Biblical Answers for Common Loneliness Struggles
By LESLIE LUDY
I will never forget sitting across the table from a well-known Christian leader, attempting to express the struggles Eric and I had been facing in ministry. We had been in an intense spiritual battle for a number of years; a battle that very few people in our lives could relate to.
We assumed that someone else in frontlines Christian ministry would understand. She didn’t. After listening silently with an odd look on her face, she asked, “Have you considered the possibility that you might have a martyr complex?”
Loneliness doesn’t always mean physical isolation from others. During that conversation, I found myself grappling with another kind of loneliness, the loneliness of not feeling understood — of not having my most difficult struggles validated.
Yet through the years, I’ve discovered that no matter what kind of loneliness I face, God’s unchanging, life-giving truth always offers the solution. This is not to say that human relationships are not meant to be a part of the answer, but we must begin with first things first.
Any practical solution — such as building deeper, better, or stronger human relationships — should be an outflow of our most important relationship of all … our relationship with Jesus Christ. Let’s take a look at some of the most common kinds of loneliness we face and explore God’s answers for each of them.
LONELINESS STRUGGLE #1
When Others Don’t Understand You
This is the form of loneliness that hits me most often. My life is rather unusual and sometimes doesn’t make sense to others. Even those closest to me can’t always relate to the pressures and responsibilities that come with my various roles as a mother of six, adoptive parent, ministry leader, pastor’s wife, etc. A number of years of ago when I was wishing I had someone to process with, someone who could truly understand, I came across a statement in one of Amy Carmichael’s books that shifted my perspective.
She wrote of a private, personal struggle, saying, “I am dispirited. I cannot speak to anyone of the cause. It is private.” And God’s answer was, “I heard thee in the secret place of the storm. In the secret place among the unspoken things, there I am.”
The idea of meeting our Lord in the “secret place” is replete throughout Scripture, as we’ve explored in previous articles. Psalm 91:1 tells us, “He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.”
Jesus said, “But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly” (Matt. 6:6).
And later He declared, “…do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly” (Matt. 6:18).
Yes, it is an amazing gift to have trusted friends with whom we can share our struggles, those who can truly empathize with our pain and relate to our unique journey. But sometimes in our desire to be listened to and understood by others, we miss the incredible joy and privilege of meeting our God “in the secret place” — that private place in the soul where only He can comfort and only He can understand.
Even when nobody else in the world can understand us or offer anything helpful, He knows, He hears, and He is waiting to meet us there in that beautiful, secret place. He is the All-Sufficient One and the God of All Comfort. And His help is far superior than the help of men. (See Psalm 108:12.)
If you feel like others don’t relate to your struggles, it’s a great idea to bring that request to God and ask Him to bring trusted, Christ-centered friends into your life. He loves to answer that prayer! But in the meantime, remember that He is ready to meet you in the secret place. The Bible tells us that we can pour out our heart to Him, cast our cares upon Him, and lay our burdens at His feet. (See Psalm 62:8; 1 Peter 5:7; Psalm 55:22.)
As wonderful as human empathy is, it can’t compare to the incredible joy of being known, understood, and loved by the King of all kings. As Psalm 73:25 says: “Whom have I in heaven but You? And there is none upon earth that I desire besides You.”
May our desire for Him far surpass any other longing of our heart.
LONELINESS STRUGGLE #2
When You Are Isolated From Others
Sometimes God allows us to be isolated from others for a season. Being alone can be extremely difficult, but it also presents an amazing opportunity for spiritual growth — where distractions are removed and we can focus completely on deepening our most important relationship of all, our relationship with him. If we allow God to use our solitary seasons to deepen our understanding of Him, it can serve as amazing preparation for ministry and leadership in the future.
When the Apostle Paul was first called into ministry, God led him to spend several years in a lonely, out-of-the-way place in order to prepare him for the enormous responsibility of building the early Church. (See Galatians 1:17.) And before Moses was ready to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, he spent decades in a remote part of the desert, isolated from his people. Both men needed that undistracted season of being alone with God in order to prepare for the incredible spiritual weights they would be called to carry in the future.
Elisabeth Elliot once made the statement, “Loneliness is a required course for leadership.” I have certainly found that to be true in my own life.
During the time when it seemed like Eric and I had very few true friends, I began to see how God was using that isolated and lonely season to equip us for spiritual leadership. My loneliness in that time provided an amazing opportunity to learn how to stand strong in my convictions, regardless of whether others stood with me or not. The false accusation and criticism we experienced, as well as the disregard of people who felt our message of complete surrender to Christ was too extreme, reminded us that being reviled for the sake of the Gospel is an honor and privilege. As Jesus said, “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake” (Matt. 5:11).
