Do you find yourself alone these days? Maybe you are alone because you have lost a loved one and their place is empty in your home and in your heart. Maybe you have recently made a move and you miss the many relationships you had built in the place you left. Maybe a health condition keeps you home alone day after day. Maybe you are coping with a broken relationship that leaves you feeling empty and alone. Loneliness has to do with feeling empty, alone and unwanted. Is it possible to be alone and not be lonely?
To understand loneliness we need to go back to the Bible where God created Adam and Eve. God said that it was not good for Adam to be alone. He needed a companion, a friend. When the Bible speaks of people being created in the image of God it too suggests that we are created for relationship. At the same time we have to recognize that our personality type also determines our need for relationship. Some people appreciate time alone without others while at the same time there are many individuals who have a high need to constantly be surrounded by people they can talk to or who will listen to them. So it becomes important that we accept ourselves and our situation according to how God has created us and where he has placed us.
Sometimes we have no choice when it comes to our situation, whether we have people in our life or we must be alone. However, we have a choice in terms of how we handle that situation. If we have lost a loved one we can choose to focus on what we have left rather than what we have lost. We can choose to complain and see all the downsides of our circumstances or we can decide to look for the things we can be thankful for. The Bible encourages us again and again to be thankful. Accepting our circumstances and seeing the blessings in our life can be a great help in coping with loneliness.
The story is told of a young woman who fell in love with a soldier, married him and then was sent together with him on an assignment to an isolated region of the world. It didn’t take her long to realize how alone and lonely she was in her new surroundings. She had no friends or family, didn’t understand the people and felt like a total stranger. In her despair she wrote a letter to her mother saying she was done, wanted to leave her husband and come home. Her mother responded with only a brief quote: “Two men looked out from prison bars, One saw the mud, the other saw stars.” (Dale Carnegie) That changed everything for this young woman. She began looking for the stars in her situation; connecting with the people, spending time with them, learning about their culture and letting them teach her how to do the beautiful handwork they were doing. Life took on meaning for her and the loneliness was gone. She made a choice to find the stars and although she was still alone, without family or her friends, she was no longer lonely.
The apostle Paul in the Bible is an example to us of having the right attitude when facing difficult circumstances. He wrote the book of Philippians when he was in prison, alone, separated from his friends, maybe isolated in a cell. We could say, he had reason to complain but instead he tells us to rejoice in the Lord in all circumstances. He also tells us he has learned to be content which speaks of acceptance. Then he encourages us to fill our mind with thoughts that are true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, gracious, things of excellence and worthy of praise.(Phil.4:8) How different from complaining. He could rejoice in the Lord because he was trusting him to meet all his needs and give him the strength to cope with his circumstances.
Another beautiful example of coping with what could have been a lonely situation is the story of Ruth in the Bible. After the death of her husband she decides to leave her homeland, her family and friends to go to a foreign country with her mother-in-law. Then we also see how she made the best of her new, potentially lonely situation. She made a choice to turn from her pagan worship to accept the God of the Israelite people and place her faith in her mother-in-law’s God. Next she took steps to make a living and care for her mother-in-law. The best she could do was to go and glean grain after the reapers in the harvest fields. It was a menial task but it put food on the table. It must have taken a lot of courage and humility to join the other poor gleaners when she was a foreigner in their country. The beautiful part of the story is that as a result of her choices and God’s direction she came in contact with Boaz the rich landowner who then became her husband.
Another person in the Bible who found himself totally alone was Joseph when he was sold into slavery for twenty pieces of silver by his jealous brothers. We know that Joseph had a very close relationship with his father so being sent to Egypt as a slave and losing all contact with his family and friends must have been a very lonely experience for him. Even though Joseph found himself all alone he kept his commitment to God and also made the best of his situation by working hard at the tasks assigned to him. This resulted in God blessing him with favor and success.
I believe there are some lessons we can learn from these people who faced situations of being alone which helped them cope. We can learn from them in terms of some of the choices they made.
- Choice in their Attitude – We can choose to accept our situation as Ruth did and make the best of it. Paul chose to rejoice in the Lord and worked at being content. Joseph too, worked at making the best of a difficult situation.
- Choice in their Thinking – How we think about our situation is a choice we make. Joseph could have felt sorry for himself and been angry at his brothers but he chose to accept his circumstances. When we complain we focus on what we don’t have while being thankful focuses on the things we have. Keeping a gratitude journal where we keep a record of big and also little things that we are thankful for can help us see the blessings in our life.
- Choice in their Actions – Ruth made a choice to go gleaning after the reapers in the harvest fields. Paul made a choice to spend his time writing the letter of Philippians which has been such a blessing to Christians through the ages and Joseph chose to work faithfully as a servant. What actions can we choose? Maybe we too can do some writing: the gratitude journal, the story of our life experiences or writing our prayers in response to what God says to us in his word. Maybe the actions could involve the routine tasks in our home as was the case for Ruth and also for Joseph. Self-care actions like walking, eating healthy meals and getting the needed rest would also be important for us when we feel lonely.
- Choice in Relationship Building – Paul in his letter to the Philippians built relationships and also helped others do the same. We notice from Joseph that he had a way of building relationships of appreciation with the people around him. Ruth is a great example in the way she cared and encouraged her mother-in-law. Are there people in our life that we can encourage through our writing or our deeds of kindness? A gesture of kindness, a note in the mail, an email or a phone call of encouragement can bring hope to someone.
- Choice in Spiritual Growth – Ruth chose to follow the God of her mother-in-law which set her on a journey of great blessing. Joseph’s choice to be true to God give him strength which resulted in God giving him success and favor with those around him. We too can make a choice to draw near to God and experience him as a friend and guide in our daily life. As we noted earlier, we are created for relationship and the relationship that helps us the most in our loneliness is our relationship with God.
How beautiful to see how each of these people: the woman in the prison illustration, Paul, Ruth and also Joseph all received blessings that were so special. The woman found her life enriched and the loneliness gone; Paul experienced God giving him strength and meeting all his needs; Ruth found her life filled with joy through a husband, a son and a joyful mother-in-law and Joseph experienced promotions in his work and favorable relationships with the people around him. The most important choice in dealing with loneliness is to invite the Lord into our life who promises us,
”I am with you always…” Matt.28:20
We too can make choices in our situations of loneliness that will bring us to a place where we can be: Alone But Not Lonely.
by Elfrieda Nikkel
used by permission