Do you ever just feel alone? Like no one understands you or your thought process or emotions or concerns or fears? No one gets why you love what you love, enjoy what you enjoy, or dislike what you dislike... sometimes it feels very disheartening and discouraging.
This mindset often plays into how we then respond and live our lives before others. We attempt to placate others by doing the things they want and never admitting to what we need or want. Or, we stubbornly do whatever we want anyways (even if it's wrong) because "people just don't understand me"...
Both responses here can be very harmful.
Living only to please others leads us to depressions, anxiety, fear, and more- particularly when all our efforts seem to go unnoticed. On the flip side, doing whatever we want without regard for others is selfish and causes us to deny the needs of others for the superiority of our own purposes. Both these lifestyles can feel lonely. One part of us finds pleasure in that stubborn "top dog" mentality, while others feel crushed beneath the weight of everyone else's opinions and approval.
How does God's word speak to these lifestyles, and how can we use our loneliness to point to the sufficiency of God and his word?
We must always first remember we are not living for the approval of others; we also do not live only to please ourselves.This is a freeing truth when we understand it and claim it in our lives. When we are confronted with lies and pressures and situations which cause us to revert to these coping lifestyles, we must ask ourselves how this situation and my response are representing the name of Jesus.
In Ephesians 5, Paul is speaking to the believers about how they should live as followers of Jesus. He uses the idea of "walk" several times throughout the chapter: "walk in love", "walk as children of light", and "look carefully how you walk". Each of these instructions is coupled with the truth that we are living for something greater than what is in the world. We are living to reverence and honor the name of Jesus and to demonstrate the great love he has shown to us. We are living to display light in this dark world. We are living to encourage others in their walk, too.
This passage clearly shows us that we are not alone in this life. Our actions and reactions will always affect someone else. What we pursue will be a reflection of what we believe about God, ourselves, and others. How we demonstrate our beliefs will either expose darkness or bring fruitful works in light.
How does this relate to loneliness and the often desperate or stubborn feelings permeating our minds and hearts?
Often, what feeds those feelings of loneliness is a need for a shift in perspective. Some questions which may be helpful in determining the root of your loneliness are these:
1. Is the root of my loneliness dependent on the approval of someone else (i.e. spouse, friend, parent, church leader, etc.)?
2. Is the root of my loneliness dependent on my need to be right or to dominate my relationships (i.e. refuse to let go of unhealthy relationships or behaviors)?
3. Is the root of my loneliness dependent on the security of my surroundings (i.e. stable job, money, relationships)?
4. Is the root of my loneliness dependent on my success (job, parenting skills, friendships, recognitions)?
5. Is the root of my loneliness dependent on keeping or maintaining control in areas that are out of my control (physical pressures, relationship dynamics, fear of the unknown/future)?
Some of these questions will interact or overlap with others. For example, if we are constantly needing the approval of others, we will most likely also feel the need to control or manage situations or relationships that are out of our control. Or, if we feel the need to dominate or keep an unhealthy relationship or behavior, we will feel pressured and angry when that relationship or behavior is threatened or put into question.
The pressures of striving to maintain control or cling to an unhealthy/unfruitful behavior or lifestyle reveals the intentions and cravings of our hearts. We are striving to find satisfaction in things or people or lifestyles that will never bring us satisfaction. Thus, we find ourselves in this wrestling within our souls, fumbling, keeping secrets, feeling angry or exposed, grasping, and holding tight to what God wants us to let go. Paul explains these behaviors as "unfruitful works of darkness". If we are continually striving to please ourselves or gain approval from others or stewing and complaining about how people just don't understand us, or holding on to a sin which we think we so desperately need, eventually those unfruitful things will be exposed when confronted with the light of God's truth.
Loneliness, at its core, is seeking help and approval and satisfaction in something or someone other than God. And, sometimes those things are good things- a spouse, our children, our job, our friends, church- but, the reality is the void and ache and hunger in our souls can only be completely filled and satisfied by God.
Certainly any of us can feel alone even at our best moments; we do not want to undermine that reality. However, what we then do with those feelings will lead us to find light and hope or to be plunged into thoughts of darkness and unfruitfulness.
How we feed our feelings determines where our affections truly lie. Paul explains it this way: "Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise, but as wise" (Ephesians 5: 15). He then exhorts us to be careful of how we use our time in these evil days and gives some guidelines for how we should go about our days. We can use these as a model for facing the loneliness that tries to creep in to our hearts.
1. Be filled with the Spirit. This involves setting aside sins and foolish behaviors for the filling and instruction of the Spirit. Here we need to be careful to have Scriptuee ready at a moment's notice to be able to combat foolishness. For example, thoughts of anger or despair may fill your mind because of how a relationship has treated you. Instead of dwelling on those feelings, remember you are beloved of God and ask him for grace and wisdom and help to restore your own thoughts toward your feelings of hurt and despair.
2. Speak truth with others. This is an important step. Certainly, we cannot share all our deep thoughts and feelings and hurts with everyone, but having a faithful friend to encourage you in truth is vital. Being able to speak to each other truth encourages and builds each other up and is helpful in combating lies and discouragement.
3. Show gratitude. This is a huge step in reorienting our thoughts. Instead of complaining or disparaging someone or a situation in our lives, show gratitude. Give thanks to God for the situation, the person, the struggle, his character and truth, and ask him to use it all for the glory of his name.
4. Think of others. Here is where it gets tricky sometimes. The instruction is to "submit to one another out of reverence for Christ". What this means is that every action we do toward others needs to be treated as a submission to the lordship of Jesus in our lives. Sometimes this will look like forgiving someone who has hurt us deeply. Sometimes this will look like rebuking a friend who is in sin. Sometimes this will look like taking steps to give up a sinful behavior, attitude, or relationship. And, this is not just for own our benefit, but also for the benefit of others who see our actions and need to know the love of Jesus.
Dear friends, God desires that our hearts be filled with his love. We will inevitably endure periods of our lives which may be filled with great loneliness or despair. Therefore, we must be prepared for those moments, knowing our Heavenly Father is more than sufficient to care for us in those days. May you find yourself running to the truth of word, to the comfort of his Spirit, and to the loving care of his unchanging and unfailing love. Let these truths shape and transform your minds, guide your days, and encourage your hearts.
"I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore, I have continued my faithfulness to you." Jeremiah 31:3
Additional song for meditiation: