Loneliness is about alien-ness, distance, disconnectedness, helplessness, forsakenness all shot through with a painful sense of not being valued or loved.
Loneliness can happen to us when we are aliens, strangers.
"He was in the world, and the world was created by him, but the world did not recognize him." (John 1:10)
If Jesus our Lord was treated as a stranger by the world, we will be too.
We may experience a season of loneliness because of the loss of a loved one. This is especially true of widows and orphans because they often become simultaneously alien (they need to relate to others differently from before), disconnected, helpless (financially insecure) and in a sense forsaken.
We may experience a season of loneliness because of betrayal or abandonment.
"But this has happened so that the scriptures of the prophets would be fulfilled. Then all the disciples left him and fled." (Matthew 26:56)
We may experience a season of loneliness because of illness or criminal punishment.
"Around three o'clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, 'Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?" which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?'" (Mark 15:34)
We may experience loneliness because abuse and/or neglect have profoundly altered how we think of ourselves and the people around us. As children, we tried to "make believe" that our family was "normal." We did this because we wanted to believe that our family and our family life would be acceptable to the other families we associated with. How could we make our parents' behavior acceptable when we had so little influence as children? We made our parents' behavior acceptable by blaming ourselves for their behavior. If we chose to believe that our parents abuse/neglect of us was abnormal, we would be admitting that our family was abnormal and therefore unacceptable. I believe it is the idea that our family might be unacceptable that is more threatening to children than the idea that we are somehow to blame for our parents' abuse/neglect. Over time, our accommodating mindset shapes how we relate to others. The following quote concerns neglect, but I think it is true of abuse as well:
"Since neglect is chronic, neglected children and youth are constantly dealing with their needs not being met. Over time they begin to feel unworthy of attention and energy; acknowledging parental rejection and lack of care is more threatening to them than believing that they are the cause of their parents' unkind acts towards them" (Gauthier, Stoaalk, Messe & Aronoff, "Child Abuse and Neglect The International Journal," July, 1996, p. 549).
When we feel unworthy of attention and energy from others; when we believe that we are the cause of unkind acts of others toward us, we naturally withdraw into loneliness. We think there is something wrong with us. We don't want to be a bother to other people. We don't deserve to take their valuable time and energy away from more important people or activities. We may share our things, our time, our help with others, but we are afraid to share ourselves with others; we are afraid when others share themselves with us:
"In mere solitude man remains essentially with himself, even if he is moved with extreme pity; in action and help he inclines towards the other, but the barriers of his own being are not thereby breached; he makes his assistance, not his self, accessible to the other; nor does he expect any real mutuality, in fact he probably shuns it; 'he is concerned with the other,' but he is not anxious for the other to be concerned with him." (Martin Buber, Between Man and Man, 1955, translated by R.G. Smith. Boston: Beacon Press 1961, p. 170)
We are often imprisoned in loneliness because we feel needy, yet undeserving. We intensely desire love and goodness from others, but when it comes our way we deflect that love and goodness because we feel so wretchedly undeserving. Rather than building loving relationships, we seek validation from our relations with others. We try to get more people to think like us, to act like us, or simply to envy us, but the results do not satisfy. When we think that we are invalid in ourselves, we may even attempt to validate ourselves by judging others and sabotaging them.
Even if we are moved with extreme pity to give sacrificially to others, we can still remain essentially solitary. How do we get beyond ourselves? I think that Matthew 9:13 points the way:
"Go and learn what this saying means: 'I want mercy and not sacrifice.' For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners."
Mercy is more than kind sentiment. "If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, 'Go in peace, keep warm and eat well,' but you do not give them what the body needs, what good is it?" (James 2:15-16). Mercy is more than being religiously correct. Mercy is relational; sacrifice is religious, positional. Mercy breaches barriers by drawing sinners to itself; sacrifice without mercy reinforces barriers by creating a division between those who occupy a place of ritual righteousness and those who occupy a place of ritual unrighteousness. In the end, sacrifice without mercy (self-righteous callousness) actually causes us to be lonely. Self-righteous callousness places us outside of God's will, outside of his realm. As such, self-righteous callousness alienates us from God and from one another.
"But if you do not forgive others, your Father will not forgive you your sins." (Matthew 6:15)
What does it take to break through walls of loneliness? We must un-stranger ourselves to one another. That is, we must make our very selves mutually accessible to each other not out of principle, but because of mercy. Tender mercy breaks through walls of loneliness and brings light and life and peace.
"Because of our God's tender mercy
the dawn will break upon us from on high
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace." (Luke 1:78)
"You have purified your souls by obeying the truth in order to show sincere mutual love. So love one another earnestly from a pure heart." (1Peter 1:22)
So, how can we render mercy which breaks through walls of loneliness and brings light and life and peace? Does it require great knowledge, discipline, sacrifice? No, we must purify ourselves by obeying the truth in order to love each other deeply from a pure heart.
Purification (detox) is not for prudes who seek purity for its own sake. What drug addict chooses to go through detox just for its own sake? Addicts go through detox so that afterwards, they may live life well. Purification is for the lion-hearted who purify themselves in order to love one another deeply and show mercy and overcome evil with good. Unless we purify ourselves we will remain alienated from the life of God.
"They are darkened in their understanding, being alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardness of their hearts. Because they are callous, they have given themselves over to indecency for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness." (Ephesians 4:18-19)
With uncalloused, tender mercy, we seek out the lost and lonely and draw them into the body of Christ. It is within the body of Christ that we receive God-ordained wholeness. It is within the body of Christ that we receive God-ordained belonging. It is within the body of Christ that God's potent, loyal love overcomes our loneliness. God's love enables us to journey in communion with him and each other in the way of peace. God wants us to be one body in Christ; not just individuals journeying together who happen to have a common destination; not just individuals laboring together who happen to have a common goal.
"So we who are many are one body in Christ, and individually we are members who belong to one another." (Romans 12:5)
Not only are we members of one body in Christ who belong to one another. As a body, we function together in a purposeful way, in the way of Love who is Christ. Each member belongs; each member is needed; as each member does its part the body grows in love. As we find ourselves supported by Christ, doing our parts in his body, and helping each other grow in love -- I believe we will find ourselves much less lonely.
"From him the whole body grows, fitted and held together through every supporting ligament. As each one does its part, the body grows in love." (Ephesians 4:26)
I am richly blessed in my marriage. I have two grown children. I am semi-retired. I have been a computer programmer, systems analyst, househusband and homeschool teacher. I love to walk, talk and eat, and write short articles about devoting our lives to Jesus.
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