I was sitting with an old lady in her hospital room after she had surgery. My role was to discuss with her if she would manage at home alone when she left rehab. She was 82 years old and lived alone. We began discussing her life. She talked about her family, her friends, her hobbies and her past. She mentioned that she is a bit of an introvert, and doesn’t like to be around a lot of people, “I enjoy my own company” she said. I get that. I’m an introvert, I love my space and time away from people to refresh and recharge. Then she said something that has stuck with me. “You know there is a big difference between being alone, and being lonely”. She continued on with the conversation like her comment meant nothing, but I couldn’t get it out of my head.
Then she said something that has stuck with me.
“You know there is a big difference between being alone, and being lonely”.
These past 18 months have felt incredibly lonely. My husband and I left our jobs at the same time. My husband was a pastor, and this meant leaving our church and in turn, our community. We went from being known, loved and accepted within our community, to feeling isolated, nervous and insecure as we attempted to find community elsewhere. This was a harder process than we originally thought. I no longer had a group of people asking how I was, how they could pray for me and whether I wanted to have a coffee. Instead I was pushing myself outside my comfort zone talking to anybody I could in an attempt to make new friends. I was no longer known and accepted and this resulted in me feeling incredibly lonely.
In the midst of my own wrestle with loneliness I was confronted with this lady’s words. Why did this statement hit me so hard? Yes, I felt lonely and believed that this feeling of loneliness was a result of being alone and I felt justified. However, the more I thought about this, the more I was challenged as I dwelled on it in light of the Gospel.
Being alone is a physical reality, while loneliness is not…
Being alone is the absence of another. You go for a walk alone. You cook dinner alone. You have a long day at work and you just want to go home and be alone. You go to a party alone.
Being alone is not a ‘bad’ thing, and can be at times a desired thing. Jesus himself would often withdraw to be alone and pray (Matthew 14:23, Mark 6:46, Luke 6:12, Mark 1:35, Luke 5:16, Matthew 26:39-44). When we choose to be alone, the subsequent feelings might be peace, joy or relaxation. However, there are times when we are alone not by choice, and the feelings that accompany this are not often desirable and negatively impact us. Loneliness is one of those feelings.
Loneliness is a resulting experience of a person feeling sad and unhappy when socially isolated. Loneliness can result when you breakup with a partner, change friendship groups, not being invited to a party or someone close to you dies. We have all experienced loneliness, and it’s never a feeling we want to stay around very long.
The problem with loneliness
It is okay to feel lonely. It reveals in us that we desire connection with others. We want to feel known and accepted. However, the danger of staying in isolation is that we let those feelings of loneliness ruminate and develop into something more toxic. When we feel lonely, we can be flooded with various thoughts about ourselves and why we are feeling lonely. We can feel rejected, unloved, useless, forgotten, sad, angry and frustrated. We begin to believe thoughts that we don’t deserve to be loved – this is inherently the problem with loneliness. Not that we get lonely, but what we let feelings of loneliness develop into.
2 Corinthians 10:5 tells us to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ”. When you feel lonely, don’t dwell, don’t let it ruminate, submit it to Christ. Challenge those feelings of loneliness with the truth of Scripture. Avoid letting the feelings of loneliness spiral into a pit of regret and depression.
As a follower of Jesus: You are never alone
The beautiful truth is for those of us who choose to accept and follow Jesus Christ, we are never alone. We have been given Holy Spirit to live within us. No longer do God’s people have to go to the temple to be with the presence of God, but he has chosen to dwell within us. In John 14:15-21 Jesus tells us,
“If you love me, keep my commands. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. 18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will realise that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. 21 Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”
We are completely seen, completely known, and completely accepted by God. There may be times when we are physically alone in relation to other people, and this can begin to spark in us feelings of loneliness. But, when those times arise remind yourself of the truth of the Gospel. You are never alone! Come to Jesus in your loneliness, allow him to comfort you, to give you peace and reveal the truth about who he is.
But when those times arise remind yourself of the truth of the Gospel. You are never alone.
My patient was right. There is a difference between being alone and loneliness. As followers of Jesus we are never alone therefore, when we experience feelings of loneliness, we can remind ourselves of the truth. Loneliness is a feeling, it’s not a true statement about who you are, it merely reflects how I am feeling. Don’t let your loneliness consume you.