Alone?

coffee13.jpgI’ve got a question.

 
Many, many people feel isolated and alone.
 

  • Many men in their more honest moments will speak of feeling alone or friendless.
  • Many ministers speak of feeling very alone in their ministries.  One often hears the phrase "isolated and alone" when ministers are being very honest.
  • Many people speak of how hard it is to make friends in their church.  Some will point to a time, place, or church when they had close friends.  However, they have never been able to have those same kinds of experiences again.
  • Some people admit they have few if any friends but will then say that they really have no time to invest in new friendships.

Why is the sense of being alone or friendless so common?  What are some of the contributing factors?  What can be done (either by individuals or by a church) to help remedy this? 

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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30 thoughts on “Alone?

  1. I think the reasons are vast and numerous, some cultural, societal and sometimes priority related.  Loneliness also has roots in guilt, shame, exhaustion and unacceptance. And so as we struggle with how to deal with this I think there has to be a multi-faceted approach because not all loneliness is coming from the same place.
    However, several years ago when Randy Frazee wrote The Connecting Church, he talked alot about this in terms of our loneliness being a symptom of where we live versus where we work, worship and play.  I think for urban areas his book spoke well to that struggle.
    We can’t help acknowledge that many of our lives are so frenetic that we do not have room or time for relationship.  You can almost see eyes roll when you begin speaking about real community and what it takes.  People are thinking how idealistic that is and they question how they can possibly fit it into their lives between work, kids activities, chores etc.  This same overly extended generation of people can hardly fathom the spiritual practice of hospitality in order to cultivate relationships.
    In addition, I think there is a kind of loneliness that comes from neglect of time with the Lord.  No matter how great and authentic the community is that one shares with others, people were never intended to be the ones who fill the God shaped hole in our hearts.  I think our loneliness is best remedied  by an inner life connected to God and a communal life rich with those who minister to us and those to whom we minister.
    As a church I don’t think there is a cure all for this.  Certainly we can position ourselves and our entry points to facilitate people getting into smaller groups of one kind or another in order to make connections with others.  I think the greater challenge is trying to form a culture that prioritizes hospitality, service, confession, sharing and mentoring.  Perhaps when Christians are being honest about their lives, testifying and praying over each other in public ways, the temptation to remain in a lonely place of guilt or shame will be less likely.
    Sorry this comment is so long.  You really have me thinking.

  2. I believe it is one of Satan’s ways of attacking us.  If he can make us feel isolated, powerless, weak, alone especially in our ministries and marriages then he can cause Spiritual defeat within us.  We need to always be in the word, not just in sermon prep. but in it for ourselves.  We need to remember and stnad on the promises of Jesus.  Promises such as "I am with you always" "He has given us a spirit not of timidity but of POWER"  "We are more than conqueorers"  "We can BODLY approach the thrown of grace" and on and on.  We need to understand we have the Holy Spirit with in us.  Burning with in us. We are empowered.  My prayer is that we will not isolate ourselves but we will grow in our relationship with God, our wives, children, eachother as leaders and understand the strength we have within us.  May God help ministers and their families not to burn out but to grow and be the leaders they need to be.  May the elderships give them the freedom to use the education and talents that God has given them to edify the church.  I believe alot of elderships enslave the ministers in their congregations and that can cause isolation as well. So, I pray for freedom.  I pray for elders to be pastors.  Caring and loving their flocks as Christ does the church instead of being a bunch of CEO’s or board of directors.  I pray that if there are any ministers who feel isolated or enslaved that God will work mightly in their lives to give them the spirit He wants them to have. The fire within! 
    Thanks for this great post and discussion.
    God bless you brother.  

  3. There is little doubt in my mind that the masses of humanity are still living lives of quiet desperation. However, after more than 26 years in ministry, I have never felt "isolated and alone," though I have known plenty of fellow-ministers who have.
    My suggestion for those who do feel this way is (and I do not mean for this to sound flipant) to "get real!" Beyond this, I would suggest that, instead of building working relationships with congregants, we need to build real friendships.
    Blessings,
    -bill

  4. Arlene,This is a great comment.  You have some excellent thoughts.   These two sentences are big.  Loneliness also has roots in guilt, shame, exhaustion and unacceptance.
    And so as we struggle with how to deal with this I think there has to
    be a multi-faceted approach because not all loneliness is coming from
    the same place.
    Your words remind me that dealing with this is not as simple as one
    might think.  There may not be a one-size fits all solution to this.I also really like your observations about the frenetic pace of our lives:
    We can’t help acknowledge that many of our lives are so frenetic that we do not have room or time for relationship.
    As a result, not only are we exhausted and tired but often have little or no interest in such valuable disciplines such as hospitality.   That is our loss.  I think you are so right in your closing lines regarding a return to some very important and helpful disciplines.Thanks so much. 

