Chronic loneliness is one of the most painful emotions a human can experience. In fact, it has been called an epidemic.
And popularity and fame do not make us immune from loneliness. Albert Einstein mused, “It is strange to be known so universally and yet to be so lonely.”
Sure, nearly everyone has felt lonely at some point in their lives. But I am talking about people who suffer long-term, relentless loneliness. In short, chronic loneliness.
It breaks my heart that there are so many lonely people who suffer in silence. They put on the mask of “everything is okay.” But the pain continuously gnaws at them.
And it is especially painful to me that Christians live with loneliness. God created us to be in a relationship with him and other humans. So how do we understand and overcome loneliness?
I. How Do We Define Chronic Loneliness?
Loneliness is feeling isolated, helpless, abandoned, or alone in the world. Likewise, there is a sense of being cut off from others who cannot understand their suffering.
A lonely person often feels significantly sad and empty. Additionally, there can be an associated longing and yearning to be with someone.
As an illustration, consider the famous author Ernest Hemingway. He took his life in 1961. He said, “I live in a vacuum that is as lonely as a radio tube when the batteries are dead, and there is no current to plug into.”
II. Causes for Loneliness
Loneliness began when Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3). As a result of the “fall,” they lost intimacy with God and other humans.
Without a doubt, there are many causes for chronic loneliness. For example:
- First, persistent sin in our lives (Isa. 59:2). For instance, failing to walk with God in a personal, abiding relationship. Or if we haven’t learned to be content in all things (Phil. 4:11–12).
- Second, self-inflicted loneliness may result from poor interpersonal skills. Or on the other hand, we may fear rejection and don’t seek friendships.
- Third, chronic loneliness can result from losing a loved one, divorce, or being a victim of crime.
III. Solitude (Being Alone) is Different from Chronic Loneliness
Let me pause here to make a distinction. There is a difference between being alone and being lonely. You can be alone (solitude) without being lonely. And you can feel lonely in a crowded room with loved ones.
Solitude can be a “healthy loneliness.” Isolation is helpful when we need to get away from life’s busyness. It can help us gain perspective in life.
To put it another way, solitude can nourish our spirituality and creativity. Solitude combined with spiritual disciplines can deepen our intimacy with Jesus (Matt. 6:6).
IV. Who is at Risk for Loneliness?
There are several groups at risk for chronic loneliness.
- Firstly, teenagers are particularly vulnerable to loneliness
- Secondly, loneliness is more common when we relocate to a new community or job
- Thirdly, single parents and divorcees often feel isolated. And stay-at-home moms with small children who have no support are particularly at risk.
- Fourthly, persons with disabilities or who suffer from long-term illnesses are often neglected (John 5:7). In many cases, home-bound folks only have contact with their caregivers. And if the caregiver is family, the family member may be lonely and exhausted (Psa. 142:4)!
- Finally, chronic loneliness is common in older adults (Ps. 71:9). Particularly at risk are those in midlife crises or empty nesters. Recent retirees and those grieving the death of a loved one are also at risk.
V. What are Some Wrong Ways of Dealing with Loneliness?
There are several wrong ways to deal with chronic loneliness.
- Firstly, some turn to substance abuse to numb the pain and “pass the time” of being alone.
- Secondly, loneliness may lead to frequent sexually immoral relationships. Or isolation leads to pornography.
- Thirdly, loneliness can impact your finances. Especially if you believe purchasing “things” will give you an emotional lift.
- Fourthly, loneliness can lead to doubting your worth. Not just to other people but to God as well.
VI. What Does the Bible Have to Say About Loneliness?
It is comforting to know that Jesus understands our feelings of loneliness. And he sympathizes with our weakness (Heb. 2:14, 17; 4:15).
Jesus knew the ultimate sense of loneliness. While on the cross, he bore our sins and was separated from the Father. He uttered those horrible words, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46).
But because of Jesus’s sacrifice, we can enjoy an intimate fellowship with God. But we must accept Jesus as our Savior and Lord (Rom. 10:9).
Being saved from our sin through Jesusis the first step in overcoming loneliness.
