Loneliness plagues everyone at some point in their lives. So the real question is, how can you help the lonely? And if you are among the lonely, how can you find hope? This article by Anne Dryburgh appeared first here at the Biblical Counseling Coalition website and it used by permission.
Loneliness is an emotionally painful sense of not being connected to others. The lonely person may feel unwanted, isolated, and left out.”
Feelings of loneliness are often the result of living in fear, being isolated, lacking an emotional connection with others, a lack of intimacy with God, or feeling rejected by someone significant. All of us will experience some level of loneliness at some point in our lives.
The people who are most likely to experience the biting pain of loneliness include those who are facing grief, marital problems and/or divorce, chronic illness, unfamiliar surroundings or culture, or children who are growing up in a difficult home.
Loneliness in the Bible
There are many lonely people in the Bible.
Elijah: In 1 Kings 19:10, Elijah was in a state of great distress. He believed that he was alone in serving the Lord.
David: David’s soul waited in silence for God alone (Ps. 62:5). There was no other person who took notice of him, or took care of his soul (Ps. 142:4).
Asaph: He had no one on earth or in heaven besides God (Ps. 73:25, 26).
Paul: Demas, Crescens, and Titus abandoned Paul. It was only the Lord who stood by him during his first trial (2 Tim. 4:10, 16-17).
Jesus: Those closest to Jesus deserted him (Mark 14:50); Peter denied him (John 18:15-18; 25-27), and Judas betrayed him (Matt. 26:47-50). Jesus suffered alone in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matt. 26:36-46), and was forsaken by the Father when he hung on the cross (Matt. 27:46).
Intimacy with the Lord
As we have read, the Bible speaks about loneliness, but the Lord ministers powerfully to the lonely. He has promised believers throughout the ages that he will not leave them nor forsake them, but will always be with them (Ps. 139:7-12; Isaiah 41:10; Matt. 28:20; Heb. 13:5).
God calls himself a husband to his people, and compares his people to a “wife deserted and grieved in spirit, as a wife of youth when she is cast off” (Isa. 54:5, 6). We read in Hosea that God’s people were betrothed to Him in righteousness, justice, steadfast love, mercy, and faithfulness (Hos. 2:19, 20).
In the New Testament, believers are described as the bride of Christ (Eph. 5:31, 32; Rev. 21:2). This speaks of a deep intimacy of the soul, which is greater than that which human beings can experience with each other.
Someone who is suffering loneliness will have the tendency to be focused on themselves; what they want and what they don’t have. When supporting the lonely person, you will need to discover what they are thinking and how they spend their time.
Are they looking at what other people are doing on social media and feeling sad because they do not have nice date nights, beautiful vacations, or fun evenings with friends? Are they watching films or programs and wishing that they were somewhere else, with other people, or had something that they don’t have at present? These thoughts can quickly progress to thinking that nobody loves them and that their lives are a waste.
What is the truth about the Lord and their situation? What are some ways they can use their time more constructively; what would be a more edifying use of time than social media? Learning about God’s providence can help them discover that the Lord is actively at work in their circumstances for his purpose and glory.
Trusting this truth and living for his glory in the midst of their difficulty can turn painful loneliness into a time of experiencing the glory of the Lord.
Importance of Community
It is important to help them come out of isolation and begin establishing relationships with other people as much as possible. Even if the person would rather stay at home, it is essential that they take steps to be with others and to seek to take an interest in what is happening around them.
The church can look for ways to care for those who are lonely by visiting or providing practical support. For example, creating connections for teens by building relationships across generations can help the lonely teen grow in their faith while living through difficult situations.
Sometimes, people who have lived in a state of loneliness for a long time will become very needy and want to hold onto any form of sincere love that they experience. Encouraging the lonely to pursue intimacy with the Lord and to seek to love others will help prevent them from developing an unhealthy dependency on those who reach out to them. In this way, genuine community and fellowship can develop.
Loneliness is painful, and all of us will experience it at some point in our lives.
Thankfully, the Lord speaks into our loneliness and ministers to us in a deeply meaningful way. When supporting the lonely, discover what they are saying to themselves and how they got to that stage. Help them focus their hearts on the providential God who is working out his glorious purpose in and through their situation. When they focus on loving others, they will emerge from their isolation and become a source of blessing.
