One of the deepest forms of loneliness creeps in when you least expect it: when others surround you.
Have you ever experienced this ache in your spirit?
Maybe you’ve been at a party, swirls of laughter and conversation mingling around you, but you felt a bit outside the fray. Or perhaps you attended a reunion with friends or family, but left feeling like those closest to you didn’t understand you as much as you’d hoped.
Loneliness is an ache to be seen, understood, and loved.
And when loneliness wraps its tendrils around you, it’s suffocating.
Recent studies show that one in two Americans report struggling with loneliness, to the point that the U.S. Surgeon General called loneliness an “epidemic.”
I’m in a season of caring for young kids, and while I rarely have a moment alone, I’ve experienced deep loneliness. (I don’t recommend scrolling social media when you feel lonely – the false connections only exacerbate the lies. And oh, how loneliness lies to us.)
Maybe you’ve heard these lies, too:
- Nobody else feels this way.
- I’m worth ignoring.
- Nobody really cares or understands me.
- If I were more ____, I wouldn’t feel so lonely.
When I feel the weight of feeling forgotten, of wondering if my place in this world matters to others, it’s easy to experience a cascade of lies.
I begin to believe I’m the only one carrying the weight of loneliness. I’m the only one on the outside looking in. This snowballs into other struggles: inadequacy, insecurity, and insignificance.
The biggest lie loneliness tells is that you’re the only one. But everyone – and I mean everyone – has felt lonely: The sister with the picture-perfect Facebook is going through a divorce and feels like the only one with no one to come home to. The highly-successful coworker is drinking too much and wonders if she is the only one who feels so lonely. The pastor is holding deep doubts and feels like a fraud.
Loneliness is often unseen. And it festers in the darkness.
I’ll be honest: I’ve struggled to name my loneliness because it leaves me vulnerable.
What if I tell someone that at a place I was supposed to feel happy, I felt lonely instead? Will they judge me? Will they say it’s my fault for feeling lonely while surrounded by other people? Will they say other people have it worse? Or that maybe I feel lonely because deep down, something is wrong with me?
I wish I had an antidote to the loneliness epidemic. Unfortunately, I’m no spiritual pharmacist. I have no magic potions to fix our souls.
But I do know that I can quiet the lies that swarm my spirit with two things: honesty and hope.
First, I have to be honest. I have to be vulnerable with myself, God, and maybe another person. I have to name the loneliness: When I was at dinner with those friends, I felt lonely. I felt like I didn’t belong.
Loneliness does not last forever. When you name your loneliness, it begins to lose power. Does this mean your loneliness is instantly cured? No. But you can call it for what it is and move through it with hope.
We combat the lies of loneliness with hard-won honesty and stubborn hope.
So, name your loneliness. And then remind yourself that the lies of loneliness don’t get the final say:
“I’m lonely, but…”
- …this feeling won’t last forever.
- …everyone feels lonely sometimes.
- …even when I don’t feel like it, I matter.
- …my Father in Heaven isn’t ambivalent about my existence.
- …Jesus understands feeling misunderstood.
- …the Spirit of God is with me.
- …I’m surrounded by love, and I’m called beloved.
When we remember that feeling lonely is normal – but we don’t have to succumb to the lies of loneliness – we can begin to see through the fog.
Loneliness is linked to our sense of belonging. But the truth is that we belong to God. And despite all our messiness and imperfection, we find our belonging in each other, too.
When I’m lonely, I don’t always know what to pray. But I don’t have to have the words, nor do you. We can borrow this short prayer from Psalm 25:16:
“Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted.”
When loneliness lies to you, remember that God is with you, that feeling lonely is normal, and that this season won’t last forever. May your experiences in loneliness grow empathy and compassion in you. And may we remember that even though life is infinitely complicated, we are better together.
(If you get the inkling that you’re feeling more than loneliness and experiencing deeper depression or feelings of worthlessness, talk to your doctor or a licensed counselor. You don’t have to power through this alone.)