I was halfway through college and was supposed to be in the social pinnacle of my life. But my first attempt at friendships hadn’t gone particularly well, and I found myself having to start over. Until that point in my life, I’d always had great friends, so this was a totally new experience for me.
I spent many weeknights and weekends walking on a path in front of the old folks’ home near my apartment, praying. My prayers were angry and filled with frustration. I didn’t understand why I was in this place. It was a difficult time, but God taught me a lot through it.
One thing was clear to me: we are not made to be alone. Genesis 2:18 says, “Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.”
God declared this before man’s fall, and it was the first time He said that something was “not good.” This is important because it means our hunger for relationships is not the result of weakness, sin, or the by-product of biology, but rather a reflection of having been made in the image of God. As a follower of Jesus, my need for community is validated in who I am.
Contrast that with the dominant secular worldview today - secular humanism. This prevailing mindset reduces relationships to being a means to an end. It’s all about serving my needs. Concepts like self-sacrifice, deference, and service are foreign. Secularism has elevated personal autonomy and pleasure-seeking to the highest place, leading consequently to rampant consumerism, individualism, and isolation. Add to that virtual relationships, social media, and a constant flood of entertainment, and you’re left with people who’ve been deceived into thinking they no longer need real connections, despite their immense loneliness.
We are desperate for genuine relationships, and yet we increasingly operate from a worldview that undermines community-building structures and behaviors - and it’s killing us. According to a recent study conducted by the insurance company CIGNA, loneliness has the same impact on mortality rates as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, making it even more deadly than obesity.
As followers of Jesus, how do we respond to the lethal loneliness in our world, or even in our lives? I have a few thoughts to offer, but before I do, let me clarify that I realize this is a deeply personal issue and I am not trying to offer simplistic, trivial answers. I know from my own experience how devastating loneliness can be, but still I hope that these reflections can serve as a source of encouragement to you.
1) Reject the patterns of this world
We need to be aware of the damaging effects of the spirit of our age. God’s design for relationship, family, and community are built on commitment, submission, and self-sacrifice. Without a doubt, the most significant sources of joy in my life are my wife and son, and yet both have required more “dying to self” than anything else I’ve ever experienced. This is no coincidence; it is how God designed it. Real friendships and genuine community require the same thing. Given this, we need to be wary of the influences around us that speak the opposite message. There are voices today that tell us we need more time to ourselves, that we should avoid commitment, and bail when things get hard. Sadly, when we buy into these lies, we further isolate ourselves from the remedy to our loneliness. We need to stand up against the mindset of our age.
2) Be the change
Have you heard the cliché “To have a good friend, you need to be one?” This may seem like a trite expression, but there’s a lot of truth in it. If we desperately desire friendship, a good place to start is to reach out to those around us who are most likely feeling the same way. Our pride often prevents us from taking the first step in building a new relationship. Fear perpetuates loneliness, and we go on pretending that we’re fine when we’re not. Often when we enter a new community, we expect to have all our needs met instantly. From the beginning, our mindset is that the people around us are there to serve our needs. Selfishness kills community, so if we desire something better, we should start by looking to serve. This attitude is contagious and will go a long way in helping to produce healthy relationships. It doesn’t take any effort to point out all that is wrong with the communities around you. It’s riskier and more costly to “be the change you want to see,” but the reward is significant.
3) To whom much is given, much is expected
If you don’t relate to feeling alone at all (which is statistically unlikely), then consider that God has blessed you so you can bless others. Having an abundance of significant relationships in your life is as much a gift as health, food, and a home to live in. Jesus reminds us that to whom much is given, much is expected (Luke 12:48). Rather than seeing your relational richness as something to keep for yourself, why not bless others with it? Widen your arms and welcome people into your life who may not have what you have. If followers of Jesus had this attitude, it would be a powerful witness to a suffering world.
Loneliness is killing us, but we are not without hope. God not only provides a basis for community, but he is sympathetic to the millions who lack it.
There are lonely people all around you who are desperate for someone to invite them into their lives, serve them, and listen to them.
Genuine community is arguably the greatest felt need of the western world today and, as followers of Jesus, we should be meeting this need. For those of you who know and love Jesus yet still deal with loneliness, understand that you have a sympathetic high priest in Jesus who was abandoned by His friends, forsaken by His father, and suffered more than we will ever know. He hears you when you cry, and wants to fill the most profound need you have to be loved. Reach out to Him first because ultimately, it is only His water that quenches our deepest thirst.