Loneliness

We are fasting and praying again tomorrow for God-honoring marriages, redeemed men, and rescue from our own sin and brokenness.  Over 700 people from around the world are doing this today, a far cry from the band of six that started this five years ago….

Two of the times I felt the loneliest as a single woman were going to parties, and being photographed for the church directory.   I dreaded seeing the picture of me, all by myself, sandwiched between happy couples with cute, smiling children.  When I was in my early twenties, my roommates and I avoided this by getting our photo taken together; but that started to feel a bit weird when directory time came around again in my later twenties — my roommates weren’t my family, after all.  So I dodged the whole deal until my mid-thirties, when I decided to bite the bullet and just have that solo picture taken. Still, I felt sad and alone (and sometimes a bit embarrassed) to have my singleness “immortalized” in such a stand-out way.

And then there were the parties. I never liked walking into parties by myself, especially if I didn’t know whether I’d know many people.  It’s always uncomfortable feeling like you don’t have a place to land when you run out of people to talk with.  More often than not it turned out fine, but I never looked forward to the awkwardness, and sometimes I’d prolong conversations well past the interesting stage just because I didn’t see anyone else on the horizon I could easily make a move towards.   Once I skipped a good friend’s anniversary party because I was in a bit of an emotional pit and couldn’t face going there alone.  I just didn’t have the energy to start up conversations with strangers, or to navigate the awkwardness if I found myself alone.

So what do we do with the loneliness?  Prior to getting married, my honest (if un-admitted) answer would have been “pray to get married!” But I’ve since learned that isn’t a fix.  I married a good man, and yet I still get waves of loneliness.  Last night I talked to a long-time friend from the town where I used to live, and I was reminded once again how much I miss my friends.  That familiar pit in the stomach returned.

So what’s our strategy for dealing with loneliness?  I think it can be particularly acute for those who are single, but I’ve discovered it’s really a human ache, and all of us feel it.   How do we cope?

1)   Pray.  Cry out to God, surrendering it to him a thousand times a day if you have to.  God is near, and present.  He is Immanuel, God with us.  I had to do this again this morning, when I woke up to realize I hadn’t shaken my wave of loneliness.

2)   Practice thankfulness. Ask God to show you ways you aren’t alone, and give thanks. I dare to say that few people will claim to have all of their relational “life buckets” filled to satisfaction at the same time.   But all of us do have people in our lives — roommates, siblings, friends, co-workers, church communities.  Ask God to show you who is with you, and choose gratitude.

3)   Put others first.  I was wrong to skip my friend’s anniversary party.  Sometimes it’s ok to give yourself a break and stay home; this time it wasn’t. I hurt my friend, and I regret my decision.  I wish I had chosen to love my friend by being present at her important celebration rather than selfishly sinking into my own pit of sadness.   Life and healing come when we choose to love, even in the midst of our own struggle.

The truth is, of all people in the world, we as believers are most fortunate because we are never alone. God is present with us, in us.  We have intimacy with him always at our fingertips.  May God give us grace to press into his nearness.

Anne

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26 Responses to Loneliness

  1. Pingback: Hope and the Numbers | fast. pray.

  2. Janelle says:

    whoops. didn’t realize my friend had just reposted what you wrote. I was writing to her, but what you wrote (and she reposted) is beautiful, so thank you!

  3. Anne (McCain) Brown says:

    So glad it was helpful!

  4. Joanne says:

    I appreciate your honesty with the stories in your post. I remember growing up at a church that had a church directory, and I enjoyed sitting and looking at the pictures as a child and teenagers. I remember the strangeness of seeing those individuals alone on the page, silhouetted against whatever color backdrop had been chosen that year. It gave me a peculiar feeling. And now, if my church had a directory, I’d be highlighted in that singular fashion myself.

    The past two years of my life have been the loneliest ones I’ve experienced, yet I have great friends and family. Change, and the ongoing unfulfilled desire for true, deeply personal partnership in my life, have brought loneliness. I agree with your strategy for handling loneliness. I have also pulled out the Word at times and specifically asked for a fresh revelation of His love for me. Jesus is truly the friend that sticks closer than a brother.

  5. Jen says:

    Thanks for this great post. I really do struggle with throwing myself large pity parties – just this morning, I was heading to the train to go into work and just felt acutely aware of my loneliness as I got up alone, ate breakfast alone, and sat surrounded by people and not talking to them (pity party 101!). I love the practical tips to fight against loneliness, though, and will definitely be using them!!

    • Anne (McCain) Brown says:

      So glad it was a helpful post! Yes, pity parties are easy to fall into….

    • Carole says:

      I *really* wish that Christians would stop referring to heart-felt sadness as “pity parties.” It’s more like a wailing wall…think of the woman in the Bible who asked for two months to go and mourn her final days as single and childless. Yes, singles need to make an effort to be less self-absorbed, but the rest of Christian society needs to stop minimizing and devaluing a true and 1,000% valid *life-long grief* with the colossal insult of “pity party.”

  6. connienoelle says:

    Reblogged this on connienoelle writes and commented:
    Wow. This was such a wonderful reminder and I’m sharing it with all of you too.

  7. Dee says:

    Wow, Anne, thanks for your transparency and sharing how so many of us feel. And thanks for the revelation about marriage! That marriage is not an answer to loneliness. I will try your suggestions. Your honesty is truly a blessing!