  5. Kinney,I really like this opening line in your comment:I believe it is one of Satan’s ways of attacking us.  If he can make us
    feel isolated, powerless, weak, alone especially in our ministries and
    marriages then he can cause Spiritual defeat within us.
    Your words remind me that such feelings can cause a person to feel tremendous defeat and sense of hopelessness.These feelings are not to be ignored or minimized. 

  6. Bill,Thanks for your note.  It is good to hear that you and no doubt others in ministry have never experienced the sense of being "isolated and alone" in their work.   For all of the pressures and stress involved in this work, that is one less challenge that you have had to deal with. Thanks.

  7. I think Satan’s favorite tool is that of perceived isolation. Even though there are billions of us on this planet, he somehow knows how to use our shortcomings and insecurities to make us feel all alone.  When you think about it, it is almost a bit heady for any of us to think that we are living in a situation that is unique only to us, that we are the only ones who feel a certain way, or that we are alone in our circumstances.  The trick is to have the courage to seek out others when we feel alone. The law of percentages alone should tell us we are seldom alone in any circumstance. I think that is why support groups such as AA work, because they make people see they are not alone. The deepest friendships I have forged were in  times when I was most open to seeking others who were going through or had been through the same things I was going through. For instance when we were expecting our first child we went to a church where there were literally dozens of young married couples starting their families. We had a new or expecting Moms Wednesday night class where I made friends who are still some of my best friends, even though none of us even live in the same town anymore. My husband had the same kind of class for young and new dads. We also had a small group of six families that functioned as our family because none of us had any family in the area. Now I am fortunate to live in an area where I am surrounded by my family, and they are my best friends. It takes more effort to seek out friends outside of family and get involved in their lives. Sometimes I don’t do very well at this, just as sometimes people only have friends in their church families. Oh this is too long! Will stop now! 🙂 Great topic! 

  8. Having always used relationships to ‘fill up’…I am more and more feeling lonely but never alone…in the loneliness for me more and more is where I find Him…I think it’s a good place for me right now, not comfortable or a place I like…..and yet in the loneliness that I never allowed myself to feel…I am finding the best relationship.

  9. All of the comments are so good. Based on what I’ve learned by experience and by listening to others, sometimes we don’t want to do the work of learning how to fulfill our own needs. I think there’s a level of learned helplessness that goes on here and in other areas of our emotional makeup.
     
    Sometimes as we grow and get busy in our own lives, we forget the rules of play or taking action when there’s something we want to do or need. Think kids on the playground at recess, your goal was to find something that you liked doing and get in on the fun fast. The issue of self doubt also will make a person feel they have nothing to offer, so they don’t pursue friends or relationships, even when encouraged. I also think they might personalize isolation and loneliness and even tell others why they didn’t like an event they attended and then let you know how no one pursued interest in them. I’ve found that as you offer ideas that might help, the ideas are countered with reasons why they can’t try them.
     
    I also feel if it really is a need, we will figure out how to make time, just as we do with the other needs in our lives. We might need to go over our "needs" list.
     
    Now, the issue of ministers and alone/loneliness, that’s a tough one as I’ve seen in a couple of the smaller churches here in the northeast, an attitude of he’s the minister, we’re the group who hired him mentality. So, he’s "one of us" with a big "but" at the end of that statement. No pun intended, only one "t". These churches tend to be the kind of place where the minister is supposed to do everything and be everything to everyone. Ouch!
     
    Do we think church is the only place to have and develop friendships?
     
    We tend to base friendship on what we need or want, rather than a way to learn about how to get to know other people and in the process make friends. I think when people decide to learn who they are, what they like or need, they will take the necessary action to meet their needs, they’ll feel better and in the process of being involved in their lives, they will connect with others in a more positive way and share the joy of friendship.
     
    I might be the only one here that might not think the challenge of feeling alone or lonely is Satan’s desire to set me up. I’ve come to see a lot of the challenges that come my way, just might be sent from God to spiritually grow me and push me into learning how to serve Him and others better. Think Job here. Remember, your perception is your reality.
     
    Lorene

  10. I have to say that the question brings to mind Jesus’ being taken into the wilderness after his baptism (although that is probably the Lent talking).  I wonder if there might be some immense grace lurking beneath the loneliness that many christians bear with them throughout their lives.  I was once struck by a passage in Thomas Merton where he says that it was a retreat into isolation that forged his strong sense of connectedness to the world.  
    Let me put it this way, much of what we experience in our bumping up against other people, whether in church or at work or in our homes has the effect of leaving us feeling more alone.  Yet the writing of the few hermits and monks I have read have dripped with more compassion and concern for people and for the world than any conversation I’ve had with even the most caring of my Christian friends.  In a world where more and more means of connecting with people (technology etc.) we are left with less and less space alone.  I think that there is something to the idea that we are only able to meaningfully connect with people when we retreat and are alone and connect with God.  Our culture has preserved no place for that and so it shouldn’t surprise us when we experience more and more loneliness and isolation. Just some thoughts I guess