God used that season to teach us how to stand firmly for truth whether we were applauded or rejected. And several years later when our discipleship ministry began, I saw the brilliance of God in walking us through that lonely season.
When you are isolated or separated from others for a season, ask God to use your loneliness to deepen your understanding of who He is and prepare you to stand boldly for His truth, even if you are the only one standing.
Remember that God doesn’t intend to keep us isolated forever. In His perfect timing, God put Paul into a position of leading churches and proclaiming the Gospel where he was constantly surrounded by loving brothers and sisters in Christ. And God built Moses into the respected leader of an entire nation.
God promises to take our pain and sorrow and creates beauty from ashes when we trust Him. (See Isaiah 61:3.) In my own life, I saw this principle prove true as His amazing redemption and restoration flowed out of that season of loneliness and isolation. One of our prayers was for loyal partners in the Gospel and a strong community of likeminded believers to surround us. In light of the isolation and rejection we were walking through, this felt like a nearly impossible prayer. And yet, He answered this desire exceedingly, abundantly beyond anything we could have hoped. It wasn’t but a couple of years later that I sat in our Ellerslie Chapel during a worship service, marveling at the hundreds of genuine, passionate, loyal, likeminded believers God had brought to us from all around the world. He had indeed created beauty from ashes.
He can do the same for you. Remember, we serve a God who loves to do exceedingly abundantly beyond all that we can ask or think. (See Ephesians 3:20–21.)
LONELINESS STRUGGLE #3
When You Are Single With a Desire to be Married
In her book, Tramp for the Lord, Corrie ten Boom wrote about a conversation that she had with a middle-aged single missionary who was lonely and extremely bitter about being single:
“One evening while we were alone in her little [home] she confessed her bitterness and resentment over being unmarried. ‘Why have I been denied the love of a husband, children, and a home? Why is it that the only men who ever paid any attention to me were married to someone else?’ Long into the night she poured out her poison of frustration … I looked across the little table at the bitter woman in front of me. Her face was furrowed, her eyes hard with resentment. I sensed she was trying to run away from her frustrations.”
This is a common story and maybe one that you can relate to. One of the reasons that being content in our single years is often difficult is because marriage is clearly a good gift from God, and the desire for marriage is something He created within us. So it’s easy to buy into the notion that something so right and God-ordained couldn’t possibly become a stumbling block of discontentment.
And yet, just as food is also a good and healthy gift from God, Paul learned to be content without it. (See Philippians 4:12.) And just as family bonds are a blessing from God, Jesus asked some of His disciples to follow Him without even stopping to tell their families goodbye. (See Luke 9:61–62.)
Surrender isn’t just about giving up the selfish, immoral vices in our lives, but also a willingness to lay down the good and perfect gifts that come from God — such as the desire for marriage, friends, family, and so on. Surrendering those good gifts doesn’t mean we will never have them, or that the desire for them is wrong. Rather, it means yielding them to God to do with as He sees fit without demanding them as our right or making our happiness conditional upon them.
Elisabeth Elliot explained it this way. “A good and perfect gift, these natural desires. But so much more the necessary that they be restrained, controlled, corrected, even crucified, that they might be reborn in power and purity for God.”
Corrie ten Boom contrasted the bitter missionary’s story to the beautiful example she’d seen in her traveling assistant, who was a single young woman in her thirties. “She is single, yet she has learned the secret of living a balanced life … she did not feel that God had called her to a single life, rather she felt that one day, in God’s time, she would marry. However, until that time arrived — one year or thirty years from then — I knew she was secure in Jesus and not looking to a husband or children for security.
Some modern Christian books have said that if we look to Christ for fulfillment in our single years, we are merely trying to over-spiritualize our singleness. But I don’t believe for a moment that finding our security and happiness in Christ is over-spiritualizing singleness. Rather, it’s applying the Gospel to singleness.
If you are frustrated with your singleness, I encourage you to take your desire for marriage to God and ask Him to fulfill that desire in His own perfect time and way. He is still in the business of writing beautiful love stories when we offer the pen to Him! But we must always remember, as Corrie ten Boom said, “Marriage is not the answer to unhappiness. Happiness can only be found in a balanced relationship with the Lord Jesus.”
Marriage and family are amazing gifts from God, but if we look to marriage as the secret to our happiness, we will always be disappointed. Human love will always fall short of the perfect satisfaction He can bring to our souls.
