♬Hear that lonesome whippoorwill, he sounds too blue to fly.
The midnight train is whining low. I’m so lonesome I could cry. ♬
Have you ever felt so lonesome, you could cry? That old Hank Williams song describes this common life experience. Many of us go through a season of lonesomeness at least once or twice in our lifetime. It is a growing problem in our society today. A study by the American Council of Life Insurance reported that the most lonely group in America is college students. Next on the list are divorced people, welfare recipients, single moms, housewives, and the elderly. It is a problem for people Ð young and old alike.
D. H. says, “I’m 21, and I have no friends. I had tons of friends in high school, but after we graduated, none of them talk to me. I miss them a lot.”
Martha writes, “Since being diagnosed with cancer, my feelings of isolation at home are deepening. I have little in common with my husband. We don’t share the same political views; he’s a tv addict and I’m not. My son came over for dinner tonight, and I felt invisible, untouchable, and insignificant. They are all trying to skirt the topic of my cancer, and I can’t say that I blame them.”
Even famous people suffer with loneliness. Years ago Mother Teresa said, “The greatest disease in the West today is not TB or leprosy; it is being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for.” Judy Garland once asked, “If I’m a legend, then why am I so lonely?” A popular actress, Anne Hathaway, is quoted as saying, “Loneliness is my least favorite thing about life. I worry most about being alone with no one to care for me.”
Loneliness can best be defined as a painful awareness that we lack meaningful contact with other people. It’s a feeling that nobody cares about you as a person, and it can happen for a variety of reasons Ð like when we lose a loved one. A friend of mine, who recently laid his wife to rest, talks of waking up in the morning with an absolute sense of loneliness. It can happen when we feel like an outsider, like the new kid in school.
Loneliness can be the result of something we do to ourselves. We get so busy looking at a computer or television screen that we don’t take time to build relationships. Then one day we feel as if we’re all alone. That feeling can be so painful that some people even hurt themselves or fall into destructive habits. The Bible tells us that God did not create us to be alone. After He created Adam, God said, “It is not good for man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him” (Genesis 2:18).
Loneliness is something that we all have to face now and then. God’s Word has some help for us in finding how to get out of it.
The Old Testament tells about a fellow named Elijah, a prophet and a faithful man of God. Elijah had major odds against him. He had been calling the people to worship the God of Israel alone, Ð not the Baals. King Ahab and Queen Jezebel were angry about that, and Jezebel had threatened to kill him. Frightened, Elijah runs off into the wilderness. At one point he even prays, “I have had enough, Lord. Take my life.”
Now Elijah is in a cave on Mount Horeb, which is the perfect metaphor for describing someone who is experiencing loneliness. God calls out to him in response to Elijah’s loneliness and has a counseling session with him. He says basically three things to Elijah that could be very helpful for you and me in our days of loneliness and fear.
The first thing God says is to go outside to the side of that mountain and look up! God gives him a spectacular show with an earthquake, fire, and a mighty wind. But God was not in those. However, Elijah then hears a still, small voice, and he knew he was now in the presence of God. He was reminded, as he looked up, that he was not alone. God was with him in the quiet and would have the final word concerning Jezebel and Ahab.
God’s words to Elijah are His words to us. Sometimes it may seem like God is not around, but even when He can’t be seen, just be still and listen. We, too, will find that still, small voice reminding us God will never leave us or forsake us. He is still at work in our lives.
I am reminded of Jesus telling his disciples, as he sends them off into a world that is not exactly cheering for Jesus, “Go and make disciples.” How overwhelming and lonely that must have seemed at the time. However, Jesus also said, “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of time.” Look up, be still, call out His name, pray to Him, and open His Word. Let Him remind you that He loves you and you are not alone.
God also reminds Elijah that he does have friends. He directs him to go back and find Elisha, who is to be his associate and successor. God directs Elijah to have the courage and faith to reach out to Elisha. God also reminded Elijah that 7,000 people have remained faithful to God and will join in him in opposing those who are putting God aside. Elijah did what God asked him to do, Elisha became like a son to him, and Elijah no longer had to feel like he was standing alone.
We are not alone. We have friends in Christ to walk along side of us in our life, in our ministry as we serve Him in this world. Jesus has given us brothers and sisters to whom we can reach out. We only need to have the courage to reach out to somebody. Instead of wishing for a friend, be a friend.
In his book, “Who Switched the Price Tags?” Tony Campolo talks about the risk-taking necessary to establish friendships during the course of any given school year. Concerning his tenure at Eastern University, Tony writes, “I can count on some freshman coming into my office and complaining about loneliness. I can even predict what the student will say. ÔThis is supposed to be a Christian college, why then am I left so alone? Why isn’t anybody paying attention to me?’ I don’t doubt the loneliness of that student. I am certain he suffers from the sense of estrangement, but I also know that the causes of loneliness have nothing to do with the lack of Christianity in the rest of that student body. That the student is lonely because they are afraid to take the risk of reaching out to someone else. In the absence of such daring, the paralyzing fear of rejection takes over, and we are inevitably lonely. Jesus can help us to be risk takers.”
Often, when we are put into new circumstances, we have the sense of being a fish out of water. God’s words to Elijah apply to us as well. Take a risk. Reach out. Get involved in a church. Join a Bible study or small group. Risk rejection so you do not have to feel alone any longer.
Finally, God tells Elijah to get back to work! Elijah’s purpose was to do something wonderful for the Kingdom of God. Instead of isolating himself in his own little pity party, he needed to get off of that mountain and continue doing what God had called him to do. That is the surefire cure for loneliness Ð do something beautiful in the name of God for somebody else, a cause greater than self.
Karl Menninger was once asked how to get out of depression and loneliness. “That’s easy,” he responded. “Get out of your house, go to the other side of the tracks, and do something for someone else.”
Do something in the name of God. Serve as a volunteer. If you are physically unable to do something, pray. Pray faithfully for others each day. Come alongside someone who is having a rough time. Jesus himself told us, It is in giving yourself away that you will find life. You will find joy.
This is God’s counsel for loneliness Ð look up, look around, look alive! Do something beautiful in His name, and you will not be lacking for relationships. Follow that counsel, people, and you will no longer have the sense of being alone.