Have you ever felt alone, isolated, disconnected, or excluded? I certainly have. This unfortunate emotional state is known and loneliness. In what I think of as the dark years, loneliness was the defining characteristic of my life. When I joined the Marine Corps, I had no family. My parents had divorced many years earlier and my broken family had scattered to the winds. While my fellow Marines waited eagerly for mail call each day, I didn’t even bother to show up. I knew there would be no letters for me. When my fellow Marines went home for Christmas or Thanksgiving, I volunteered to take their duty since I had nowhere to go anyway.
When I got out of the Marine Corps, I returned to a hometown where all of my high school and college friends had moved on. I had acquaintances at work and in my college classes, but no real friends. Christmas, Thanksgiving, the Fourth of July, and other family-oriented holidays were miserable occasions for me, spent mostly alone. Occasionally, I would be invited to spend the holiday with a family as an invited guest. On the latter occasions, although I appreciated the invitations, I always felt like an outsider who wasn’t really part of the celebration—a party crasher who didn’t really belong.
Had I known then what I know now about loneliness, things could have been different and much better. What I eventually learned about loneliness and how to overcome it is presented herein. What I learned may help you overcome the loneliness you are feeling. That is my prayer. Doing so begins with understanding the true source of your loneliness.
Most people think—as I did back in the day—loneliness is the result of being disconnected from other people, excluded from groups you might wish to be part of, or isolated with nowhere to go and on one to talk to. In reality, these things are effects of loneliness, not the cause. If you have ever felt lonely in a crowd of people, you know the source of your loneliness must be something other than isolation, exclusion, or disconnectedness.
The source of your loneliness is not external, it’s internal. Before you can connect with people, you must first connect with God. Your relationship with God is the foundation upon which you build relationships with people. Further, when you are connected to God, you are never alone. You can talk to God in prayer any time and in any situation. Even better—unlike with people who have their own agendas, biases, and personality quirks—you can tell God anything. You can have no better or closer friend than God. Remember, God loves you so much he sent his only son to die that you might have eternal life.
Connie made the mistake of thinking being a Christian insulated her from loneliness, but when her job required relocating to another city, she found herself feeling disconnected, excluded, and isolated. Before the move, Connie had a circle of close friends in her church. She and her friends socialized together, visited often in each other’s homes, and looked out for one another. When she moved, Connie suddenly found herself feeling like an outside. She didn’t know anyone, and was having trouble “breaking into” the established cliques and groups in her new church.
Out of desperation, Connie flew “home” to talk with her former pastor. Pastor Martin listened patiently as she described feeling like a marooned sailor on an island in the middle of the ocean. He let Connie talk without interrupting. When she finished, Pastor Martin said, “Connie, Christians are not immune to loneliness. Throughout Psalms, David cries out to God in loneliness. In Psalm 25:16, David pleads with God: ‘Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted.’ On the cross, even Christ felt abandoned. In Mark 15:34 he said: ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ You are going to have times of loneliness in your life. What matters is what you do about it.” He told Connie to first reconnect with God and she would soon be able to connect with new friends.
When you are connected to God, it is easier to connect with the people around you because you can enjoy their fellowship without depending on their approval. When you are connected to God, his is the only approval you need. Human relationships can be fragile and fleeting because we are sinful people living in a fallen world, but your relationship with God is dependable and eternal. The conversations you have with God can be more intimate and personal than any you will ever have with another human being.
It is important to place your loneliness at God’s feet and enlist his help in overcoming it because loneliness left untended can develop into depression. Depression, in turn, often leads to substance abuse and emotional or physical withdrawal, all of which exacerbate your loneliness. To connect with people once you have first connected with God, try the following strategies:
Join a Bible study group in your church and participate actively. This will introduce you to a new group of like-minded people who, before long, will welcome you as one of them.
Volunteer to work in charity events. This will bring you in contact with individuals who are trying to help other people and these are the kinds of people you want to associate with.
Reach out to people at work who appear to be hurting. Give them a shoulder to cry on and an ear to hear their problems. One of the best ways to get to know people is to help them.
Reach out to unbelievers and share the Gospel with them. Understand that doing so will often result in rejection. When this happens, remember it is God’s approval not theirs you need and he is pleased when you reach out to unbelievers. Further, when your efforts pay off and an unbeliever comes to Christ, that individual will look at you as the best friend he or she ever had.
At work, help a colleague who is falling behind or struggling with his or her work. That person will appreciate the help and, most likely, become a friend as a result.
In school, help a fellow student who is struggling with his or her assignments. That person will appreciate the help and, most likely, become a friend as a result.
Remember this when trying to make friends: To open a door, you must reach out to it. When you reach out to people in Christian love, you won’t feel isolated, disconnected, or excluded for long.
Once you have established yourself with friends who share your values and Christian beliefs, remember to stay connected with God. Don’t run to him only when you are struggling. Rather, talk to him in prayer daily and throughout the day. When you are connected to God, you never have to be lonely again.