Purpose in Loneliness
People. Sometimes it seems they are impossible to live with. Yet, even amid our frustrations with people, we still crave camaraderie and a place of belonging. Certain ones may drive us so nuts that the life of hermitage begins to look appealing! But the thought of life alone sparks an ache, the ache of the soul that we call “loneliness.”
I remember when my husband and I moved to a new town: new surroundings, new church, new work. We knew no one and deep pain came in the moments we felt no one cared to know us. Buying a new home brought a flurry of junk mail from venders all vying for our business. The only problem was that our name was misspelled. Our name is Loper. But for years we received mail for The Leper Family! Yes, funny on the one hand, but amplifying those lonely feelings on the other hand. It felt that we were the lepers and no one wanted anything to do with us.
Seasons of loneliness come to most lives. And there is value to be found in a season of loneliness if we are willing to mine it out.
Clearly, isolation is a bad idea. I’m not advocating it. Proverbs 18:1 says, “Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment.” We need community. We need to find our tribe, our traveling companions in life. One of the enemy’s main tactics is to get us isolated from the protective accountability and encouragement of a like-minded group so he can pick us off. Nevertheless, times of loneliness come and what we learn in those times shapes our relationship with God and causes us to recognize the true value of community once we find it again.
So, if you’re mining for gold in the mine of your lonely season, what should you be looking for amid the unpleasantness?
Total Dependence on God
We may think we need something other than what God offers, but at our core, we need God. If we aren’t careful, friendships that are intended to be a refreshing drink of water to our souls, may morph from being what we’re grateful for to what we’re grateful to. Oftentimes, God will allow the refreshment of diversions to dry up. It is not because He is selfish or doesn’t want us to have good things, but because He knows that foundational truth better than we ever will: We need God. He would be an unloving Father if He allowed our core need to be gratified in anything less than Himself. He knows we’ll be unshakeable once we are founded on Him.
Loneliness was never intended to teach us that we don’t need people. Instead we are invited into the truth that people are gifts from God. But our dependence is on God. He’ll never let us down. Psalm 27:10 begins with a statement of utter dejection: “My father and my mother have forsaken me,” but it ends with the ultimate reassurance of, “but Yahweh will take me in.” Loneliness is the opportunity to let the truth penetrate deeply into your heart that when the worst happens, when those who should love you reject and abandon you, you are never alone. The Lord will take you into His house and you will be His.
God Knows Who We Need
What do you need in a friendship? Surrendering to the lessons of loneliness allows the Lord to bring the right people in your life at the right time. It releases us from the inward desperation that lures us into settling for less than God’s best, but it also brings us to the humble place of not demanding perfection from people.
We cannot expect people to meet needs in our lives that only God can and should meet. Loneliness has the power to prepare us for the friends God has for us and it prepares us to be the people our future friends need. Only when your foundation is established in God’s love can you properly receive and give love.
Be a Friend
What if one of your purposes in life is not to soar, but to make others soar? What if you brought someone else out of obscurity to the place God has created for them? Wouldn’t that be a magnificent calling? Yet, many are caught up in making sure they get what they need. They don’t see the glory in being what someone else needs. Are there any people left who are willing to be an Aaron alongside a Moses, a Barak alongside a Deborah, a Barnabas alongside a Paul? It reminds me of Jesus speaking of how great John the Baptist was and then reminding us that there are those who are greater: the nameless. Jesus said, “’I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John; yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he’” (Luke 7:28).
Think of Barnabas, which means, "son of encouragement." He took Paul, taught him the ropes, defended him before the disciples who were still afraid of him (Acts 9:27), and mentored him in the ministry. Later the phrase "Barnabas and Saul" is exchanged for "Paul and Barnabas" showing Paul's greater role. But we see no bitterness on the part of Barnabas, only a continuation to love, support and encourage others. Barnabas even makes it his mission to go after poor John Mark, the missionary who had been written off as a failure. Barnabas would not let him stay stuck in his failure, but encouraged him to greatness as well.
The seasons of loneliness punctuating my life have been filled with more blessings than pains. But it required adjusting my perspective to see through eyes that saw the bigger picture and were willing to surrender to bigger plans. Seen through these eyes, loneliness can fulfill a purpose.
“God settles the solitary in a home.” (Psalm 68:6)