Do you ever feel intense loneliness? Like you’re the only person in the world who’s fighting the battles you face?
It happens often and it’s a self-reinforcing cycle. When you feel lonely you don’t want to reach out or acknowledge the problems you face, and, as a result, you think you’re alone.
For example, I’m in a couple of different men’s prayer groups. I appreciate it when someone boldly shares that they struggle to manage alcohol or some other addiction. It makes it acceptable for others to admit the same struggle. Suddenly the shame, isolation, and the power of the addiction can be broken.
But it’s not instantaneous and the deeper the feelings of isolation and loneliness the longer the path to recovery.
Dangers of loneliness
Researchers at the National Institute for Aging (NIA) have linked “loneliness and social isolation to higher risks for a variety of physical and mental conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease, a weakened immune system, depression, cognitive decline, and even death.”
Researchers in Europe have found that certain conditions make the dangers of loneliness even worse. For example, working remotely, being unemployed, living alone, and certain personality types.
In both research studies, gratitude was identified as a strongly beneficial remedy. When done in the context of community, the benefits increase even more.
Gratitude in community combats loneliness
In the Bible, we see that thankfulness is meant to be expressed in the context of community. Many of the psalms talk about giving thanks in the great assembly. For instance, Psalm 35:18 (NIV): “I will give you thanks in the great assembly; among the throngs I will praise you.”
In Colossians, Paul calls us to be thankful right after telling us live together in peace:
“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful” (Col. 3:15 NIV).
Our need for community
The story is told about a member of a Scottish church who hadn’t attended church for awhile. The pastor decided to pay him a visit. On a chilly evening the pastor found the man alone at home, sitting before a blazing fire. The man welcomed him and led him to a comfortable chair near the fire.
The pastor silently contemplated the flames as they danced around the burning logs. After a few minutes, he took the tongs, picked up a burning ember, and placed it to one side of the fireplace, away from the other embers. Then he sat back down and continued to watch in silence. The host observed with quiet fascination. They both studied the lonely ember as it lost its flame and slowly died.
As the pastor stood to leave, he picked up the cold, dead ember and placed it back in the middle of the fire. Immediately it began to blaze, warmed by the burning embers around it. Though a word had not been spoken, the man told the pastor, “Thank you for the sermon, pastor. I’ll see you in church next Sunday.”
Loneliness abounds in the church
Church can be one of the loneliest places on Sunday. When you’re struggling with feelings of depression or shame, the tendency is to run away. While church should be the safest place on the planet, our experience might cause us to fear telling anyone about our weaknesses.
God makes us a promise. In Hebrews 13:5 he says, “I will never leave you or forsake you” (NIV). In fact, God promises to dwell with us. The Hebrew word shakan means to dwell, or to settle down. David says,
“Remember your congregation, which you have purchased of old,Psalm 74:2 (NIV)
which you have redeemed to be the tribe of your heritage!
Remember Mount Zion, where you have dwelt.”
I recently stopped by to pick up a book from our friend, Becky. She took the time to talk and in the course of our conversation she said, “Phil, I believe God wants me to tell you something. He wants you to know that you’re smarter than you think you are.”
Those words were timely for me, and it reminds me of how important it is for us to actually talk with each other. I could have picked up the book without ever speaking with her, but I’m so grateful she answered the door. Because she was willing to listen for God’s voice and speak, I received great encouragement.
Question: What would it look like for you to stop long enough to see how God might want to speak through you?
Acceptance replaces loneliness
Can you imagine being rejected by your parents? We’ve seen the news stories of babies left on the doorsteps of the local fire station. While we don’t know the circumstances, I’m certain those children feel rejected when they learn what happened.
David promises this to all those who feel rejected, “Even if my father and mother abandon me, the Lord will hold me close” (Ps. 27:10 NLT).
It’s a lot easier to give thanks when you feel accepted and like you belong. If you’re feeling alone today, know that God accepts you just as you are.
Grief and loneliness
When we lose a loved one or watch a chapter in life end, we can feel alone as the world keeps racing while it seems time crawls to a halt for us. Paul reminds us, “God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us” (2 Cor. 1:3-4 NLT).
Even in the darkest moments in our lives, we can remain grateful as God stands with us to comfort and encourage us.
Jesus experienced the ultimate loneliness
Before Jesus died on the cross he cried out, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” (Matthew 27:46 NLT). In order to bear the full penalty of our sin, Jesus was cut off from the Father so that the full fury of God’s wrath might fall on him.
In other words, Jesus experienced a loneliness that believers will never have to face. While that may sound theoretical, what it means is that Jesus understands loneliness more deeply than we ever will. That makes his promise to always be with us even more profound (Mt. 28:20).
3 ways to fight off loneliness with gratitude
#1: Pray thankfully. Talk to the Father and receive his comfort and encouragement. Thank him for specific ways you’ve seen him move. Maybe for a recent sermon or for a sunrise or for a kindness received.
#2: Sing songs of gratitude. I compiled this playlist, but I encourage you to discover a song or two that remind you of reasons to be thankful. If you want one that will make your foot tap, try “How Can I Thank You Enough”:
#3: Send someone a thank you card.
Choose one of the three ways above to communicate your thanks today.
Jesus, thank you for experiencing the loneliness of the cross and grave so that I will never be truly alone. Father, I thank you for your promise to never leave or abandon me. I pray you would connect me with other believers who love you and encourage me. Use me to encourage them. Keep training me to be grateful. I pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.