  11. Hmm. This one’s a tough one. I think on the spiritual warfare front that there’s another weapon he uses, particularly on us women (come on girls, back me up on this). It’s the weapon of hyper-busyness. He attempts to convince us that because we aren’t good enough, that we have to be hyper-busy in with our kids, our churches, our work, whatever we’re involved in in order to feel good about ourselves and what we can accomplish.
    The "big but" here is that we don’t have to. God tells us, "Be still and know that I Am God" (Psalm 46:10). At least for me, I find that when I slow down enough to catch a vision of who God is, my sense of who I am is restored as well, and I can walk confidently in this world, whether I’m alone or with people. I find myself living in the midst of the Eternal Community of the Holy Trinity, aware of Their constant presence, filling my relationships and activities with holiness and power. Thus, renewing my relationship with God daily is key here.
    When I don’t take the time to build fellowship with Him, all my other relationships start to fray. I find myself playing games in order to protect myself from the perceived threat of other people, unaware that Satan is trying to bend me out of shape, keep me from trusting in who God has declared me to be, and living in that reality. I become hyper-busy in order to try to fill the emptiness I feel inside me, that insidious sense that I am somehow unworthy to be in community, so I become this fake person in fake community, which doesn’t address the real spiritual need of being with God.
    We can blame the culture all we want, but the fact is that we have a choice: are we going to slow down enough to cultivate authentic relationships, or are we going to be convinced that we  have to do everything under the sun in order to fill ourselves up? I for one choose to slow down and let God fill me with what He knows I need, and in that freedom, He can use me to fill others with what they need. (Sorry this is so dang long!)
     

  12. Jim,
    You don’t need my input on this because I’m a classically isolated male. I’d like to blame my lack of intimate friends on the fact that I was in fulltime ministry for the past 15 years, but that has got to be a cop out. Now that I’m working in an other than ministry job I’m meeting lots of new people who don’t prejudge me based on my "church" role. It’s going to take some time for me to learn to open up and trust the people around me—I’ve been hurt time and time again by the people in churches with whom I allowed myself to become close.

  13. It’s very difficult to make yourself accept new friends if you’ve had to leave old ones behind somewhere (and it was very painful)…to open up to the possibility of a life of painful separations. 

    • I can related to what you are saying. I went exactly through it 4 years ago, in a different country away from all I knew……still trying to figure out how to get rid of the lonely feeling, yet I feel closer to God, when i reach out to Him…

  14. I hate asking for help and I am terrible at connecting with people.  But some struggles in my life last year finally forced me to step out of my box.  Now, months later, it stuns me how isolated I used to be and how isolated so many other Christians are. 
    I’m like so many I know who go months or years without praying with others about their needs, without asking others about their doubts…I attend church every week, teach Sunday school, read my Bible…but in my family and so many other Christian homes, faith is treated as sort of a "private" thing.
    And that’ll kill a person.  We were meant to have community.  We were meant to grow together, to build one another up as a body.
    I am so blessed by those who are coming along-side me, and I hope that I help them, as well.
    Having other Christians being Christians in my life–listening to me, praying with me, answering my questions–has changed who I am.
    But now I wonder why Christian community doesn’t happen in the world around me.  Why do I never pray with my Christian co-worker when things are really bad?  Why is the work place just like my family–faith is personal, not something we share?  We’re sisters, aren’t we?

  15. I used to look at this loneliness thing as some sort of brokenness that had not yet been healed in me.  In retrospect, knowing that I’m created in the image of God, I believe the loneliness is an insatiable desire for community- a longing that is already here for the Kingdom that is ‘not yet’.  It keeps me humble and open to opportunities for relationships.  I like it, its honest and true.  We run from so many things that we think to admit would be admitting some sort of weakness, someone once said that in our weakness his strength is made perfect.

  16. I wrote a response this morning on my blog to the diversity and fluidity shown by the new Pew Forum survey. My plea for community and permanence seems to fit into this discussion. you’re invited  to read "SOME THOUGHTS ON PERMANENCE IN CHURCH LIFE" at that location. JJB

  17. Having been in church leadership more than once, I can vouch for the feelings of loneliness and isolation. But I am going to wax pragmatic here and not theological and I will not spirirtualize it.
    Leadership can be a lonely place…period. Books have been written about this and I am not going to write another on this blog. I’ll leave it to the more prolific.
    We foster loneliness in our churches – by willingly treating our ministers as islands, by willingly treating our leaders as somthing greater than human and foisting on them super-human responsibilities; they can’t and won’t deliver. Some of our ministers have stinky attitudes about who they are based on their own expecations and the expectations of others.
    Our seminaries and bible schools are seedbeds of loneliness – they are creating people with attitudes that w/ an MDIV, ThM, you name it, you will be equipped to be the great hope of any church or ministry anywhere. They rarely address the darker side of leading and ministering and the feeling of being alone or isolated. They will acknowledge it happens but will do next to nothing to prepare you for it (as much as is possible).
    We say we value friendship but we don’t want to take the time or embrace the vulnerability that goes with it. We say and know we might get hurt. I say true enough but how else do we encounter the love of God and learn to love like Him? It’s a strange paradox. It’s a paradox I fear our "communities" don’t know how to handle or simply don’t want to because of our predisposition to individualism and pain-avoidance.
     