If you are in a single season, remember that He has a tremendous purpose for this time of your life — one that goes far beyond wishfully setting up online dating profiles and putting your life on hold until you finally meet the right guy.
Whether He calls you to a temporary season or a lifetime of singleness, you can rest assured that He will give you everything you need for perfect happiness when you put Him first.
One beautiful example of this is from the life of Amy Carmichael, a missionary to India in the early 1900s. As a young woman, Amy had a desire to be married, but felt that God had called her to a lifetime of singleness so she could give herself completely to mission work. She began to struggle greatly with the fear of loneliness. Finally, she decided to get alone with God and gain His perspective on what she was going through. Years later she wrote about that experience as an encouragement to several young women she was discipling:
“I went away alone to a cave in a mountain called Arima, in Japan. I felt many feelings of fear about the future. That was why I went there. I wanted to be alone with God. The devil kept on whispering, ‘It’s alright now, but what about afterwards? You are going to be very lonely.’ And he painted pictures of loneliness. I can see them still. Then I turned to my God in a kind of desperation and said, ‘Lord, what can I do?’ … And He said, ‘None of them that trust in Me shall be desolate’ (Psalm 34:22). That word has been with me ever since … It has been fulfilled to me. It will be fulfilled to you. Only live for Him who redeemed you and trust Him to take care of you, and He will.”
As one of her biographies states, Amy could not have known when she went away to that cave that the word “lonely” would never be used to describe her life! In the years to come, hundreds of Indian children would call her “Amma” (meaning mother) and many precious Indian women would count her as a dear sister. God indeed blessed her with a family. Although it was not the kind of family she had originally envisioned, it was beautifully fulfilling to her because she was in the center of His will.
When we lay our all on the altar, no matter how painful the process is, we can be confident that there are unspeakable treasures of joy awaiting us on the other side of the suffering, the waiting, and the surrender — whether that means marriage or a different fulfillment of our heart’s desires.
Our God can be implicitly trusted with every desire of our heart. As Amy Carmichael said, “It is a safe thing to trust Him to fulfill the desire that He creates.”
He is faithful.
LONELINESS STRUGGLE #4
When You Feel Overlooked and Excluded
It’s amazing how we can be in the midst of a crowd, or even surrounded by a group of fellow Christians, and still feel like an outsider. The enemy often plays upon our own insecurities and whispers lies in our ear, such as, “They don’t really care about you. They are not interested in your life. They wouldn’t even notice if you weren’t here.”
I’ve heard those lies more than once. Maybe you have, too. Whenever we begin to feel insecure, overlooked, or left out, we can respond in one of two ways. We can let those lies turn us inward and bait us toward sorrow, self-pity, or depression, or we can choose to rise above them and walk in truth, by the enabling grace of God. The truth is that we are loved and valued by the King of all kings. We are infinitely precious to Him. What a glorious reality.
Our confidence must come from knowing who we are in Christ. It should not be conditional upon how others treat us or whether they remember to show interest in us. This can be easier said than done, especially if you have a sensitive personality like I do. But here are two practical steps that have helped me when I am tempted to let my emotions spiral downward because of the insensitivity of others.
First, I remember who I am in Christ. I am a daughter of the King, redeemed by the precious blood of the Lamb, and His banner over me is love. I am part of His royal family. (See Psalm 45:11; Revelation 5:9; Song of Solomon 2:4; 1 John 3:1.) And when I walk in that reality, I am far more able to take the second practical step: turning outward. Building others up is a surprising solution to insecurity. Instead of wondering what people think of me, I become focused instead on how I can showcase the light and love of Christ to them.
Turning outward and blessing others never fails to uplift me emotionally and help me feel truly connected to the people around me. It is only possible to do this when we yield to the enabling grace of God. But when we allow His light to shine through us, loneliness is replaced by joy.
As a reminder — while loneliness is not typically God’s lifelong design for us, seasons of loneliness are a necessary part of following the Narrow Way of the Cross. So instead of seeing loneliness as a problem that needs to be avoided at all costs, let’s begin to see it for what it really is: an opportunity to grow closer to Christ than we ever thought possible.
Remember who our King really is — not a distant God who can’t relate to our struggles or meet our deepest needs, but the perfect fulfillment of every longing within our heart.
I’d like to finish with an amazing, scriptural reminder of who Jesus Christ is and who He wants to be in our lives. When we allow Him to be all these things to us, we’ll have a whole new perspective on seasons of loneliness!