We worship a communal God. As Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, our God knows nothing more than community. He has created us with a deep desire to be known and loved and surrounded. Our hearts were created for it. For community that exists within our relationships and the depths in which they go. So then why are we so lonely? And what is loneliness? I was recently thinking about what loneliness looks like for so many of us as I was talking to a friend and mentioned that I had felt lonely. She responded with “but you’re always with people”. We then began the discussion of the different kinds of loneliness and how we experience each one. So, here we go:
Three Types of Loneliness
I’m Alone: The Physical
Loneliness in its simplest form is “to be without companion”. There’s simply no one around. Maybe you pushed them away, maybe they never showed up. Maybe you’ve just moved and you haven’t found your group yet. Maybe you let the busyness of life rob you of your free time. But you desire it. You desire community. The problem is that you aren’t quite sure how to get it. This is often the lonely that is most familiar to us. The one that we think of when we hear the term “lonely”. It’s identifiable because it mirrors it’s definition. To be alone.
I found this loneliness when my first roommate moved out. I sat on the floor of my empty living room. The house was silent. All of the furniture was gone and I remember saying something out loud just to hear my own voice echo through the room. The sound waves were a cry and a desire for physical change. I knew I had to make an effort.
A close friend of mine encounters this loneliness most at home after work. He has an amazing wife and kids, but does not prioritize community. In the moments of him sitting alone, he often recognizes the lack of meaningful relationships in which depth can be found. Accountability, laughter, and encouragement are all lost outside of the family unit. And honestly? That’s hard. That’s something you would hope to find within friends. I know he is not alone in the depths of his loneliness.
I’m Alone: The Emotional
Have you ever been alone in a crowded room? If you haven’t, that line would not make sense to you, would it? It probably sounds like a line in a commercial for depression medication or something. Emotional loneliness is so different though. I was recently speaking to my counselor about physical loneliness when I said something about wanting to just come home and talk to someone about my work day. She brought to light the amount of women who come through her door complaining about their spouse. They’re physically there, but emotionally check out. They too want someone to listen to them talk about their day.
We can be alone and be in a relationship. We can be alone and have all of the friends in the world. We can be alone and advertise the amazing people we are surrounded by on social media. That loneliness is deeper. It goes beyond the physical and reaches into the depths of our aching hearts. It cries out for companionship beyond the physicality.
But how? How have we found ourselves emotionally alone? Maybe we put up walls. Maybe we have bought into that old church lie of “If you’re lonely, fix it with Jesus”. The lie that we should have no struggles once our lives have been surrendered. Or maybe we were abandoned here. By a spouse or a friend or someone who is just not fulfilling our needs. Either way, it’s a process and once it’s gone, does not mean it’s gone forever. There’s a lot that goes into the healing of emotional loneliness. And honestly? I’m not sure there’s an easy fix or that I have ever discovered the solution.
I’m Alone: The Spiritual
In the conversation that sparked this blog, we discussed what it means to really be a part of the Church and why so many are missing the experience. There are many of us who are in the church building every time the doors are open, ready to hear whatever it is someone has to say to us. We can be at church every Sunday morning and never allow the things that we hear to travel the 18 inches from our brain to our heart.
The first part of spiritual loneliness is being completely disconnected from God. Feeling spiritually alone can come from not knowing Jesus, who is the author of community with our Creator. But, it also goes beyond those of us who are just not fulfilled because of what we don’t believe. It means some of us believe. We know we believe with our whole hearts. We just haven’t allowed the things we know and believe to take root, leaving us spiritually unfulfilled.
The spiritual loneliness comes from within and dwells within our hearts and what we long to know about God and why He works the way He does. It sometimes comes from spiritual apathy and a loss in desire to seek out the depths of our faith. I see this so much in ministry with students. Especially in following the weeks of an emotional high or low. Students will experience a highly emotional event (good or bad, retreat and crisis) and cry out to God, promising to chase after Him forever. In the weeks and months that follow, that excitement or passion fades and students find themselves spiritually lonely and lost.
That emptiness is not just an occurrence that I find within my students. I watch it happen within adults as the busyness of life takes over. The absence of alone time can often be the cause of spiritual loneliness. It is a constant effort we must make to be with and make time for God.
Not all loneliness is bad. I am learning that the physicality of loneliness can actually be healing and good for the soul. Jesus set the precedent in being alone to pray, discern, and meditate. We need that time of solitude just as much, if not, more than He did. Sometimes spiritual loneliness is a wake up call to our complacency and a cry for us to follow Jesus like we once did. Emotional loneliness can bring light and awareness to something about us or those around us. To be alone is not bad, but to be alone is often tough. It is a part of so many of our stories and many of us continue to learn it each day. My prayer is that whatever kind of alone you struggle with, is one that you learn to overcome.