It’s time we come to grips with a real problem existing in God’s Church today, one that has always existed to some degree down through time. This problem is made worse because of the age in which we live.
God’s people are generally spread over vast areas with many miles separating them, oftentimes preventing regular fellowship. Some members observe the Sabbath alone or only with immediate family members.
For some this may not pose any problem, since the leadership of God’s Church strives to ensure that all brethren receive proper spiritual nourishment.
Yet for others longing to be with brethren, the lack of handshakes and fellowship can take its toll, sowing the seeds of loneliness. When allowed to germinate, these seeds can sprout into feelings of discouragement, and will eventually mature into a state of despondency. We can prevent this by uprooting the seeds of loneliness before they have a chance to grow.
Loneliness! Just the sound of that word has a ring of despondency to it. It is defined as “sadness from being alone”; “bleakness and desolation”; and to be or feel “cut off from others.” Loneliness is the pain of emotional and social isolation.
Loneliness can actually be a mild form of depression, a sorrowful feeling that focuses on the self. It has an element of hopelessness, and is the opposite of joy and happiness. It is more than just being alone. Being lonely is to lack a special and ongoing relationship with other human beings. This is a natural reaction to our perceived environment. We were designed to need intimate and social contacts to be emotionally healthy. This relationship must have the quality of “oneness” that binds two or more people together emotionally—either in a family or close friendship.
We often speak of a “family circle” or “circle of friends,” in which each person is connected with one another. The lonely person feels alienated from this circle, and succumbs to a feeling of dejected emotional darkness. This brings on feelings of inadequacy. Seniors and young alike want to know they are needed, loved and appreciated—that others want to spend time with them and care about their welfare.
But being surrounded by others is no assurance against feeling lonely. A person may be in the midst of a huge crowd and still feel alone. Many celebrities have complained of loneliness when surrounded by peers and fans. Loneliness is linked more to lack of social intimacy than lack of popularity. A whirlwind social life does not guarantee worthwhile relationships nor preclude loneliness.
Of course, we can all sometimes feel bored and discontent. However, I am describing a feeling of emptiness and separation that is continually a part of one’s life. It is a dangerous feeling that can make a person attempt desperate cures that can be worse than the affliction itself!
What Causes Loneliness?
Much in this pitiful world can promote feelings of despair and loneliness. Looking at the cause will help us understand why there is so much loneliness in this world.
Life has changed drastically, particularly in the last century. The pursuit to acquire material goods has decreased the importance of family and neighbors—causing alienation from others.
Society used to be a womb of human companionship. The extended family provided encouragement and guidance. If parents were busy, someone was always around to help out. But today, many children neglect their elderly parents, allowing them to fend for themselves. It was not always that way. There was once a sense of belonging in the community. Many communities had friendly local merchants and neighbors who stayed in the neighborhood for years.
This has changed in the Western world in the past few decades, especially in North America and the birthright nations. In the United States, people move every five years on average—14 times in a lifetime. City dwellers not only do not know their neighbors, but are often afraid of them. The lack of social contact, along with conglomerate shopping centers, lessens the familiarity that would otherwise occur with others in the community.
The family and a few close friends should provide the social contact and emotional support that is needed. But with half of all families not stable enough to stay together, one cannot always turn to family members.
Couple this with the loss of a loved one, divorce, separation from friends, forced isolation because of ill health in old age, or living alone—all are recognized as potential causes of loneliness.
The Church member who is the only individual of his or her household trying to live God’s Way can sometimes face an uphill battle combating loneliness. Without the weekly association with brethren of like minds, there seems to be no one to talk to, especially regarding spiritual concerns. The sense of empathy is lost among those who are not of the same mindset, who are not striving to live the truth. It’s easy to see how such an individual can feel marooned and start to become discouraged.
Many of the scattered in the Church are forced to bear up under numerous kinds of physical, mental, emotional and spiritual duress with little support from others. Through long days, and even longer nights, many face their problems alone. In some cases, the feeling of isolation and loneliness can be a more painful trial than the problem itself.
How should brethren cope with loneliness?
The Lonely Are Prey of Satan
Being alone does not automatically mean being lonely. Some people prefer their solitude and manage quite well by themselves. Yet God said in the beginning, “It is not good that man should be alone” (Gen. 2:18). But why?
While we all need times of privacy, too much time alone tends to foster inward, introspective thinking and brooding that focuses the person too much on himself. This is especially true if such aloneness comes in the wake of a personal trauma, such as the death of a mate or loved one, loss of one’s job or health, etc.
The person’s thoughts almost inevitably become backward looking, maybe with feelings of anger and self pity. They are full of blame, self-criticism, guilt and shame. This becomes a fertile field for Satan to sow seeds of doubt and a perfect climate for his negative influence. Satan preys on the lonely, who are perhaps his easiest victims. You can be sure he will take every opportunity to heap on more negative thoughts until he has the person so “down in the dumps” that he or she will want to quit altogether. This is at least a part of the reason God intended we all have Christian fellowship. The truth is, no one functions well when entirely alone, cut off from support and encouragement from others.