Questions for Reflection
- As you think about the most lonely times in your life, how did the Lord minister to you?
- How did scripture speak deeply into your soul at that time, and how did that impact your life?
- Do you know someone who is lonely? How can you encourage and bless them?
Mary Somerville. “Coping with Loneliness.” National Association of Nouthetic Counselors, Annual Conference, 2005, mp3.
Ibid., Wayne Mack, “Loneliness & Self-Pity#1: How to Handle Loneliness,” The Dr. Wayne Mack Library. CDWM4191.
 Mary Somerville, “Coping with Loneliness,” National Association of Nouthetic Counselors; Caroline Newheiser, “Helping Women who are Married but Lonely,” The Institute for Biblical Counseling and Discipleship.
About the author: Anne is an IABC and ACBC certified biblical counselor who has been a mission worker in Flemish-speaking Belgium since the early 1990s. She is also a guest lecturer at Tilsley College in Scotland, an external reader for doctoral candidates at the Masters International University of Divinity, an author, a frequent contributor to the blog Biblical Counseling for Women, and coordinates the European hub of the Biblical Counseling Coalition.
Counseling Hope to Your Heart,
Who doesn’t need a mood-boost? A routine prescription for women with depression and anxiety is exercise. Regular physical activity of any sort can lift sagging spirits.
A glad heart makes a cheerful face, but by sorrow of heart the spirit is crushed. Proverbs 15:13, ESV
Even Exercise-Lite Boosts Your Mood
At the Cooper Aerobics Research Institute, 120 volunteers followed the standard gym recommendations and another 120 volunteers tried exercise-lite. Both groups on average reduced their blood pressure by eight points, lowered total cholesterol, and gained about the same amount of muscle and dropped about the same amount of fat.
What about boosting endorphins while exercising-lite? They got that too.
But for a bigt boost, it seems you must stress muscles for the release of the endorphins. Remember, you don’t have to train for the Olympics to get a mood boost from exercise.
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So get up and get moving.
And break a sweat! A shiny glow looks good on you.
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Pick an exercise you like! For me, walking wins. Early in the day, I grab my sneakers and walk. In the evening, I stretch and do some simple exercises like push-ups. Once you figure out which exercise works best for you, make a plan and do it.
Making a New Mood-Boost Habit
Making a new habit and sticking with it is the most difficult part for most of us because new habits must be formed. Beth, a soft-spoken, 20-something who has mild anxiety, would like to lose five pounds and feel physically better.
Then I told her about the mood-boosting effects of exercise, and she said she’d start for sure. Awareness is the first step, isn’t it?
What’s next? Here are 3 quick tips toward making a new mood-boost habit:
1. Put it on your calendar. You write “dentist visit” on your calendar, don’t you? So why schedule exercise? Be specific. Select a time, days, and place.
2. Be realistic. Be safe. Most people the greatest success in forming a new exercise habit when they build on beginning successes. If you choose walking and are a healthy beginner, start with a daily 10-minute walk at a moderate pace, for instance. The next week add 5 minutes to your daily walk. Add another 5 minutes the following week and so on. Once you reach 30 to 60 minutes of walking daily, you’ve developed an amazing mood-boost habit. (Check with your doctor before beginning an exercise program.)
3. Reward yourself. Each time you complete your exercise, give yourself a small reward. It could be as simple as a smiley face on your calendar to something a bit more extravagant, such as $5 toward a purchase. At the end of the week, grab your stash and go for lunch with a friend, take in a movie, or buy something fun.
Counseling Hearts to Hope,
Perfectionism is an impossible standard! For you and me, that is. God is perfectly perfect!
But to attain perfectionism, you may drive yourself nuts. Or you may face-plant into the wall of “I cannot do it” and give up and retreat. You may even find a frenemy in dark chocolate. This is my go-to happy place. What’s yours?
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Either way, all-or-nothing thinking turns into anxiety, even anger and hopelessness.
Jana, a mother of three boys and a nurse, worked part-time in the evening, and during the day she had the family on a tight schedule in order to get everything done: piano lessons and soccer practice for the kids and a book club and Zumba for her. When her all-or-nothing thinking turned into yelling–something she swore she’d never do when she became a mom–she didn’t see that her perfectionism played into the family tension. A wise counselor compassionately and truthfully pointed it out, and she agreed her heart needed to change.
