by Joe Leavell
While the holidays hold so much hope and promise for so many, for others it is a time of year that they have been dreading. It’s not that they do not enjoy the spirit of charity and love that they find all around them, but it’s that this time of festivity reminds them just how alone they really feel.
Fresh are the memories of not just a table filled with an overabundance of food, but also surrounded by the laughter, joy, and companionship of family. At one time, this used to be the place for years of family gatherings with children and then grandchildren who would run and play without care or worry. No longer. There are no celebrations to look forward to this year. The house will be eerily quiet, the table bare, and a feeling of unending emptiness will only be more pronounced.
For others, this is a time where they cannot escape their own faults or the failings of one whom they trusted with their heart. There is no longer an invitation to the dinner table because of broken relationship. The heartache of rejection that agonizes their senses is temporarily stuffed down deep through dinner for the sake of the children. Rushing to the bedroom, the raw memories of the happiness they once cherished finally give way as the tears begin to flow.
A Year Like No Other
Some have experienced this loneliness for ages and have becomes masters at successfully navigating their emotions. For others this year will be a new and terrifying experience. Compounded by a global pandemic that has affected all of us, virtually all our holiday traditions will be strangely different this year. Isolation will be the norm for a lot of families. While striving to make the best of things as we always do, there will be many who simply cannot escape the reality of a lonely heart that feels the separation from the ones they love.
Connecting with others through video technology can help ease the struggle for a brief time. However, the frustration of yet another conversation online rather than in person after months of isolation becomes even more gloomy.
Loneliness of Biblical Proportions
Being alone was first described negatively during the very days of Creation. Everything else that God had made He looked upon and declared them as “very good.” Created to reflect His relational God who was in complete joyful fellowship with Himself in the Trinity, God had not yet created a complementary companion for Adam to enjoy. Even before the Fall, God described Adam’s condition of aloneness by saying, “It is not good that the man should be alone.”
Think for a moment. Adam had pure fellowship with God Himself in the Garden of Eden and yet the lack of relationship with a compatible human was described as ‘not good.’ God creates for Adam a helper in His wife Eve. Humanity’s aloneness was not assuaged by God’s presence but by God’s provision. In this way, the relationship and fellowship that we yearn and long for is not in and of itself a sin but is there by God’s design. It is a gift that reflects our creation in the image of our relational God.
If you know the story, you know that the perfect fellowship did not long endure. Upon their sin, isolation and loneliness grew where their companionship lay in complete ruin. The following pages of Scripture contain story after story of God’s servants who suffered greatly and unjustly, expressing their despair of loneliness to God either directly or through poetry. From Joseph in the dungeons of Egypt to Jonah in the belly of the great fish, throughout the Bible you will see the loneliness of many prophets, widows, priests, and even kings. David was one such example who experienced the pain of isolation. Being driven out from the court of King Saul into the wilderness to escape with his life, he had many times where he felt the loneliness of the desert. In Psalm 25:16, he begs for God to be near him because he is, “lonely and afflicted.”
I Am With You
Running parallel to all these cries to God in their despair was God’s response. Listen to just a sampling of how He comforts His people:
“Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.” – Deut. 31:6
“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” – Psalm 23:4
“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” – Psalm 46:1
“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” – Isaiah 41:10
God has not left His people to complete isolation. He is a God who draws near to the brokenhearted. He is a God who rescues. In this way, He came to fix the problem and bore our loneliness and isolation as His own through Christ. Isaiah 53:3 describes the sacrifice of Jesus this way,
“He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.”
God the Son, who had eternal fellowship with the Father and Spirit, took our sin on the cross and for our sakes He cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Why did He do that? So that even in our moments of extreme isolation and loneliness, we know that God will always be with us. He is fixing our loneliness once and for all.
But I’m Still Lonely
Yet like Adam before Eve’s creation, God’s presence does not satisfy the design for human fellowship. The house is still empty. The days intended to be festive are still painful. So how does God’s presence help us in our pain? We are suffering through the absence of fellowship for which we were designed.
Unfortunately, many people look at those who are suffering the pains of loneliness and treat them as if they are being sinful to be in pain. They mean well, but the reality is that we were designed by God for human fellowship and its absence is a stark reminder of the fallen world in which we live. Loneliness is not sinful – it is the byproduct of living in a world of sin.
After the death of his wife, Joy, C.S. Lewis described his pain this way, “The death of a beloved is an amputation.” That about covers it, doesn’t it? A part of you will always be missing and it will always be painful this side of heaven.
This is exactly where we must look at the beauty of the Gospel in hope. For unbelievers, the reality of loneliness will only be complete in a Christless eternity. Yet, for those who know Jesus, the reality of the effects of sin and death cannot be blocked out by His power. Not even a global pandemic will be able to separate us from His love! This means that while the current realities of sin and suffering are real, we do not suffer as those who have no hope. In this way, that angst that you feel when you think of your loved one…that longing that you have for a table full of food, family, and laughter…all those things will be joyfully fulfilled at the Great Marriage Supper of the Lamb where we will feast together at the table of the King of Kings. What we would long for in the holidays is but a mere shadow of what will one day become our eternal reality in His presence.
What Do We Do Now?
But even the anticipation of heaven does not cure a lonely heart. They merely amplify the desire for our eternal home. So how do we make it through these holidays and times of loneliness? There are many passages of Scripture that give us a clue, but James 1:27 powerfully tells us,
“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”
Jesus came to rescue us from our sin and from death. He alone provided the cure for loneliness. As a reflection of His perfect gift, our call as believers is to reflect His love by being God’s tool for remembering those who are lonely and are experiencing the amputated loss of God’s good design.
To get intensely practical, call your mother or grandmother! Share time with those who do not have family nearby. Remember those who lost a loved one or who can’t be with their loved ones this year. Call them and remind them that they are not alone and that you care. Don’t just send a text, but maybe even do a video call with someone who you know is struggling with loneliness and remind them that someone cares. In this way, we as believers reflect the Gospel by providing a haven of fellowship in a community of believers who long for heaven.
Even so come, Lord Jesus.
Until that day, the greatest cure for the lonely is provided by God through the Church who seek to help the afflicted. Biblical Counseling of Arizona is equipped by skillfully trained counselors to help provide support to you as you struggle through this season. If you would like to talk with someone about your loneliness and have someone sit with you and care for your heart, please connect with us today. We are here to help!
For Further Reading:
Must I Thank God for My Heartache This Thanksgiving? – By Joe Leavell
Created to Draw Near – by Ed Welch