  8. Theresa says:

    I love it when married people get real and admit they get lonely too. I think singles need to hear that more so they don’t idealize being married. Marriage is a gift from God, but so is being single. I really believe that.

  9. Kristin says:

    Perfect timing.
    Over the last few weeks, I’ve been serving as one of the director for a college student summer mission trip. I love it and am honored to be here but it can be beyond lonely. I’m 41 and live with three 20-something single women. They are all great but it can be lonely. There are five married couples too. Love them all but…
    Anyway, weeks ago a friend pointed me to Psalm 107. See the pattern? They cried out, He rescued, they gave thanks. I’ve tried to live by that pattern now with the “giving thanks” as a big focus.
    Two weeks before coming, I sustained an injury in both legs that has kept me from running now for 5+ weeks. Some would see that as a good thing but here, it is my favorite time of day. First thing in the morning to take off alone and run and run in the woods on a trail. It has not been easy to not do that or hike in these beautiful mountains but I have to choose to CRY OUT and GIVE THANKS! God knows. He has me here for a reason. This season has purpose whether or not I’m ever married.
    I say all that and still have meltdowns in my room. Not a saint… just on a sanctification journey.

    • Anne (McCain) Brown says:

      Amen. I hear you. My roommates kept getting younger and younger, and I kept getting older…its hard!! Sorry about your injury- I get how losing that time would cost you. I hope the trip turns out to be ok, though, in spite of that!

  10. Rose says:

    Oh my gosh! This could not have come at a better time. I had a sad, lonely, weekend and like you suggested, Anne, I just kept praying. Thank you!

  11. Susan says:

    Anne –

    First, thanks and praise to our King for all he does!! 700 from 6 is just a snippet of His glory!!

    This past weekend I found myself (again) at a gathering alone. . .waa, waa, waa, I started feeling sorry for me. . .until I looked across the room and saw a guy who I had been introduced to a couple of months ago, never married, has never found “his” gal (yet). . .he was smiling from the wheelchair that has been his mobility since an accident over 20+ years ago.

    Yes, I will still have my “why me/poor me” moments again and again. . .

    but God humbled me this past weekend by putting in my sight that wheelchair “friend”!

    ps – I will be fasting tomorrow along with praying for all 700 who are encouraged by your blog – including me!!

    woo wee!

  12. halennox says:

    Andrea, I hear you about the “wedding alone” situation. I’m always afraid of where I’ll have to sit for the dinner… So, point # 3 is resonating with me regarding an upcoming wedding I’m attending. Thank you, Anne!

  13. smvernalis says:

    Oh, Anne, thank you! I just had that “I hate going to parties alone” weekend. I’m an extrovert with singleness-induced social phobia at times–I hate missing a party, but I hate going alone. Bleh!

  14. smvernalis says:

    Oh, Anne, thank you. I just had that “I hate going to parties alone” weekend; I’m an extrovert with singleness-induced social phobia–don’t want to stay home from the party, don’t want to go alone. Bleh.

  15. Suzanne says:

    The church directory… ah yes, my single state forever immortalized in print! After dodging having my picture taken for a couple of years I had what I thought was a grand epiphany: perhaps it will serve as a potential match-maker. Those of us who unwillingly find ourselves in this conundrum, and who are honest with ourselves, know the thought process: “Get all prettied up. Smile for the camera. And BOOM, the godly man of my dreams will see my picture, notice that I’m ALONE in this picture, will seek me out, and in less than 12 months we’ll be happily married!” Goodness, in this streak of ‘creative thinking’ I even went so far as to give the directory a name: FreeHarmony.

    Well, six years and three directories later, I’m still not married. But I haven’t let that stop me from having my picture – of just me, myself, and I – taken for eventual publishing in the church directory. And while I continue to fight to trust God with my single status, I’ve actually chosen to use the church directory as an opportunity to feel connected to the body of believers in my very big local church. And who knows, God may not use it to bring a dashing, godly husband to me, but He may instead use it to connect me to housemate #35, right?

    All these nonesensical musings aside, thank you for articulating two specific scenarios that often make singleness even more pronounced and painful for me than the absence of a sparkler on my left ring finger and the letters “Mrs.” before my first name. I can relate to both of these all too well. While I laugh at my own thoughts and jokes, it’s clear that even the humor I regularly employ about being 38 and single, or on housemate 35, is my flesh aiming to dodge the sting of my current reality: still not married. The crustiness of heart that cynicism produces is a far cry from the Christ-likeness that God wants to work in me, nor does cynicism itself do anything helpful to draw me to Him. So thank you, thank you, thank you for these basic but oft-neglected reminders to cry out to God, to be active in cultivating a heart of gratitude, and to be purposeful in putting others first.

    Suzanne

    • Anne (McCain) Brown says:

      You are so funny, Suzanne! I never thought of the directory as freeharmony, but you’ve got a point! I haven’t every counted up my roommates, but I should…and all those weddings. For a while I married off every 20 something roommate who lived with me. Yikes.

      Good to laugh about it all.

  16. Andrea says:

    Heading to a wedding alone so I really thank you .

  17. Carrie says:

    It’s like you read my mind. I just moved to a new city and I am surrounded by couples. I appreciate their friendship but sometimes the sense of loneliness is a bit much because I go home and am alone. I’m learning to rely on God on a greater level. This was helpful. Thank you.

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