Loneliness

Rev. David Bast Uncategorized

READ : John 16:31-32

One of life’s most painful experiences is loneliness. But it helps to know that Jesus himself went through it, and that he has done something to help us deal with it.

There is a difference between being alone and being lonely. Solitude is not the same as loneliness. We need to be alone from time to time, to have space to think, time to pray, a chance to catch our breath. But loneliness is different. It is not determined by how many people are around us. It’s not a matter of physical proximity. You can be all alone and still have plenty of company – in your mind, through your memory. Or you can be lonely in a crowd. It all depends on your experience.

Loneliness is the experience we feel when we are isolated in spirit, cut off from human sympathy. When people touch you but don’t really reach you, when they seem to be listening but do not hear you, when they look but do not see you, when they talk but don’t really speak to you – that’s when you feel lonely. It’s a common feeling. As the old Beatles’ song says:

“I look at all the lonely people –

Where do they all come from?

I look at all the lonely people –

Where do they all belong?”

Loneliness is one of the most prevalent social problems today in western society. There are the obviously lonely persons in our society – prisoners and the homeless, the aged lingering in nursing homes, people sitting by themselves in a restaurant booth or at the end of the bar. But many other lonely men and women are not so obvious. They are hidden behind the locked doors and drawn curtains of the houses and apartments that cram our cities and towns. People who’ve lost touch with their family and friends, people who can’t seem to make meaningful relationships work, people whose best companion now is the television set.

Modern civilization has made many wonderful advances. We have solved all sorts of problems, especially in medicine and technology. But we haven’t done much about loneliness. If anything, current social trends have only made this problem worse. Our culture is good at dislocating people and disrupting lives. Families are more fragile today than ever before. An entire generation has grown up without a stable home life or people they can count on unconditionally. It’s hard to learn to trust and commit yourself to others if your father or mother walked out on you when you were a child.

At the same time the mobility of modern life has broken up the old communities and extended families that used to provide people with a secure place to belong and a sense of identity. Gradually as a culture we are undermining all the traditional ties that used to bind people together in relationships of personal knowledge and intimacy. And it seems like all modern society offers to replace these is the pseudo-community of the radio call-in show, the Internet chat room, or the singles bar. Email is nice, but it’s no substitute for living in the midst of an extended family.

YOU WILL LEAVE ME ALL ALONE”

Does the Bible have anything to say today to people who are lonely? It has a lot to say, and all of it is good. It’s true that loneliness is an inescapable part of being human. All of us will experience it to some extent. God created us to live in community. When we are cut off from intimacy with others, either by accident or misfortune, or by exclusion and rejection, then we suffer. But this is bound to happen to everyone at some time or another. Even Jesus Christ, the greatest man who ever lived, knew what it was like to feel lonely, to be abandoned, let down and left alone by his closest friends, by the very people he had counted on to stand with him and support him.

On the last night of his life on earth Jesus was sharing a special meal with his disciples. After the supper, he began to talk about the immediate future. He knew that in a matter of hours their world would be turned upside down, and his own life would be violently brought to an end. Jesus bluntly told his followers what was going to happen to him and to them. He tried to prepare them for the trial that was even now upon them. And he told them that they, his closest friends, his best-loved comrades, would all desert him and run away at the moment of crisis.

Then Jesus told them, “This very night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written: ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’”

Matthew 26:31

And again, as John records, Jesus said to them,

“You believe at last. . . . But a time is coming, and has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me. I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world”

John 16:31-33

“You will leave me all alone” – there is a mournful note in these words of Jesus Christ. Jesus knew what it was like to be deserted and left alone in the world. While he was on earth, no one ever really understood him, not even his own parents and family or his closest friends. Jesus had no one in whom he could fully confide, no other human being who knew and sympathized with him completely, no one else who was just like him. What is it like when even members of your own family criticize you? How does it feel when even your closest friends turn on you, or betray you, or desert you just when you need them most? Jesus knew all about that.

His disciples, in whom he had invested his whole ministry, failed to understand or even sympathize with him. Even their insight that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God, was distorted by their misinterpretation of his purpose and mission. On their final journey together to Jerusalem, while Jesus was preparing himself to die upon the cross in order to save people from sin, his disciples were arguing about who would get to have the most important posts in the great Jewish empire they thought Jesus was about to establish in Jerusalem. As they gathered in that upper room after their last meal together and Jesus talked to them about what was just ahead, they failed to understand or even believe him. When they huddled in the Garden of Gethsemane and Jesus asked them to sit up with him and watch, not to leave him alone, they failed him. Jesus felt the need of one last hour of companionship and support, but his closest friends all fell asleep. “Couldn’t you watch with me for just one hour,” asked Jesus reproachfully (Matthew 26:38-46). And then at the moment of crisis, one of them betrayed him, another denied him, and all of them deserted him. And Jesus was left to face his death all alone.

