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,
Why cry? Did you know there are at least three biblical reasons for tears. And remember, as the apostle John records,
Jesus wept. John 11:35, ESV
In this shortest verse in the bible, did God reveal weak-kneed fraility? Not at all. Rather, he showed deep compassion for his friends, whose brother Lazarus had died, and he expressed his emotion through his tears.
In this short article, learn three biblical reasons for tears:
- Tears expression honest emotion.
- God commands you to cry at certain times.
- Crying is good for you.
Just as important, know that in heaven there is no need crying.
1. Expess Honest Emotion
Tears provide a healthy outlet for how we feel inside. They are not a sign of weakness. Rather, they are an honest expression of emotion. But do keep in mind that sometimes tears are misused. Instead of expessing honest emotion, a person may use tears in order to manipulate. Of course, any form of manipuation is wrong. Manipulation is controlling and ungodly behavior.
But your honest-to-God tears? These God keeps in a bottle as if they are precious to Him.
You have kept count of my tossings;
put my tears in your bottle.
Are they not in your book? Psalms 56:8
Jesus welcomes honest emotion. Here are two extraordinary examples.
UNNAMED WOMAN: When an unnamed woman washed Jesus’ feet with her tears, he commended her.
Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet.” Luke 7:44-45
DAUGHTERS OF JERUSALEM: As Jesus was led to the cross, the daughters of Jerusalem wept. Jesus told them not to cry for him (who left no progedy), but for themselves and others. Read Luke 23:28-31.
2. God Commands Tears
There are indeed appropriate occasions to cry. Some are:
- Grief, tears for mourning (Genesis 23:2, 2 Samuel 1:12)
- Sadness, a natural outpouring of sorrow (1 Samuel 30:4)
- Regret, sorrow for sin (Matthew 26:75, James 4:9)
- Tears of joy (Genesis 50:1)
And God commands that you weep. Check these out:
Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Romans 12:15
Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh. Luke 6:21
Weeping may endure for the night, but joy comes in the morning. Psalms 30:5
3. Crying Is Good for You!
Scientiﬁc evidence indicates that when you shed emotional tears, the body releases stress-relieving endorphins. These chemicals help you feel better and stabilize your moods. Tears also release built-up toxins from emotional stress. Bottled-up emotions can contribute to stress-related diseases such as high blood pressure and heart problems.
Sometimes those who’ve experienced abuse or trauma donʼt feel it is safe to cry. They stuff their thoughts and emotions, and become like a pressure cooker ready to explode. Crying is one way to release the building tension.
There’s NO Crying in Heaven
Your tears are only for a season while you live earth. God promises to wipe away all your tears for eternity. They are not needed in Heaven.
For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd,
and he will guide them to springs of living water,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” Revelation 7:17
Until then, there are rights times cry. So let the tears roll.
Counseling Hope to Your Heart,
BAD HEALTH? Whether you or a loved one has bad health, doubts may rush in and twirl you like carnival ride. You may ask yourself:
- “What did I do to deserve this?”
- “Will I (or my friend) ever get better?”
- “Where’s God? How come he’s not helping?”
You may also experience anger, despair, and fear. Anger over waiting. Despair over pain. And fear of invasive tests, fear of bad news, even fear of God’s disfavor.
So have you faced bad health? Or, has a loved one of a friend had an awful illness? What emotions coursed through your veins?
My Bad Health Story
No physical form of bad health runs in my family. But mental problems do, namely anxiety, depression, and bipolar I disorder.
had has the latter. During my childhood, he dad walked in the shadows of depression, rarely smiling. And he often spoke in monotone. In my early teens, my mom and brother convinced him to get psychiatric help at a hospital.
I had no idea how to handle my dad’s depression and occasional manic episodes.
Click & Tweet!
In fact, I figured I was the problem. But I was wrong. Can you relate? My child mind thought. . .
If only I got better grades. . .
If only I kept my room clean. . .if only.
