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Some of these thoughts first came to me through my pastors. You’re welcome to listen to these sermons on loneliness.
There is an aspect of loneliness that is in all our lives. Since the fall of Adam, we’ve tucked part of our lives away from community scrutiny, as we shield ourselves from our internal shame and the potential hurt that we fear from others. The unintended consequences of hiding behind our “fig leaves” (Genesis 3:6-7) is that we don’t just feel alone, but we’re lonely.
This idea of being alone, as in not having a peer-group is a real problem in our lives. We should never diminish or talk negatively about someone longing for others who are like them, with whom they can relate. You find this problem of being alone in some churches among teenagers, for example. Or perhaps you have one or two “twenty-something singles” or an elderly person who are alone. The teen, twenty-something, and elderly person wants to relate to someone like them.
A knee-jerk response is to admonish these folks by telling them to make friends with those who are not like them. And while there is a “gospel aspect” to reaching out to those who are not like you, it is shortsighted to make these lonely people feel bad because they want to relate to someone with similarities.
Perhaps you have traveled to a foreign country and felt what it was like to be the “only one like you.” Then you ran into another tourist who speaks your language. It does not matter where that person lives or the fact that you have no clue who the person is. The only thing that matters is that they speak your language; you have something in common.
We all should desire community, and having things in common is a great way to build a relationship. Most marriages begin this way—with things in common that form the foundation that leads to a stronger bond. Virtually, every new couple begins their relationship because of their commonality, not their diversity. And as they build on the “common things,” they can work through their differences.
Being alone and seeking “like-kind” makes sense and does not communicate that there is something wrong with you. Conversely, there is an upside to being by yourself. Jesus liked being alone at times, and in the right situation, you should pursue aloneness so you can spend time with the Lord.
A desire to disconnect from others so you can seek rest for your soul to focus on your relationship with God is biblical. We call this “God and I time,” and it’s the most beautiful and precious way a person can be alone. Instructively, if you can’t be alone, you have a problem with loneliness, which is different from being alone.
I asked a friend if she could drive from work to home in quietness. I knew what her response would be, but I wanted her to bring it up so we could start a conversation about her troubled soul. She said animatedly, “No, I would never do that. I always have the radio blaring on the way home!” My friend had a troubled soul.
If you’re having soul trouble, you will struggle with loneliness. Your conscience (inner voice) will not permit you to have peace. You, like my peaceless friend, will have to live in constant distraction because the noise of quietness is too much for your soul. You will never want to be alone because the “loudness of loneliness” has a grip on your mind.
(An excellent assignment to defeat the problem of loneliness is to spend a few weeks studying my three-part series on communication. I have linked those articles at the top of these Show Notes.)
Loneliness always attaches itself to our inherent, Adamic shame, guilt, and fear. I call this our “Adamic constellation of sins” that came on the heels of Adam’s unbelief in Genesis 3:6-12. The gospel teaches us that we have nothing to fear, to hide, or to protect. But when we do fear or desire to hide or wish to protect something, the gospel is not our freedom (Galatians 5:1), and there is the problem of sin interfering with our shalom.
Loneliness is peace disrupted, and the only thing that can interrupt our shalom is the power of sin. The sin that I’m talking about could be overt sins that you’re actively committing or the result of horrific shaping influences from your past. Regardless of the type of sin or how it happened to you, it’s keeping you crouched behind your “fig leaves of shame,” which is why you feel loneliness.
This “barrier of fig leaves” keeps you lonely. You have nobody to share your “complete self” with, which is the antidote to loneliness. Think about Adam after he sinned; he put on fig leaves, which placed him in isolation, even though he was with Eve. He wasn’t alone because he was with Eve. But he was lonely because there was a barrier between him and the two other relationships in his life—God and Eve.
There can be multiple reasons why a person hides behind their fig leaves. Permit me to provide you with three examples:
Passive Sin – Passive sin is not you actively sinning but being the recipient of another person’s sinful ways. Children with a mean or distant parent will struggle with loneliness. The child will interpret the parent’s anger as “hating on them” and they will dump guilt and shame on themselves, which can tempt the child to “turn inward,” always hiding by the disgrace that parent placed on them.
The distant parent can have a similar effect. It’s not that the parent was hateful overtly, but the parent’s passivity or inaction communicates the message of “I’m not interested in you.” And the child will interpret that attitude as, “something is wrong with me,” which builds an arsenal of shame in their souls. These people will struggle with shame, worry, fear, and anxiety, which keeps them captured by loneliness.
Active Sin – This result of willful sin should be apparent. These active sins in our lives are the ones that we define as the most shameful; it can be different for each individual. We also call them secret sins, which is why we can feel alone.
The problem is that we don’t want to tell others how we struggle, so we keep our “secret sin” to ourselves, which layers our souls with fig leaves. The result is loneliness.
Introspective Personality – Some people are more introverted than extroverted. The Lord has given them the gift of reflection and introspection. Of course, as with all our talents, there is a “backside liability.” Unguarded strength is a double weakness, and the person with the gift of introspection can easily get lost inside their head.
Thoughtful, reflective, and introspective people have a hard time taking their thoughts captive. The temptations to over-think or over-worry are strong. Their processor is always humming, and as it hums along, sin will attach itself to some of their thoughts. They can feel deep loneliness inside their minds.