“Think of Lottie Moon of China, Malla Moe and Mary Slessor of Africa, Ida Scudder and Amy Carmichael of India - single women, all of them, lonely women, no doubt. But their loneliness accepted meant life for thousands.” -Elisabeth Elliot, The Path of Loneliness
In part 1 (“The Pain of Loneliness”), we established that singles are not the only ones who deal with loneliness, but the above quote from Elisabeth Elliot is one of my favorites because it highlights what Christ can do with our self-sacrifice. I’ve read biographies of Lottie Moon and Amy Carmichael, and before the age of Internet, airplanes, and even indoor toilets, these ladies gave up a comfortable life in the West to head to Eastern lands as missionaries. Both of them spent years in their respective countries and even died there. They gave up marriage and modern comforts, leaving behind their family and friends. You know they had to have faced loneliness as they learned new languages and customs.
Yet they counted the cost and knew that Christ was the worth the cost. He was worth their loneliness and their singleness. He was worth the inconveniences that they faced. He’s worth it. And God used their sacrifice - their loneliness accepted - to spread the gospel.
A few years ago, God impressed upon me that sometimes He calls us to sacrifice what we have, and other times, He calls us to sacrifice what we don’t have but want. While we do not know what God will do with our offering, we have to trust His goodness and His plan, even if that means we do not get what we want. When God’s sovereignty conflicts with your desires, will you trust God or pursue your desires?
What do you want to result from your loneliness?
When you think about your own loneliness, have you ever thought what you want the fruit of your loneliness to be? Usually, we’re just thinking about how to make the loneliness end, but what if, instead, we thought about how God wants to use it? Your loneliness can be life-giving to others and catalytic in your own relationship with God, but it all depends on what you choose to do with your loneliness. And I can tell you that if you choose to become inwardly focused and absorbed with your own pain, you will only cultivate misery in your life.
Loneliness isn’t just a condition to be endured. So what can you do when you feel lonely? How can you address loneliness? What’s a godly response to the emotion?
“Our loneliness cannot always be fixed, but it can always be accepted as the very will of God for now, and that turns it into something beautiful. Perhaps it is like the field wherein lies the valuable treasure. We must buy the field. It is no sun-drenched meadow embroidered with wildflowers. It is a bleak and empty place, but once we know it contains a jewel the whole picture changes. The empty scrap of forgotten land suddenly teems with possibilities. Here is something we cannot only accept, but something worth selling everything to buy. In my case, ‘selling everything’ meant giving up the self-pity and the bitter questions. I do not mean we are to go out looking for chances to be as lonely as possible. I am talking about acceptance of the inevitable. And when, through a willed act we receive this thing we did not want, then Loneliness, the name of the field nobody wants, is transformed into a place of hidden treasure” (Elisabeth Elliot, The Path of Loneliness).
Go to God with it.
The Psalmist had no qualms into letting God know exactly how he felt. The Psalms are raw expressions of faith, often in the “I believe; help my unbelief” category. I think one of the many reasons why God included this book in the Bible is to let us know that He wants our honesty. He already knows what we think and how we feel, so put it out there and lay it before Him. It’s an expression of faith just to bring your loneliness to God.
Avoid giving into self-pity, bitterness, and envy.
We know these things aren’t good for us, so why do we indulge in them? They don’t make our loneliness better; quite the opposite, in fact. Self-pity, bitterness, and envy just makes it worse! So stop feeding the beast here! How do you do this? That leads to the next point…
Express thankfulness to God.
Take stock of what you have to be thankful for - the small things as well as big things. Identifying what we have to be thankful for and expressing that gratitude to God is one positive thing we can do when we’re tempted to wallow in self-pity or be bitter or envy someone.
Maybe it’s because I’m a Southerner, but my parents reinforced the need to say “please” and “thank you.” Even though we’ll use these phrases of courtesy with others, how often do we use them with God? It reminds me of the story from Luke 17 when Jesus heals the ten lepers but only one out of the ten actually returned to Jesus to give Him thanks. Do we return to Jesus to praise and thank Him for what He’s done and for the prayers He has answered? I wonder if sometimes our lack of gratitude hinders our prayers.
Continue in faithfulness.
The things that the Lord lays out in Scripture and has commanded - walk in them. Do them. If your heart isn’t in it, confess that to God and ask Him to help your heart get in line. But continue to obey the Word and to spend time reading it and meditating on it. It’s discipline that fuels passion. Discipline in the Word because I can’t love someone I don’t know, and Scripture is the primary way I get to know God.
Be alert to how loneliness can trigger temptation.
Satan looks for areas of weakness that he can exploit. Plus, we battle our own flesh and sinful desires. When we feel lonely, we shouldn’t be surprised when temptation arises. Temptation to despair. Temptation to masturbate. Temptation to run towards unhealthy relationships. Temptation to be angry at God. Temptation to become discontent. Be aware, and be praying. In Ephesians 6:18 after Paul describes the armor of God, he urges believers to pray “at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints.” If we’re praying, we’re keeping alert. If we’re keeping alert, we’re praying. As Jesus told the disciples at Gethsemane, “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matt. 26:41).
In the hymn “O Love That Will Not Let Me Go,” George Matheson writes:
“O Love that will not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee;
I give thee back the life I owe,
That in thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be.”
Do you trust that the ocean depths will flow richer and fuller if you surrender your loneliness to Him? Will you trust Him with your loneliness? Will you allow Him to yield fruit from the pain of your loneliness? Actually, there will be fruit of your loneliness either way, but you have a choice as to what type of fruit you want to reap and result (Rom. 8:5-6; Gal. 6:7-8). So what will you choose?