Doomed to Loneliness, or Freed by Loneliness?

The source of loneliness

Loneliness is one of the worst emotions that humans experience. It is suffocating, it is demoralizing, and, at its worst, can shove a person over the brink to suicide. No wonder we try to avoid it at all costs, and desire that our loved ones never encounter it!

But what if we realized it were a gift from God Himself because He desires to give us something really precious?

Before you think I’m totally nuts and stop reading, please give me a chance to explain.

I want to be clear that I don’t believe God created loneliness. In fact, I believe He never intended for us to ever experience it. He created us to experience and live in relationship that completely obliterates loneliness.

But we don’t. We live in a fallen condition in which our eyes are veiled from seeing our Heavenly Father’s face, and in a fallen world in which imperfect relationships fall short of meeting our needs for connection, love, and affirmation.

To add insult to injury, we live among people – even fellow Christians – who believe the essence of a person’s existence is based on a connection to someone else. When that doesn’t happen, especially in a romantic sense, not only is loneliness difficult to bear, others’ negative assessments and perceptions of us – even pity – add to that difficulty.

And so we paste on smiles and act as though we are completely satisfied with our lives to avoid the stigma of being lonely singles. The secret is, it’s not just singles who do this. Loneliness is not a respecter of persons, and just as many married people experience loneliness as singles. After all, they live in this fallen world with us, with imperfect spouses who aren’t equipped to fill their needs for connection, love, and affirmation.

lonely man

Before we can find any relief from the harsh grip of loneliness, it’s important we realize that circumstances do not determine loneliness. The prospect of an evening at home alone may be relished by one person, for instance, and dreaded by another.

Loneliness itself is a feeling that results from something else. While it may seem to be from external circumstances, in reality the culprit is from within. Mostly it is from perspective, based on an interpretation of our circumstances, not from reality. We allow our value to be determined by our connection – or lack of it – to another person, rather than being confident in our intrinsic value given by God Himself, completely separate from anyone else.

So what is this precious gift I referred to earlier? I believe one of the reasons God allows us to experience loneliness is to give us a deeper connection with Him. It’s often in the vacuum of human relationships that we experience the reality of our Heavenly Father present with us – as real as any human in physical form would be. When we are so consumed with human relationships,  all the “noise” of our social connections drowns out His voice and hides Him from us.

As a four-year-old who watched her baby sister choke to death, I learned the harsh reality that anyone could be taken from me at any time and without warning. I feared my mother’s death like no child should ever fear, and carried a form of that fear into adulthood. I couldn’t fathom a world without my mother to phone when I was far away,  and to hug when I was near.

When that fear became reality, I experienced the greatest gift I’ve ever received. I now know the realness of my Heavenly Father’s constant presence. While I’d always had a relationship with Him, it has became more real. I hear His voice. I know His affirmation and feel His delight. He’s revealed His purpose for me and I feel fulfillment as I pursue it. He met me right in the vacuum of a human relationship I’d held to tightly from age four!

That is the precious gift God wants to give to each of His children – a real relationship with Him that meets our deepest needs for connection, love, and affirmation. I’m not saying one has to experience loneliness or the loss of a loved one to find that relationship. But loneliness, perhaps more than anything else, can drive us to Him.

Allowing loneliness to point us to abundant life in Jesus

Just before Moses died he stood before the Israelites and gave them a choice – life or death, blessing or curse. If they followed God, they would experience life and blessing. If they pursued other gods, they would find death and curse.

As we experience loneliness we have a choice. Will we keep wallowing in the curse of loneliness and allow it to take us down a slippery slope to death? Or will we use that vacuum to drive us to a deeper relationship with our Heavenly Father, and experience His blessing of a purposeful and abundant life?

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Finding Peace When We Don’t Understand

Finding peace when we don't understand

I am analytical by nature. When it comes to figuring out how something works so I can use it, or getting to the root of a problem so I can move forward, that characteristic serves me well. But when it comes to finding answers to questions which have no complete answers, it costs me way too much time and energy.

Years ago after experiencing a relationship gone sour and trying to figure out why it happened, a wise person told me, “These things never have only one reason. Some parts we can figure out, others we never will.” I’ve thought of those words often. Realizing some questions have no humanly-known answers has relieved me of a lot of angst over the years.

But there’s another concept that has helped me even more. It is realizing that while God has given us freedom of choice, and our choices do have consequences, ultimately He determines the outcome. God can and does override our best efforts and redeem our worst mistakes to accomplish His purposes for us.