There are biblical accounts in which mighty servants of God felt alone. One of the great Old Testament prophets, Elijah, suffered from a bout of loneliness and depression. After receiving a letter from Queen Jezebel threatening his life, he fearfully packed his bags and headed for a distant hideout. After hiking a day’s journey into the wilderness, Elijah lay down under a tree, feeling beset by misery and depression. He prayed that he might die, and said, “It is enough; now, O Lord take away my life; for I am not better than my fathers!” (I Kings 19:4).
Focusing on our feelings of loneliness and discouragement can make us want to give up on life entirely, just as did Elijah. Even Jesus Christ experienced feelings of isolation. Being alone near the moment of His death, He cried out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matt. 27:46).
Christians feel the pressures of this end-time society. Jobs get harder, religious persecution can occur and general world trends worsen. Without fellowship with God and encouragement from brethren, life’s trials can seem insurmountable.
But Christians are never alone, although they sometimes may feel like it. Even King David felt on occasion that God had left him. He said “How long will You forget me, O Lord? Forever? How long will You hide Your face from me?” (Psa. 13:1). David knew God cares and can supernaturally intervene in our lives. God can lift you up from despair and feelings of isolation. We need to remember that He holds the power to change circumstances.
In some cases our feelings of isolation may be a result of not striving to initiate contact with anyone, including God. We must realize that although human fellowship is important in combating loneliness, it is not the most important. The apostle John wrote, “That which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us” (I John 1:3).
John wanted the brethren to have fellowship with one another, but notice the primary stress: “And truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.” Without contact with God, you might have friendships, but not true Christian fellowship. Our spiritual closeness with God guarantees that our contact with each other will be profitable and edifying.
No human or group of humans can substitute for contact with God. Many of us might like to see our needs met by other humans from what is termed “the human connection.” But the human connection is not enough. Simply stated, we cannot and will not be close to each other as members of the Body of Christ unless we are first close to God! As we draw closer to Him, we will inevitably draw closer to each other. Conversely, when we drift away from God we will find ourselves forsaking each other.
Recognize that our first line of defense against loneliness and every other negative emotion is our personal contact with our Creator. Fellowship with God is the best kind there is.
Once we have established and maintain contact with Him, we then should initiate contact with fellow brethren. Notice: “Then they that feared the Lord spoke often one to another, and the Lord listened and heard it” (Mal. 3:16).
God expects us to fellowship with other brethren. He also knows and understands that proper fellowship promotes unity and strengthens our faith. It also gives us hope to endure our trials. There is tremendous value in the right kind of uplifting conversation among brethren.
What Can You Do?
We certainly know that fellowship serves an important function in the Church of God. Yet with some brethren meeting alone, how is this to be achieved?
Wherever possible, we should strive to assemble with others on the Sabbath. Most brethren realize that because of today’s circumstances they have to travel longer distances to Sabbath services. Some easily—and admirably—will travel great distances, while others may consider 50 miles to be too far. God takes notice of how much effort we extend to meet with brethren. This undoubtedly is why He commands us to never willingly forsake “the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as you see the day approaching” (Heb. 10:25).
There are exempting circumstances in which travel distance is unquestionably too far, or serious health issues are involved, or the infirmities of age make it unreasonable to assemble with others on the Sabbath. If one finds himself in such a situation, how is he to have fellowship with others?
Also, perhaps you have been neglected by others—do not allow yourself to become bitter, relegating yourself to a victim of neglect. Instead, take the initiative! Turn the problem into a solution by reaching out to others. Give someone a phone call to see how he or she is doing and to inquire about others. Or put your thoughts down on paper and send someone a “thinking of you” letter. Those who are computer savvy perhaps can send a warm email to establish dialogue.
For those who are able to meet with others for the Sabbath, give consideration to brethren who meet alone. The Sabbath is a perfect opportunity to give them a call—making it a delight for everyone.
Often the lonely and isolated pull back from contact with others. They draw into a shell of self-pity and make it hard for others to reach them. Having friends is not just something that automatically happens to us, it requires an initiative on our part to encourage it. God says, “A man that has friends must show himself friendly” (Prov. 18:24). By not being friendly, some fail to encourage or develop friendships that may otherwise be available to them.
We all need to realize that fellowship is a mutual, two-way responsibility. It is not something someone can simply do to someone else or for someone else whether that person wants it or not.
We can only ensure that brotherly love—the hallmark of the Philadelphian era—is an attribute that characterizes God’s one true Church today if we practice it. Strive to do this in spite of this world and its trials tending to wear us down and make us turn inward. If we seize every opportunity to keep these qualities alive in God’s Church, we can eliminate the affliction of loneliness.
Every Christian has the tools at his or her disposal to turn a defeated attitude into one of joy. No person who practices good fellowship and submits his life to the great God—the “Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort” (II Cor. 1:3)—ever needs to be lonely again!