But there was nothing I could do to help, and this made me sad. Eveyone in the family found ways to deal with the pain of a loved one with bad health. For instance, my mom devoured romance novels. Potato chips and French onion dip put pounds on her frame. And my brother managed, barely. In grade school he pulled Cs, Ds, and Fs, though his IQ topped 140. Later, he got high on weed a lot. And later still, porn became his drug of choice.
Me? I still tried on perfectionism. Miss goody two shoes, I attempted to do everything right and learned it didn’t work. Yet I kept trying. Only later, when I trusted in Christ, I found my reason to hope and heal.
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 2 Corinthians 12:9
Bad health may have an emotional cause or physical root–or both. Heart disease, cancer, multiple sclerosis, lupus, fibromyalgia, diabetes, hypothyroidism, and other illness are physical. Doctors can indeed diagnose them through tests. But illnesses with a physical cause often take an emotional toll too.
Some types of bad health, like hypothyroidism, include the symptom of depressed mood, for example. Also, depending on the illness, there are physical changes such as bloating and hair loss. In addition, medications used to treat bad health may have nasty side effects. Soon the ill person may feel helpless and hopeless. Spiritually, she may cling to Jesus, or she may blame God for allowing the illness and wrecking her life.
What to Do
When a friend or family member faces bad health, how can you help? Well, they’re are helpful things to say and too. And there are cringe-worthy comments to avoid. Here are a few of each.
To say and do:
1. Say “I admire your courage.”
2. Ask, “Can I grocery shop, take you to the doctor, or clean the bathroom?”
3. Play an uplifting CD or make a delicious, healthy soup (see below).
1. “I know exactly how you feel.” You don’t.
2. Call your friend and talk a long, long time. Stick to 10 minutes unless she asks to talk longer. Add another 10 minutes tops. Use a timer.
3. Pretend nothing is wrong, like my family did.
What ideas have worked for you? Or have blown up in your face? My own personal, embarrassing piece of bad advice (that I no longer do): Telling someone how she should feel!
Click & Tweet!
May I Share a Recipe?
This first appeared in my book The Vegetarian Child (Perigee, 1997). I hope you like it. It’s make a great meal for someone in bad health. Or good health. It’s that delicious.
Creamy Broccoli Soup
A creamy soup with no cream? That’s right. The secret is pureed potatoes, which add extra nutrients to the soup without a smidgeon of fat.
2 cups chopped fresh broccoli
3 ½ cups vegetables stock or 3½ cups water with 1 vegetable bouillon cube
4 potatoes, peeled and cubed
½ onion, chopped
½ to 1 tablespoon fresh cilantro
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Place all the ingredients except the salt and pepper and ½ cup vegetable stock or water in a large pot. Bring to a boil, cover, and cook over medium heat until tender, about 20 minutes. Set aside ½ cup broccoli to use as garnish.
Puree the remaining contents of the pot, a batch at a time, in a blender or food processor. Be sure to fill the blender or food processor no more than 2/3 full. Return the pureed soup to the pot. Add the remaining vegetable stock or water, season with the salt and pepper, and simmer 5 minutes. Pour the soup into individual bowls and top each one with the reserved broccoli garnish. Serve warm.
Serves 6. Per serving: 91 cal; 3g prot; 0.2g fat; 21g carb; 0 chol; 368mg sod; 2.7g fiber
Counseling Hearts to Hope (and healing),
Is Mother’s Day hard for you? It is for me. And for three kids. (This blogpost is a favorite among my readers. I hope you appreciate it too.)
It’s tough for me because my mom (top photo, above) was my best friend and she died in the middle of the night. Too soon. Only 62. Sudden heart attack. I cried on and off for two years. Have you grieved deeply too? Have you wet pillowcases with your tears and crumpled used tissues?
It’s tough for my kids because they have never met their biological mothers: Belinda, Nari, and Oksana. Two of the three have made a sort of peace with this primary loss, this absence.
“Why did she give me up?” — their spoken words. Their deep, deep heart cry: “Wasn’t I good enough? Didn’t she love me?” I rattled the right adoptive mom lingo, “She made an adoption plan for you because she wasn’t married, didn’t have family support, or the money to raise you, and she made the best choice she could.”
These well-meaning words to my children fall flat. They don’t answer their deepest question. And they don’t answer mine.
