Are You Lonely?
By Jeremy Schurke, Director of Mirror Labs
I recently went back to my hometown and stopped by an old friend’s house. It had been a few years since we last saw each other and I was excited to catch up with him and his wife. Our conversation covered the usual swath of “catch-up topics”—high school memories, sporting glory days, parent life, future dreams and then current faith updates.
Long after his wife departed for bed and after watching Aaron Gordon get robbed AGAIN from an NBA dunk contest title, he asked me, “How’s Orlando?” Without hesitation I answered, “Lonely.”
Do you ever just say something out loud without thinking and surprise even yourself?
Lonely? That was news to me.
I simultaneously did two things at once in that moment: I discovered something about myself by putting into words an overarching feeling that had been looming over me for months and confided feelings I would not normally want to share with someone else.
The truth is I don’t like telling people I’m lonely. I kind of hate that I’m typing it out right now. But yes, I am lonely—and have been for quite some time.
This would come as a surprise to most who know me. I have many friends in cities all over the country. I am naturally a curious person and therefore tend to be a good conversationalist. I am also adventurous and therefore tend to meet a lot of new people. My wife is a spark plug and really engaging, my young kids are hilarious and utterly absorbing, I keep in regular contact with lifelong friends from high school and college, and yet, here I am: a 34-year-old family man trying to understand this nagging sense of loneliness.
I am not alone—just lonely.
Upon deeper reflection, it didn’t take long to realize the root of my loneliness: “I miss God,” I sighed out loud in my bed the next night.
Historically, tyrants have used loneliness as a tool to prey upon their citizens. Why? Because if you can convince someone they don’t belong anywhere, they will join anything. I think this is one of Satan’s main tactics, if not even his chief lie, and it’s working in the hearts and minds of many men to keep them isolated from God and others.
All sin, if you think about it, stems from the lie that we are left only to ourselves. That kind of loneliness can give way to meaninglessness. It’s a terrifying proposition to think that we were born into this world alone, that we will die alone, and that the in-between is merely filled with distractions from those overarching realities… I get the sweats just thinking about it!
Novelist Paulo Coelho said: “Human beings can withstand a week without water, two weeks without food, many years of homelessness, but not loneliness. It is the worst of all tortures, the worst of all sufferings.”
And yet, God allows us to think and feel these horrors. Why?
To me, the exploration of loneliness is really a search for belonging. Do we belong? If yes, to whom do we belong?
I recently found myself re-imagining what it means to have a “relationship with God.” We Christians use that phrase all the time—yet if we’re honest, most of the time the relationship feels pretty one sided. I feel like I do most of the work to keep our relationship active. I learn about God, I talk to God, I tell others about God.
Herein lies my problem, I realized: I drive the conversation. Our relationship feels one sided because I keep talking and I don’t know how to listen. I keep pursuing but I don’t know how to be pursued.
But what if God is pursuing me through allowing me to feel lonely? What if the feeling of loneliness is actually a gift because it’s helping me reassess my relationship with Him?
This sensation of loneliness has also had the power to interrupt my busyness. When I think about it rationally, this too is a gift—being lonely has an expressed need to seek out relationship, while being busy has an expressed need to avoid it. The nagging feeling of lonely is only a constant invitation to listen and be present with our God.
Frederick Douglass wrote: “That night I learned the fact, that I was, not only a child but somebody’s child.”
Our Heavenly Father has ingrained in our DNA a sense of belonging that can only be satisfied from an active relationship with Him. We are somebody’s child—His.
St. Augustine, in the Confessions, explained it like this: “Because you have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in Thee.”
When I slow down enough to realize my loneliness, and furthermore to examine it, I discover something far greater. My loneliness—my “restless heart”—is the very heart of every human heart—including yours. And our loneliness can be the means that propels us to true belonging to God in Jesus Christ.
It’s as if God is reminding us, “Relax, you would not be feeling lonely if you did not already belong to me first.” Without the experience of belonging, we wouldn’t know to feel lonely.
Our greatest blessing, next to God Himself, is to experience the creeping terror of God’s absence so that we can rejoice all the more in the experience of His presence.
“When I feel truly alone, with a sense of being lost, even empty inside, it is then I realize I have unknowingly moved away from God, so I move back.” – David L. Weatherford
THE BIG IDEA: If you feel alienated, lost, or lonely, take heart: God is interrupting you and inviting you back into relationship and belonging. And then take inventory: What is blocking you from engaging in a true relationship with God?
Leaders, many of your men are experiencing this pervasive sense of loneliness. Show them that they can take heart, take inventory, and ultimately move back.