Have you ever wanted to do it all or think you should do it all?
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Have you based your worth and success on how well you measure up to your standards or fulfilling your expectations?
- When you are driven to achieve and overdo, you live in fear that there is always something more you can do, another phone call to make, another website to check, another friend to check in on.
- When you hold exceptionally high expectations for yourself (or your family or coworkers), you may come across as pushy and demanding. Your relationships may suffer.
- When you compare your accomplishments to others, you may feel defeated and get grumpy or throw a pity party. No one shows up to pity parties. Too depressing!
Signs of Perfectionism
The all-or-nothing thinking of perfectionism overwhelms a person because, as I mentioned up top, it’s a myth. No one is perfect but God!
“Your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew 5:48, ESV
Very often someone with all-or-nothing thinking suffers from anger, anxiety, depression, or fatigue. Trying to keep up with overwhelming perfectionism is daunting. You just can’t do it. No one can. That you cannot be perfect doesn’t mean you are “less than” or “not enough.” It simply means you’re human.
Here are pictures of three signs of perfectionism.
Anger: When your perfect plans fall though, do you seethe or feel irritated? Do you lash out at a friend or family member? A common result: difficult relationships! Think about it. You don’t like anger directed at you and you may step away from an angry person or not return her phone calls. Proverbs 15:1 says,
A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.
Anxiety: Do you feel uptight and nervous when you think about all you need to do? Do you worry that you’ll fail? Sometimes anxious people have physical symptoms such as nausea, insomnia, headaches, and fatigue, even panic attacks. Others develop ulcers. Talk with your medical doctor about physical manifestations of anxiety.
Depression: Do your unmet desires lead to sadness and self-recriminations? Are you disappointed with yourself that you failed to meet your high expectations? Do you say mean things to yourself, like “I’m a loser”? Depression feels like sadness, despair, hopelessness. Sometimes it has an organic cause, such as hormone imbalance. Again, talk with your medical doctor about physical causes of depression.
Out of the Perfectionism Trap
Your way out of perfectionism is to make a heart change and to look to your Creator for the answer.
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Here are 3 ways to end perfectionism:
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1. Accept the invitation to rest.
May I suggest that you write the verse below in a journal or your electronic device and read it daily?
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me,
for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. Matthew 11:28-30, ESV
When you get to the end of your abilities and energy, you need rest. Your mind and your body. You feel depleted and weary. The question is, how will you respond to this invitation? Do you value yourself and your family enough to rest?
2. Ask yourself a few questions.
To get to the heart of your perfectionism, ask yourself questions and jot down your answers. Ask yourself:
- Who am I trying to please? My boss, my friends, my parents, myself, God?
- Is my all-or-nothing thinking all about getting other people to accept me or to impress them?
- Do I think I can do life without God? That I don’t need him?
Now read your answers and look for a pattern. Is your pattern to please others or to get attention? Do you see another pattern? How can you change your thinking so that your thougts align with God’s?
3. Love God above all else.
You’re probably familiar with the Great Commandment.
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself. Luke 10:27, ESV
When you love God above all else, your priorities and motivations change. You are more concerned with pleasing God who loves you lavishly than with pleasing yourself.
You’ll discover that you’ll remove some items from your calendar and rethink the best use of your time and talents.
Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men. Colossians 3:23, ESV
Rethinking the best use of your time and talents means establishing God-honoring goals for life in every area: spiritual, family, social, intellectual, physical, occupational, financial, and emotional.
I invite you to use this download to help you plan your priorities for the purpose of loving God most of all. If you have questions or would like to set up a time to talk on the phone to see how biblical counseling would help you get out of the perfectionism trap, why not drop me a line here?
Counseling Hearts to Hope,
Is regret messing with your peace? Is it so painful that you’d like to erase a part of your past? Let’s look at regret — what it is, the two main types, and how to move toward restoration.
Regret is feeling sorrow or remorse for something you did or failed to do. Sometimes it turns into disappointment. This feeling of regret can be turned toward God as you seek him in your pain. Or it can become discontentment, even despair.
Discontentment is an ugly response to regret. It describes a person’s dissatisfaction with what God is doing in his life at the moment. She may have self-pity and see herself as the undeserving victim of unfair circumstances.