Why, God, did you choose to take Mom to her true home the year I needed her most?
He showed me the answer in the Bible, an answer I didn’t like but over time accepted.
The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord. Job 1:21
Did your mom or mom-in-law pass away this year? Or did your child die? Are you trying to get pregnant and each passing month your sadness deepens? Perhaps you have another reason for tears on Mother’s Day.
You’d think a day of celebrating moms couldn’t hurt. For many, many of us it does. We have to find new ways to celebrate.
When my mom died 22 years ago, I selected a poem for her “In Memory of” card. I had little time to choose it, for no one expected her to pass on. . .yet. As tears wet my cheeks, I slow-motioned to my bookshelf to find Seasons of Your Heart by Macrina Wiederkehr. Years before, Wiederkehr’s way with verse had awakened my senses to seeing God in the ordinary: shopping malls and maple trees, teacups and Christmas lights, breadcrumbs and bare feet.
I needed her words now. I needed God now.
Life had become ugly. I ached for beauty and brightness.
Finding an Answer
As I read and reread the poetry, trying to find just the right verse, my broken heart started healing. Hope was returning. Oh. . .so. . .slowly.
Then I turned a page and found the one. Excited and happy yet fragile and sad, I carefully copied a part of the verse, perfect in its expression of my mom.
I looked for myself
in so many places
and then, in my weariness
I forgot about myself
and looked for You.
I found myself there
waiting for me
I am beautiful at last.
We women won’t find true beauty at work or in the cocktail lounge. It’s not at the salon or the PTO. You won’t even find it in the mirror.
True beauty, the kind that matters, is in Christ alone. He defines you. He says you are valuable and strong and beautiful, my sister in Christ.
A New Celebration
Ever since my mom died, I began a new celebration that soothes my soul. On Mother’s Day I plant bright and hard-to-kill flowers — no green thumb here! — tucking them by this maple and that birch, and in pots all around. It’s my living Mother’s Day card.
As their roots grow deep and their petals unfurl, I remember. I remember the flavor of my mom’s spaghetti, the way she walked tall, the scratch of a match to light her cigarette. I also remember God’s faithfulness to me on the blackest of days.
My prayer is my children discover their own celebrations for their birth moms. One has spoken of a tattoo:
“Love is patient, love is kind. . .It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails.” 1 Corinthinans 13
Beautiful. Just beautiful.
Sharing Hope with Your Heart,
You can heal after a child’s death. Or any loss. Your path is grief, messy grief.
Did you know that the world’s way of grieving leads toward hopelessness, while God’s plan for grief brings healing and draws you closer to him?
This is the fifth of eight posts in the blog series “Mending a Broken Heart.” My prayer: You’ll experience hope and healing as we journey through the pain of tough stuff like abuse and divorce and addiction and the death of a child. You can read the first four posts here. Please contact me with any questions, comments, and prayer requests. I’m here for you.
My Facebook buddy Kc Christman Hutter, author of A Broken Heart, grieved the death of her son Cam, who died of acute leukemia at age 32. See what happened during his last seven days on earth before he entered glory.
Grieve but How?
You’re familiar with Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ five-stage model of grieving, based on her research into how terminally ill patients handle the news of their illness:
from denial (“this can’t be true!)
to anger (“why me? why my child?”)
to bargaining (“God, if you heal my child then I’ll be the best mom ever”)
to depression (“yes, me. . .yes, my child”)
and finally acceptance (“life goes on but how?”).
Is this the best way to grieve?
The widely accepted model of grief is world-based, not Word-grounded. It describes how people typically grieve; it fails to prescribe a better way. It’s normal to hurt when a child or other loved one dies. It’s normal to hurt when you face any loss: a job, a friendship, a pet, health. It’s necessary to grieve.
What is this Word-grounded grief, this godly grief? How do you begin?
The apostle Paul knew hurt and grieve and he shared candidly with the believers in Corinth. Listen for his honesty. “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life” (2 Corinthians 1:8).
The First Two Steps of Godly Grieving
Paul expressed truth of suffering and grief. No sugar-coating. No denial.