Does this surprise you? It shouldn’t. After all, Jesus Christ was a human being. In fact, he was the human being, the perfect model of what it means to live a fully and truly human life. That means not only that he displayed all the qualities and virtues that people have at their best, but that he also shared in most of the troubles and sorrows that go along with life in this world. Jesus experienced all our common human problems and struggles, including the struggle with loneliness.

In America we have the idea that the really strong person should be able to go it alone. We think that part of being successful is to have no need to rely on others. We may even label the desire for human companionship a weakness. Our hero is the “rugged individualist.” One of our national myths is of the strong, silent loner who keeps only to himself, someone like the pioneer Daniel Boone who used to say that as soon as he could see the smoke from a neighbor’s chimney, it was time to move further into the wilderness. We like the self-reliant person who doesn’t need anyone else or depend upon anyone else.

But Jesus is not like that. On the last night of his earthly life, he felt the need for human companionship, love, support, and understanding. He didn’t want to be by himself as he faced the supreme crisis of his life. But he also knew that he would be left alone, that his friends would fail him. That’s what lent such sadness to his last hours, “You will leave me all alone. You will all fall away” (John 16:32).

LONELINESS

Let’s think a little more about this common human experience of loneliness. When do we experience it most? We feel lonely when it seems like we don’t belong, like we don’t fit in. I know that I tend to feel lonely most often when I’m far away from home, a stranger in a strange land. Everything around me is foreign. The buildings, the people, the language, the sights and sounds and smells, they all proclaim a single message: “You do not belong here. This is not your place; we are not your people.”

We also feel lonely when we sense we are being excluded. Sometimes it feels as if you are the “odd man out.” You look at the circle of your acquaintances and sense that you’re really not welcome. All around you people are laughing and joking, but it seems like the joke is on you. The great Christian writer C. S. Lewis has an essay called “The Inner Ring” in which he writes of the overpowering desire most people have to be included in the select company of those who are accepted into the “in” group, and the fear we have of being excluded and left out.

Most of all, we experience loneliness when we think no one cares about us. You know, I really don’t need to be the most popular person in the world. But I do need a few people who are close to me, who care about me. At least I need one person like that.

A SOLUTION TO THE PROBLEM

What about a solution to the problem of loneliness? The Bible says something about this too. When God first created the world everything he saw in it was good, except for one thing. “It is not good for man to be alone,” said the Lord. “I will make a companion for him” (Gen. 2:18). Our loneliness testifies to the Creator’s design for our lives. As humans we were made for God, and also made for each other. Without other persons to know and love, and who know us and love us, we are incomplete. So God created a partner in the beginning, Eve for Adam. His first solution to the problem of loneliness is other people, in particular, the gift of families. We can be sure that God will never leave us completely alone. He will provide someone, some loving person in our life, a partner, or a friend.

Another part of God’s solution to the problem of loneliness is the Christian church. I mentioned a few moments ago that the time I often feel the most lonely is when I am traveling alone in a foreign country. But that is also the time when I have had some of the most wonderful experiences of fellowship, of togetherness and belonging. It’s happened when I have met with other Christians. At those moments, despite differences of culture, language, background and race, we knew that we belonged to each other in Jesus Christ. It’s a wonderful bond that you really can’t explain. It transcends everything else, all the differences. And the church is meant to be like that, a place for all people to belong, where we can be cared about and cared for – and where we can care for others as well.

But most of all, the cure for loneliness is Jesus himself. Whatever may happen to us, however badly we may be let down by others, God will never fail us. “You will all leave me alone,” Jesus told his friends. Then he added this: “Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me.” Jesus himself is the ultimate answer to the problem of loneliness. “I will never leave you or forsake you.” That is his promise. “I will be with you always, to the end of the world” (Matt. 28:20).

Every single week we receive letters at Words of Hope which testify to the truth of those promises. From all over the world people tell us how they have found comfort and companionship from knowing him. You see, Jesus Christ is not just a Savior; he’s a friend. He isn’t only the sovereign Lord, he’s also a faithful companion. He comes alongside the lonely, and offers to stay with them. And he can fill the empty hole, the dark corners and sad moments of your life too. Don’t be afraid any longer. Don’t be alone. Welcome this friend into your heart today.