God is redemptive

Could God have redeemed the “mistakes” made in that relationship gone sour and kept it intact? Absolutely. But to accomplish His purposes for good in each of our lives and far beyond them, He chose not to. How do I know that? Because I know God has our good at heart (Romans 8:28-20) and His ways and purposes are higher than ours (Isaiah 55:9). We have every reason to trust that the outcome He determines is the best possible one. He knows the purpose for which He created us and is faithfully directing our steps accordingly. Our part is to trust Him and accept what He’s doing, even if we don’t understand.

The wisest man who ever lived said in Proverbs 20:24, “Since the Lord is directing our steps, why try to understand everything that happens along the way?”

I think of Job and his friends and their attempts to reconcile his godliness with his suffering. Unknown to all of them was what was happening in the spiritual realm, which, if they had known, would have answered their questions. What we know now that they didn’t, was that God had a purpose for it all that was greater than Job, his family, or his friends. In the end God blessed Job abundantly in spite of His seeming abandonment of him earlier.

While sometimes it seems God has abandoned us when life doesn’t go as we planned, if we but trust and wait, we too will see His faithfulness. It often comes in ways we had not envisioned. But we end up welcoming it with joy when we realize how it all fits into His purpose and plan for us.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding; think about Him in all your ways, and He will guide you on the right paths.” (Proverbs 3:5-6 HCSB)

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Removing the Hindrances from Singleness

Removing Hindrances

Many view singleness as a limitation rather than an advantage. I’d say it’s a fairly common perspective among Christians and non-Christians alike. It’s funny how we collectively forget that Jesus was single, and certainly nothing held Him back. And we forget that the second most prominent character of the New Testament was also single, the Apostle Paul, and it doesn’t appear singleness held him back. In fact, Paul made it clear in 1 Corinthains 7 that he found singleness preferable to marriage because it gave him the great opportunity to serve God without the distraction of a spouse.

This morning I was reading Paul’s travel plans in 1 Corinthians 16, which were obviously not set in stone:

I will come to you after I pass through Macedonia—for I will be traveling through Macedonia— and perhaps I will remain with you or even spend the winter, so that you may send me on my way wherever I go. I don’t want to see you now just in passing, for I hope to spend some time with you, if the Lord allows. But I will stay in Ephesus until Pentecost, because a wide door for effective ministry has opened for me

Note his terminology which indicates extreme freedom and flexibility: “perhaps I will remain or even spend the winter,” “wherever I go,” and “If the Lord allows.” It’s doubtful he would have had such flexibility in travel, or even the opportunity to travel at all, if he’d had the responsibility of a family. Singleness allowed him to introduce Jesus to people far and wide. And because of Paul’s extensive travels to share Jesus, Christianity spread to the Gentiles, which includes most of us reading this right now.

Last year a good friend of mine was going through Beth Moore’s study of 1 & 2 Thessalonians, Children of the Day, and she shared with me an excerpt:

“What if, instead of fixating on taking the hurt out of our hindrance, we prayed for God to take the hindrance out of our hurt?”

And then she listed several equations where “hindrance” is removed from the various types of hurts individuals experience. I’ll list the ones that most pertain to those of us who are single:

Heartbreak – hindrance = depth

Breakup – hindrance = breakthrough

Singleness – hindrance = a gospel globetrotter

Celibacy – hindrance = sexual purity

Childlessness – hindrance = mother of many (Isaiah 54:1-2)

Disappointment – hindrance = faith

My pain – hindrance = my passion

My life – the hindrance of all my hindrances = my God-ordained destiny

 

Pretty awesome, isn’t it, to be able to see the most difficult aspects of our lives in a new and positive light once we remove the hindrance aspect? It’s pretty powerful!

Paul was certainly the epitomy of a “gospel globetrotter.” His open-ended travel plans show evidence he had removed whatever hindrance he may have felt from his single status to share Jesus far and wide.

We miss out on so much when we fail to remove hindrances from our perspective. We feel “stuck” because of our singleness, because of our lack of education or finances, because of our personality, because of our parents’ health, because of our own health, and so forth. We say to ourselves, “I can’t do that because … “ and then we fill in the blank with what we perceive is a hindrance.

What if we removed the hindrance aspect from our perspective? What if we saw our lack of education or finances as a means of relating to those who won’t be intimidated by our “lack”? What if we saw our personality as how God strategically designed and equipped us to fulfill His specific purpose for us? What if we saw our parents’ need for us as an opportunity to serve them and relate to their friends, thus enriching our lives and theirs? What if we saw our health issues as a means of identifying with others, or as opportunity to spend time in prayer and develop deeper insights? What if we saw our singleness as a freedom to accomplish great things for Christ’s Kingdom?