Kc Hutter didn’t fake it either.
I needed to grieve. My heart demanded it. The first night after his death, I took a sleeping pill and had a horrendous nightmare. In the vivid scene, I was myself being sucked out into the ocean. No boat, no Cameron, only a wooden plank. I grabbed the plank and hung on until my muscles hurt and my red, bloody fingers ached. Finally my body numbed. Blackness enfolded everything. . ..I knew I could drown in my sorrow. This grief for my son seemed never ending. I wanted to die. But as a Christian, I felt ashamed of those feelings. Rest came for a few minutes and only when I put myself under the wings of my heavenly Father. I have hope. But how can I make it though each day?
1. Candor. This is the first stage of biblical grieving, says Robert Kellemen in God’s Healing for Life’s Losses. If you’re stuck in grief, I highly recommend you read Kellemen’s book. It renews your thinking about suffering and guides the reader from hurt to hope.
I remember when I learned my mom died. A phone call. Horrid, blackened news from a police officer. My first response: “Is this some sick joke?” Once I grasped the truth — and this took several days, for others it may be weeks — I felt crushed, my heart heavy like boulder.
Kellemen invites us to honestly voice our pain like the psalmist David, fearless facing the facts: “I hurt.”
“Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me?” (Psalm 42:5)
Denial doesn’t work. Candor does.
2. Complaint. Did I just write complaint as though I recommend you scream, “God, how could you allow this evil, this suffering, this horror?”
Biblical complaint is a lament, complaining to God not about God. As Kellemen says, “The Scriptures are clear–God invites lament, complaint. The Bible repeatedly illustrates believers responding to God’s invitation with honest words that would make many a modern Christian shudder” (God’s Healing for Life’s Losses, p. 32).
Can you guess Satan’s counterfeit to biblical complaint? Unhealthy, destructive anger, the type that accuses God of evil-doing, of lacking goodness.
I confess that after my mom died, I told God he made a mistake. My audacity!
What should I have said? What should you? What does a biblical complaint sound like?
A biblical complaint is honesty with God and expresses not only your confusion over how a good God allows evil and suffering but also your trust in him. You hide nothing from him. You tell him my pain. I wrote in journal after journal after journal.
I ripped up those journals because I never wanted anyone to read them. Ever.
My words, raw. My emotions, splattered, messy.
Kc voiced her pain too. She asked God for reassurance.
After I finished work one night, I walked into Cam’s office and fell on my knees with my face on the floor, pleading, ‘God, here I am again, needing a word of wisdom. Where did my darling son end up at the end of his earthly voyage? Tell me again, God, that he’s with You.’
Godly grief sidesteps bargaining and depression. Instead you and I cry to God for help and receive his comfort, ushering us to trusting with faith, groaning with hope, and engaging with grace and love. This grief is crazy-messy. Two steps forward, stumble, trip, fall flat-out and get up. And we choose.
As we grieve God’s way, we choose to entrust ourselves to God and to his larger purposes, this eternal perspective that gives hope.
About Kc and New Life
Kc was brought up in the church but did not have a personal relationship with Jesus until after her second divorce. She told the Lord in prayer, weeping and clutching her uncle’s Bible: “I’ve made such a mess of my life doing it my may. I forgot how much you love me. Forgive me.” God gave her the strength to pen a memoir and the hope to guide those who are hurting and without hope to the Mender of Broken Hearts.
Kc is married and lives in Washington State. She is the mother of two adult sons, one of whom died of cancer and is now with the Lord, and a grandmother.
A Few Questions
1. When grieving have you tended to draw near to God or pull away? Why?
2. After a loss do you tend to shut down, lash out, or talk with God?
3. How have you handled the question, Why does a good God allow suffering and evil?
Hope for You
Save me, O my God. The floods have risen.
Deeper and deeper I sink in the mire;
the waters rise around me.
I have wept until I am exhausted;
my throat is dry and hoarse;
my eyes are swollen with weeping,
waiting for my God to act.
(Psalm 69:1-3, TLB)
photo credit: ‘PixelPlacebo’ via photopin cc
Hope and Blessings!