VII. Can Any Good Come Out of Our Loneliness?
It may seem surprising to learn that God can use your loneliness for good. But whether you benefit from this trial depends entirely on two things.
- Firstly, your relationship with the Lord.
- Secondly, what you choose to believe.
If you have no relationship with Christ, you will likely struggle.
But if you are a Christian, you have ample resources to overcome chronic loneliness.
As an anonymous author wrote, “It is not until Jesus is all you have… that you know he is all you need.”
In other words, God wants his children to be utterly dependent on him. And because he wants us to be dependent on him for everything, we may have trials of loneliness.
But these trials can establish a new intimacy with God. And that newly forged closeness can sustain us even in the most desperate moments.
But to benefit from these trials, we must have faith in God. We must choose to believe and trust that he will use this trial for our good. We must:
- Choose to hold on to the belief that this trial will conform us more into the image of Jesus.
- Accept that the trial of chronic loneliness is maturing you spiritually
- Maintain your trust in God whether your loneliness leaves or persists (Rom. 8:28-29)
- Concentrate on today and not worry about the future or dwell on the past
Jesus is our example of choosing to trust in God. In the Garden of Gethsemane, he prayed, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me [the crucifixion]. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42).
VIII. 8 ABCDs For Practically Dealing with Chronic Loneliness
An easy way for us to remember practical ways to deal with chronic loneliness involves eight ABCs.
1. A: Assurance of salvation.
We need to be sure we have genuinely placed our faith in Jesus
2. B: Brandishing a renewed mind (Rom. 12:2).
We renew our minds by choosing to “put off” our selfish and self-focused lifestyle (Eph. 4:22-23).
And instead, we choose to “put on” (Eph. 4:24) a perspective of gratefulness (even if we don’t feel grateful at first) (Php. 4:11–12).
This decision is an act of faith in God. For example, we choose to:
- Trust God that our trial of loneliness is part of his promise to work all things for good (Rom. 8:28) even if we cannot always understand his ways (2 Tim. 4:8)
- Believe that God will provide all we need to deal with our trial (1 Cor. 10:13).
- Believe that our trial will ultimately glorify him (1 Cor. 10:31).
3. C: Creating an intimate relationship with God.
During this season of chronic loneliness, we can draw closer to God. We rely on the spiritual disciples that include:
- Devotional Bible reading
- Relying on the Holy Spirit
4. D: Diving into serving God and others through various ministries (Heb. 10:25).
By focusing on others, we:
- Serve the Lord through serving others (Ephesians 2:10). And when we help others, we stop focusing on our loneliness. Instead, we form genuine relationships based on God’s love.
- Grow spiritually together. We use our spiritual gifts and pray for one another.
- Show hospitality, minister to one another, and share each other’s burdens
- Find a few trustworthy Christians to whome we can share our struggles
5. E: Engaging in the life of other Christians.
Fellowship with other Christians can be life-restoring. For instance:
- Seek out older Christians to encourage and mentor you
- Create community with same-aged Christians. You can do life with them.
- Develop discipling relationships with younger or newer Christians. You can disciple these folks.
- Actively participate in Bible studies and small groups. They give you an age-diverse community.
6. F: Finding opportunities to volunteer within your surrounding community.
- Volunteer for community activities that you enjoy.
- Volunteer to visit lonely people in nursing homes, hospitals, or support groups
IX. What are Your Next Steps in Dealing with Chronic Loneliness?
Whatever the cause of chronic loneliness, the cure is always the same for the Christian. And that is the comforting fellowship of Christ.
- Jesus is the friend who “sticks closer than a brother” (Prov. 18:24)
- He laid down his life for us (John 15:13–15) and promised to be with us forever (Matt. 28:20)
- In his Confessions, Augustine wrote, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in you.”
Choose to live creatively during your trial of loneliness. If you do, you will gain more profound intimacy with God and genuine friendships with others.
Clinton, T and Ron Hawkins. The Quick-Reference Guide to Biblical Counseling. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2009.
Insight for Living. Counseling Insights: A Biblical Perspective on Caring for People. Plano, TX: Insight for Living, 2007