God's Word has to say on the topic of feeling lonely. 

When I researched the word "lonely" through Bible Gateway's search feature, I found the word appears in the NIV translation four times. 

Each of these instances are whispering to us to come and listen closely.

1. God ordains lonely seasons to turn our gaze to him. In Psalm 25:16, David cries to God, saying, "Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted." David. A shepherd boy who spent hours in the company of only sheep. And God. He was a man who knew troubles and angst. A creative, like me, who I believe we can glean from Scripture was a deep feeler and thinker. The Psalms are evidence of his propensity to dwell long and hard over his feelings and thoughts. 

And all throughout his lonely seasons, we see David turning his gaze to God. 

Loneliness can be a beacon of light, pointing us to the only One who can satisfy and fulfill our souls completely. 

Loneliness can be an instrument that is used to call us gently to our Father's side. 

For God doesn't want our performance or achievements. God didn't send his Son because we earned it or because he had a hidden agenda. God sent his Son to redeem us back to himself and to allow us the opportunity to dwell in his Presence. 

Through the death and resurrection of Jesus, we are even granted his presence within us through Holy Spirit.

And sometimes, just as I ask my kids to make family time a priority over other things, our Heavenly Father removes distractions so that we will come to him. Because he wants us to know him as the lover of our souls. He wants us to know him as sufficient and faithful and merciful and gracious. 

That the God of the Universe is jealous for our absolute worship and adoration should awe us into submitting to seasons where things of earth and human relationships leave us unsatisfied. God can ordain these lonely seasons so that we might discover the more of him.

As I said last week, these "aches in our hearts act as a homing device toward the home we are made to dwell in forever in perfect community," (JR Vassar). 

That we might lean into loneliness and embrace it, or at least co-exist with it, and let those feelings be our homing device to our Good Father and a hope of the perfection to come.

2. Loneliness can direct us to the community God provides. As a 22-year adoption social worker, I am moved deeply by the promise of Psalm 68:6: "God sets the lonely in families, he leads forth the prisoners with singing, but the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land." 

What an amazing promise. What hope we see here. That God sets the lonely in families. 

Loneliness should draw our gaze the One who delights in us, and loneliness can be a precursor to a fresh new season. Loneliness can be a cry of our heart that is heard and answered through new connections.

There is something so precious about baring your soul bravely to someone, only to hear them say, "Me too!" When the deep and dark nights of the soul drive us to find new community, we find purpose within loneliness. 

When we feel alone and  abandoned, and we ask God for new relationships, he often reveals someone else's need that we can meet. 

God sets the lonely in families. I see it over and over and over again in my job. When I see the referral photo of a child overseas, living in an orphanage, they are often stern and stoic. Their facial expressions are often flat, with no affect. Yet thousands of miles away, God is working to orchestrate the connection between the lonely and the family who is waiting for the completion that the  lonely one brings. It's a picture of us. For our lonely seasons just might be ushering in new places to minister and connect and belong and serve. 

 3. Lonely places should become a rhythm of our lives. The third and the fourth time that we find the word lonely in the NIV translation, it is pointing us to the truth that lonely places actually should become part of our life's rhythm. Mark 1:45 and Luke 5:16 both reveal that Jesus himself withdrew to lonely places to pray and to minister more effectively. 

Unless a cup is emptied, it cannot be filled again.

Withdrawing to quiet and lonely places on a regular basis is to draw near to the Living Water and ask to be filled again. That we might then be emptied again as we pour ourselves out. 

This is the rhythm of gospel living. That we embrace the hunger and thirst in our souls as an alarm that lets us know we need to sit at the feet of Jesus and listen to his teaching and talk to him in prayer. And this is done, not so that we linger there always but so that we are prepared to go out and be emptied for others.

Psalm 46:10 tells us to be still and know that he is God, that he can be exalted among the nations. 

Being still. Choosing the lonely place as a place of blessing and rebuilding and fellowship with the Father that prepares us to go and exalt his name among the nations. If these quiet and lonely times with God in prayer and Bible reading are not part of your regular daily rhythm, then you are missing out on the most valuable aspect of your life. 

You are missing out on what Jesus told Martha was the "only thing needed... because Mary has chosen what is better and it will not be taken away from her," (Luke 10:42). Jesus was referring to Mary's choice to sit at his feet and listen, rather than be distracted and busy as Martha was.

Loneliness. Webster's dictionary app defines it as:

1. affected with, characterized by, or causing a depressing feeling    of being alone, lonesome
2. destitute of sympathetic or friendly companionship
3. lone, solitary, without company; companionless
4. remote from places of human habitation; desolate; unfrequented
5. standing part; isolated

We see an overlap here, in the fifth explanation listed above. For to be holy is to be set apart.

Set apart.

I believe God is challenging me to rethink loneliness, based on the truth of his word. And thus I share the challenge with you. 

A feeling of standing apart is an integral part of being set apart. Loneliness is to be expected in a life that pursues holiness. 

Loneliness is meant to remind us that God will never forsake us or abandon us, and that the longing deep in our souls can actually only be met by the Father who loved us. 

Loneliness can direct us to the new places of service, giving, community, and family that God has ordained for us. And loneliness, or times devoid of human interaction, should actually be the rhythm of a life focused on abiding with Jesus.

Our Savior is the great high priest who can sympathize with all of our emotions. He was a man of sorrows. He was rejected, mocked, taunted, and abandoned. He chose twelve confidants who were his closest circle of companions. And in the moments of his greatest suffering, not a one can be found near his side.

When loneliness overtakes us and begins its insidious deceit, may we remember, particularly this Advent season, that we were loved by Emmanuel.

God. WITH. Us.

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