Regret Due to Human Error
Regret may result from an honest though awful mistake. Dr. Erwin Lutzer shared the story of a missionary airplane mechanic with an excellent service track record. One day while tightening a bolt, he was called away before he finished. He forgot to return and complete the bolt tightening.
The consequence of this one mistake proved disastrous. The plane took off. Gasoline leaked from the place where the bolt was loose. The plane caught on fire and all seven people on the plane died. Without a doubt, this mechanic wished he could erase the past. He feels deep regret.
Regret Caused on Purpose
This type of regret results when you choose a certain path that you know is wrong. The Holy Spirit impresses on your heart the your ugly choice rubs against God’s will but you continue on.
Think Peter the apostle.
He denied knowing Jesus Christ three times, then the rooster crows. Peter weeps tears of regret and emotional pain.
And immediately the rooster crowed a second time. And Peter remembered how Jesus had said to him, “Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And he broke down and wept. Mark 14:72, ESV
2 Steps to Restoration
1. Bring it into the open.
Pushing down the past smothers you. Did you know that the more you try not to think about the regret, the more focus you direct toward it?
God’s plan for moving forward requires facing the past and acknowledging the sin, the pain, and the fallout.
2. Move forward.
To move forward means forgiving, repeatedly if necessary, letting God deal with those who have sinned against you, and continuing to respond in a godly way regardless of how they behaved.
Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” Romans 12:19, ESV
When you choose God’s solutions, an upward and forward movement begins! It’s time, don’t you think, for a fresh start? Christ and His Word will move you in the right direction if you let Him!
Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “Therefore I hope in Him!” Lamentations 3:22-24, ESV
Do you need help finding peace? I’d love to help you!
Sharing hope with your heart, I’ll provide you with solution-focused biblical counseling. Contact me today and we can set up an appointment in person or by Skype. (I’ve counseled women, couples, and families in five continents.) Check out more about me here.
Counseling Hearts to Hope,
Who doesn’t have ugly thoughts, at least once in a while? Good news: You can replace ugly thoughts with truthful thoughts and renew your mind. Here’s a tool for you.
So today you learn how to:
1. Identify an ugly thought you believe that’s true about you or your circumstance.
2. Recognize the link between your thoughts and your feelings and replace your ugly thought with a new thought.
3. See change in your emotions and actions as you renew your thoughts. A helpful tool is my Transform Your Thoughts Journal. See it here.
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What’s better, this process has helped hundreds of my counselees renew their thinking. It is based on scripture verses like Romans 12:2 and Ephesians 4:22-24:
You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
Step 1: Identify
First, on notebook paper, set up your categories like this:
UGLY THOUGHT. . .EMOTIONS. . .ACTIONS
Then under “Ugly Thought” write your current or recurring negative, ungodly thought. Then jot down the resulting emotions under “Emotions.” Now, list your behaviors under “Actions.” Here’s an example.
UGLY THOUGHT: “I’m stupid”
EMOTION(s): Anger, depression, loneliness
ACTION(s): Yell at the kids, slam the door, eat a bag of chips
Step 2: Replace
Now write three new categories. Under “Truthful Thought” replace the ugly thought with a biblical truth or a scripture verse. Then write the likely resulting feelings under “New Emotion” and likely behaviors under “New Action.” On your notebook paper set up your categories like this:
TRUTHFUL THOUGHT. . .NEW EMOTIONS. . .NEW ACTIONS
Here’s a corresponding example.
TRUTHFUL THOUGHT: God says all his works are wonderful, so this means I’m an okay person and He’ll help me.
NEW EMOTION(s): Contentment, courage
NEW ACTION(s): Hug the kids, smile, complete the job application
Step 3: See Change
Lastly, chart the ugly thoughts you believe, your emotions, and your actions daily. As soon as you recognize an ugly thought, replace it with a truthful thought.
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And ask God in prayer to help you believe his truth. As you stick with it, you’ll begin to see a change in your emotions and actions as you replace ugly thoughts with the truth. Please be patient and persevere.
You didn’t develop poor thinking patterns overnight. In fact, they may have begun in childhood and are ingrained in your thinking. And so it’ll take weeks, sometimes months, as you to cooperate with the Holy Spirit in the renewing of your mind. Have hope. You CAN do it with God’s help.
Question: What is truthful thought you’d like to have in place of an ugly thought?
Counseling Hope to Your Heart,