What if?

The possibilities are endless when we remove perceived hindrances. God is bigger than any hindrance we have. Not just slightly bigger. Not just barely able to handle our hindrances. Immensely bigger. He is Sovereign over all. Can we trust Him to overcome our perceived hindrances and accomplish all He has created us to do?

What perceived hindrance is holding you back? What if you remove “hindrance” from the equation? What powerful freedoms and opportunities for good would result?

I’d love to hear your answers either in the comments below or by email. And if you’d like to have someone come alongside you and help you figure out what is holding you back, don’t forget about the coaching services Shari Baer is making available to us, which you can read more about here.

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It’s a Choice We Make: Coming to Terms with Singleness

By Fern Horst

Whether never-married, widowed or divorced, long-term singleness often comes as a surprise. Because few people expect to remain single or become single, it may take some time before many singles realize that they need to come to terms with their unmarried state. But just as anything we need to come to terms with, the sooner we start the process, the better.

I’d like to introduce you to three characters; though fictitious, they are quite representative of many Christian singles.

Tammy is an attractive and talented woman. At 45 she has never been married. It was deeply ingrained in her that she would grow up, get married, and become a mother. She was taught that God would give her the desires of her heart if she followed Him. She is now angry at God for not holding up His end of the bargain. She is so hurt that she finds it difficult to make any kind of effort to serve Him or to help others. Lately she’s been going out with men who aren’t Christians because she thinks she won’t ever get a Christian man anyway.

George is 31. He was married at 22 to his high school sweetheart. They had three beautiful children by the time they were 30, a big home in a nice neighborhood, and a successful career that would carry them well into the future, including retirement. Life was everything he’d dreamed it would be. That is, until last year, when his wife Lori was killed instantly in an awful automobile accident. Now he can’t imagine living the rest of his life without her and trying to raise three small children alone. He blames God for taking away what was most valuable to him and ruining his life. His friends and family notice that he is becoming more and more withdrawn and recently someone saw him in the local pub.

Heather’s husband abandoned her for another woman when she was 28, after nine years of difficult marriage. She had prayed fervently for the restoration of their marriage, desiring above all else to have a partnership with her husband in the Lord’s service. But instead, she is now a divorced woman. The first two years after Jim left she spent lots of time with the Lord and His Word. Now she feels ready to get involved in something that will help others. She wants to serve the Lord with her life, and do something that will count for eternity. Her friends have noticed that the twinkle has returned to her dark brown eyes and she seems to have an energy she hadn’t had for a long time.

These three fictional characters represent many who find themselves in situations they didn’t want. Deep disappointment and hurt is common to all three of them.

Tammy and George are not at all unusual in their responses to singleness. Given the fact that our society, churches, and families pretty much assume that everyone will marry, not to mention the impact of our own natural God-given desires, it’s certainly not unthinkable that those who find themselves single may struggle immensely with the unfulfillment of their expectations.

At 45 Tammy is now dealing with the finality of the fact that she will never give birth to her own children. Not only is she grieving the loss of being a wife, she is grieving the loss of her role as a mother also. We may wonder how people can grieve the loss of something they never had, but our dreams and hopes are a very real part of us. The realization that they may never come to pass is very much like losing an important part of our lives. George’s and Heather’s losses are more tangible, but no more or less painful than the type which Tammy is experiencing.

The grieving process for someone who is single can sometimes be lifelong. Hopes can be born and dashed repeatedly, and the grieving process repeats itself all over again. There are also stages to the grieving throughout life: grieving that one did not marry at the age others do; grieving that one does not have their spouse still with them at significant events in their lives; grieving that one did not have children when their friends did, or that their children will grow up without their mommy or daddy; grieving that at 30 one is not married, and also at 40, at 54, and at 78; grieving over not having grandchildren when one’s peers do or that one’s spouse isn’t there to enjoy them also; and the list goes on.

At the point of loss each person is faced with a choice: either to resist the acceptance of the loss and gradually become angry and bitter, or to accept the pain and the disappointment and ask God to turn it into something good. When people choose the first path, as Tammy and George did, their lives will keep spiraling downward as they make more and more wrong choices in response to their feelings of disappointment, rejection, and sense of worthlessness.