  18. So, what can we laypeople do to help?  Recognizing that our beloved pastors are flawed human beings and not expecting them to be superhuman, what can we do to lessen that isolation without becoming yet another burden.  After all, "be nice to the parishioner" is part of the job description and vacation time is time away from us.  How do we respect that and also act in a way that doesn’t add to isolation?

  19. Jim, As one of those minister, evangelist, pastor-dudes, everything you said resonates with me.  I need to be reminded often that I need to keep myself engaged with those who care….my wife, my elders…my great guy-friends.    I need to be reminded to seek them out with more regularity.To paraphrase an old joke….If I can just receive encouragement on days starting with "T" , I’ll be OK.  Tuesday, Thursday, Today, Tomorrow, This day, That day, Taturday and Tunday…Thanks for the post.Gary Cleveland 

  20. Kristen #19,At the risk of sounding trite, I am going to answer your question(s) with another question. Perhaps not what you expected. What does the Apostle Paul say in his letters to the Ephesians and Colossians? What does Jesus command about loving one another (Jn 15, 17)?Remember, the apostles and Jesus laid no different burden on the ones gifted to equip us than on us. We are all entitled to the same grace, love and power from God. Too many ministers have a graduated scale regarding this (seminary/graduate school baggage).What dimension this activity will take in your life is for you and your community/church and God to decide. There is no step-by-step manual written. But remember this, whatever step(s) you take, may initially be taken alone with little or no participation from others. Don’t expect others to join you other than one person, the Holy Spirit. But like I said before; this is the paradox. How do we know and encounter the company and companionship of God? Often on our own and then with a few other brave ones. Sounds like Jesus doesn’t it?

  21. Stephanie—Thanks very much.  In particular I appreciate your reminder that Satan does use these feelings of aloneness and isolation for his purposes.Becky—I appreciate your first sentence where you confess to having used relationships to "fill up."  Your words are important.  Probably many of us have used people instead of loved them.  Consequently, we focus only on what we are getting from them instead of serving and loving them.Alison,I really like the following sentence.  What you say is very important I find myself playing games in order to protect myself from the
    perceived threat of other people, unaware that Satan is trying to bend
    me out of shape, keep me from trusting in who God has declared me to
    be, and living in that reality. I become hyper-busy in order to try to
    fill the emptiness I feel inside me, that insidious sense that I am
    somehow unworthy to be in community, so I become this fake person in
    fake community, which doesn’t address the real spiritual need of being
    with God.
     Ben— I appreciate your honesty.  Your words have such a refreshing candor.  I would enjoy visiting with you over coffee one day.Rachel—It is very hard to leave old and special friends behind isn’t it?   I still grieve over good friends that we just can’t be around due to where we live and where they live.  

    • Totally agree withyou Rachel…yet there has to be a way to find peace and learn to let go and keep living….going through it for a while…Thanks

  22. Lorene—Thanks for your words.  I really like this sentence:We tend to base friendship on what we need or want, rather than a way
    to learn about how to get to know other people and in the process make
    friends.
    I think this is so important.  This shifts the focus from seeking something for me to genuinely giving myself to a person to get to know them.Michael— Very good thoughts!  I like what you are saying regarding the value of retreating, being alone with God and then connecting with people.  I like this sentence about the lack of space and silence.In a world where more and more means of connecting with people (technology etc.) we are left with less and less space alone.The Week—During a difficult year for you, it sounds as if you have really discovered Christian community in your church.  Wonderful!  I like your testimony as to how this has change your life.Sam— Now this is a line that I really like!  "…loneliness is an insatiable desire for community…"

  23. Jonas— Thanks for alerting us to this piece that is on your blog.Chad—Thanks very much for your kind words.  Hope you will return to this blog.Bill—Thank you for these very candid and much needed reflections.  Your comment suggests that there are a number of dimensions to this problem. 

  24. I encourage everyone to glance at Kristen’s questions #19.How would you respond?  (Thanks Kristen for asking these good questions)

  25. Gary— Good to hear from you again.  You make an important point–the need to spend time with people who really do care about you the most. Bill— Thanks so much for your thoughts.