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The Spiritual Purpose of Loneliness

What can we learn from the Bible about the concept of being alone?

When to Surrender to God

Loneliness. Whether it’s due to a life transition, the breakup of a relationship, grieving, empty-nest syndrome or just because, we’ve all felt lonely at some point or another. In fact, according to a study conducted by the insurance company, Cigna, approximately 46% of Americans report feeling sometimes or always alone, while only 53% say they have meaningful in-person social interactions on a daily basis.

It is this sense of “loneliness” that researchers and experts are calling a major epidemic of the 21st-century and a serious health concern. It’s as bad for your health, researchers from Brigham Young University determined, as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. And the Health Resources & Services Administration (HRSA) estimates that seniors who are lonely have a 45% increased risk of mortality.

Why exactly is loneliness such a crisis? There are a number of reasons, from the increased reliance on technology versus in-person interactions, to the average household size shrinking over the years, resulting in more and more people living alone

But loneliness itself is hardly a new concept, especially as it pertains to spirituality.

After all, some of the most faith-filled people in history and even the great heroes of the Bible experienced deep loneliness up close and personal. So is there a spiritual component to loneliness? How does God expect us to navigate an increasingly lonely society?

The clues start at the very beginning, right in the Book of Genesis, says Lydia Brownback, speaker and author of Finding God in My Loneliness. Contrary to how it may feel, loneliness is not a punishment from God or due to personal fault, she says. Take the fact that after creating man, God said, “It is not good that man should be alone.”

“God said that even before the fall into sin, meaning he created us with the capacity to feel lonely even at a time when the world was very good in every way,” Brownback says. “The fact that loneliness existed before sin came into the world must mean that it’s okay we experience it and that it’s not necessarily the result of something bad.”

Of course, when deep in the throes of loneliness, one can’t help but wonder: Why would God give us the ability to feel lonely in the first place? To answer that, Brownback once again looks to Genesis. Since the beginning, God created us with a void that only He can fill. And for good reason.

“If we weren’t created with that void, we wouldn’t sense anything missing,” she says. “It’s a gift to be able to feel lonely, because it makes us recognize that we need God and it makes us reach out for each other.”

Human Connection is Vital in Easing Loneliness

Look at the case of Adam, for example. God remedied his loneliness with a companion, Eve. That doesn’t necessarily mean, though, that marriage is a cure for loneliness. Case in point, married people feel lonely too. Instead, Brownback says, fellowship is what’s important. She points to Psalm 68:6: “God sets the solitary in families.”

“That doesn’t necessarily mean a spouse and 2.3 kids,” she says. “Rather, God created human beings to be in fellowship with one another, to love and be loved. Marriage is just one way of doing that.”

So what can we do then when facing loneliness? Brownback once again stresses community. Reach out and talk to someone, whether it’s a friend, family member, counselor, or spiritual advisor. Join a church and help those who may be lonelier than you.

Don’t be afraid to admit that you’re lonely, whether to yourself or others, Brownback advises. Be honest, especially with God. You can start by praying something like, “God, what can I do to change my life?”

“There are many practical things you can do to seek help immediately,” Brownback says. “Get involved in church, talk to someone you trust, solve someone else’s loneliness, and ask God about big-picture changes you can make over time. And open up to some new opportunities you’ve been too scared to try, whatever it might be.”

Remember, You’re Not Alone

Jesus experienced loneliness more than anyone else, from fasting in the desert to the Garden of Gethsemane to the Cross.

“Jesus was the loneliest man who ever lived,” Brownback says. “He loved people who betrayed him. He got hurt and kept loving. So even at our worst and loneliest, we can say, ‘Jesus understands.’ Ultimately, we are never alone because he is with us.”

And take comfort in the fact that God can do amazing things with your lonely season. 

“Take your loneliness and say, ‘I don’t like how this feels, but I’m going to view it as a prompt from God to make some changes,” Brownback says. “Whether it’s an isolating of your own making or a situation God put you in, he can use it.”

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