Heather, on the other hand, reached a point of acceptance, releasing her blame on God for being the party who had hurt her. In studying God’s Word and spending time learning to know Him, she gradually exchanged the lies Satan was hurling at her for the truth. She chose to believe that God is good and that He loves her deeply, even though she was disappointed that He hadn’t done something to make her life what she’d always dreamed it would be. She chose to believe that God had a purpose for her, and that He would work everything together for good if she cooperated with Him. She chose to take risks again in loving others, because she was secure in God’s love and care for her. She was finally confident again that God was for her, and not against her.

These choices aren’t a one-time event for Heather. It will be an ongoing battle between lies and truth, as it will be for Tammy and George. A key choice that Heather made from the very beginning was to deepen her relationship with the Lord and to go to His Word for answers. A close and consistent relationship with the Lord makes it much more certain that we won’t waste our sorrows, and that our grieving can be transformed into a “ministry of suffering”, as someone once referred to it. Suffering opens doors of ministry that we would otherwise never be able to have. But that ministry can’t happen unless we keep close to our Lord so that He can heal our broken hearts and then minister to others through our more enlightened understanding of suffering. Much of the increased difficulty in handling life, such as is evident in Tammy and George, comes about when we have not kept close to Christ, and when we don’t immerse ourselves in His Word. A close relationship with the Lord doesn’t eliminate the suffering, but it does give us a Source of comfort and strength and hope in the only One who can give it to us.

It is always a battle to adopt God’s perspective as our own. There is no way we can if we fill our minds with more of the world’s influence than God’s influence. Do we spend more time watching and looking at the media’s portrayal of people and life, or in studying in depth what God has to say in His written Word? That’s where we find His mind and His heart. Are we committed to finding His perspective enough to work hard at knowing our God and what His perspectives are for every area of our lives?

Satan will always be bombarding us with lies, whispering to us in our weakest moments: “Is it true that God won’t let you have what you so deeply desire, even when He allowed Sally to have everything she wanted?” “You mean God took your spouse away and left you all alone?” Satan did the same thing to Eve: “Did God really say that you couldn’t eat any of the fruit in the garden?” Just as he attempted to make God look like a big old meanie by twisting His one restriction of what they could eat into a very broad restriction, so he does to us in trying to make us think that because God hasn’t given us marriage, or children, or a myriad of other things we may desire, that God is being cruel to us and hasn’t given us anything. Satan wants us to overlook all the many things God has given us, and especially those things we have because we are aren’t married, or don’t have children.

One of the greatest insulators against this type of temptation is gratefulness – focusing with thanksgiving on what we do have, rather than on what we don’t have. Satan’s lies don’t have a chance of bogging us down with resentment when we are being grateful. Resentment and Gratefulness can’t coexist in our hearts, and it’s our choice which one we will allow to make a home there.

No one knows whether they will be a lifelong single or not. The point is, though, to be willing to submit to that (or anything else) if obedience to Him requires it. If we aren’t willing, we will find ourselves in compromising situations where we try to control the outcome, or where we try to get our needs and desires met our own way. The result, of course, is sin. Tammy’s unwillingness to accept singleness caused her to compromise in dating ungodly men. George’s resistance to what God wanted to do through his suffering caused him to turn to alcohol, rather than to the Lord.

We don’t always know what God is asking of us for tomorrow. The key to facing the possibility of a life we hadn’t anticipated is Jesus’ advice in Matthew: “Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” (Matthew 6:34) We need to accept His grace for today. He will give in proportion to what we need for tomorrow, and the next day, and the next. We can’t look at our whole lifetime and figure out how to we will handle it. It is just today we need to make that choice, and perhaps even just this moment.

When we come to the place of full surrender of our lives to the Lord is when our hearts begin to heal from life’s hurts, just as Heather’s did. Whatever we go through in life, for whatever reason, He has promised to be enough, and He has promised to give life abundantly. Are we willing to trust Him with our lives even if that means our dreams will never be realized? Many find that when they do, their hearts began to heal from the broken relationships of the past, and the pain they feel over the disappointment in their lives begins to dissipate. Sometimes that pain returns for a visit, and when it does it’s important to recognize that much of the pain comes from our wrong perspective: we’ve once again begun to doubt that God loves us and is enough for us, and that because of Him life can be full and complete.

Our true comfort lies not in knowing why God allows something, but in knowing that He has promised to be with me us in it and to work it all together for good to conform us to the likeness of His Son, Jesus (Romans 8:28, 29).

“We’ll understand it all bye and bye,” says an old song. But meanwhile, we focus on Christ and live obediently and faithfully for Him.

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