Overcoming Loneliness and Isolation

Overcoming Loneliness and Isolation

In the very beginning, God noted that it isn’t good for a person to be alone. Adam was surrounded by animals, birds, fish, beauty everywhere, and he had fellowship with God Himself. Yet, God said that Adam needed someone else that he could connect with. Back there in the very beginning, we need other people. Even if we basically don’t like other people, we still need to have some people in our lives. It’s how we’re programmed, it's how we're wired, so to speak.

Here’s something that surprised me. The United States Surgeon General has declared that loneliness has become a “profound threat” to American’s public health in part because – listen to this -  many Americans have stopped going to churchUS Surgeon General Vivek Murthy and his team noted that people need to get together, and be connected. He said that religious services, like other types of community events, have historically been an important way for people to become socially connected and to develop meaningful relationships.

Here’s what his report says. “Religious or faith-based groups can be a source for regular social contact, serve as a community of support, provide meaning and purpose, create a sense of belonging around shared values and beliefs, and are associated with reduced risk-taking behaviors. As a consequence of this decline in participation, individuals’ health may be undermined in different ways.”

I can totally understand the fears of loneliness that many people feel. And I agree that it’s one of America's biggest problems. Even people with lots of friends and a loving family still often feel alone and isolated from other people.

You might feel basically lonely. You can love the Lord, and love the other people in your life, and still feel lonely. I remember an old song that had the line, “You don’t have to be alone, to feel alone. You can have someone, and steel feel alone.”

Different people deal loneliness in different ways. Some people just go out and meet a bunch of people, and have shallow conversations, and maybe even do things they don’t even enjoy, just to keep from feeling shut off.  Some people keep the radio or TV on 24/7, just for some sense of not being alone.

Loneliness is something that none of us are exempt from feeling from time to time. It can come from different things, like a marriage or relationship break up. Or losing a loved one. Moving somewhere where we don’t know anybody yet, or taking a new job, or being transferred. Not having a church and group of Christian friends to fellowship with is a big thing that can make us feel lonely. Even our Surgeon General knows that!

And, even though we have access to more people than ever before, and can interact with people around the world, there is also an epidemic of loneliness and people who find themselves in isolation. We can have dozens, hundreds or thousands of friends on social media, but still not feel a connection with any of them.

Even worse, we can look at all their pictures of them having these incredible lives with all their happy friends, doing fun things, and it can make us feel even more lonely. For a lot of people, it can cause a sense of feeling lost, disconnected, and hopeless.

God recognizes this struggle and reminds us that we’re not alone in our feelings. In Psalm 25 verse 16, David cries out to God, "Turn to me and be gracious to me, because I am lonely and afflicted." I want to tell you, that when we acknowledging our feelings and bring them before God, we open ourselves to receive His help and comfort from the Holy Spirit, from God’s Comforter!

When we're basically lonely, we try to get more out of our friendships than they can provide. We look to our friends to provide the happiness, satisfaction and meaning in life that only can come from the inside of us, when we’re at peace with God. That fact is, these other people can’t do it, no human being can do that for us! And when we expect them to do that for us, we end up “smothering” them – and driving them away.

You’ve probably known people who do that. They do what’s called “overkill” and so, before long, their few friends drop them and avoid them – and they end up lonely again all because they were trying to avoid loneliness. It’s really sad.

We can misunderstand friendships, and expect people to do for us what no one can do.

A friend isn’t someone whose job it is to make us happy.

A friend isn’t someone who’ll be available to meet our emotional needs 24/7.

A friend isn’t someone who wants to hear all our problems all the time.

A friend isn’t someone who’ll always agree with us no matter what.

A friend isn’t someone we can be rude to and will never hold us accountable.

A friend isn’t someone who only looks out for you and never looks out for themselves, and never had their own life, so they can be available to us all the time.

I want to talk about some ways to overcome that loneliness. I had to learn that we won’t make friends until we’re willing to sow the seeds of friendship. People won’t just go out and “discover” us.

The Bible says in Proverbs 18 verse 24 that the person who would have friends, must show themselves to be friendly. In other words, I need to demonstrate that I’m approachable and easy to be around. I need to do that where there are people already gathered. It won't work when I'm sitting alone in my living room, waiting for someone to knock on my door looking for a friend. For me, church is a place where I was able to find and make friends. But I had to show that I was friendly and easy to be around.

That verse, Proverbs 18 verse 24, says that there’s a Friend that sticks closer than a brother. Jesus is that friend, that friend that sticks closer than a brother. So, first, I had to be at peace with myself – I mean, if I don’t like me, how can I expect anyone else to take the time to find out if I’m good friendship material or not.  I need to become friends with the Lord. I need to demonstrate my friendliness and respect for other people.

We need to be genuinely interested in them and in their situations. We need to focus on them and not just on ourselves and our interests. Be interesting, pleasant and upbeat. No one wants to hang around a whiner and a complainer!

Also, I had to learn that people are human, they aren’t perfect and they aren’t going to be thinking about ME and my feelings all the time.

People will let you down. They’ll disappoint you. Even good friends will have faults. I had to ask the Lord to help me to believe the best and to give people the benefit of the doubt. I had to learn to forgive. Jesus said in Matthew 5 verse 7, “Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.” So, I had to learn to cut people some slack, to give people grace!

God wants to help us deal with our loneliness as we draw near to Him, and receive the comfort that only He can give. He says in Isaiah 41 verse 10, "Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand." God promises to be with us through every season of life, including the isolating ones. His presence brings an internal sense of comfort and peace, reminding us that we are never totally alone.

The Bible emphasizes the importance of community, encouraging us to seek fellowship and support. In Ecclesiastes 4:9-10, we read, "Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion." Together, we can encourage, support, and uplift each other, and becoming true friends, and be able to enjoy true friendship. Getting involved here at Church, so many of our Worship Center people have found, has been a pipeline for connecting with like-minded people who share our values and beliefs and help us through our various struggles.

Times of loneliness and isolation can be seasons of growth and spiritual transformation. I think of what God tells us in Romans 5, verses 3 &4. It says, that we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope." Through our trials, we have the opportunity to develop our resilience, our ability to bounce back, to deepen our faith, and cultivate a sense of hope that’s beyond our circumstances. Many of God’s people have found that the experience of loneliness can draw us closer to God, enabling us to rely on His strength and grace, and can give us more empathy and compassion for other people. And that empathy and compassion can be what causes us to show ourselves to be friendly or approachable to them, and they become our friends, as we become friends to them!

Last, and this is the really important one – take these principles and apply them principles to your friendship with Jesus. Be friendly to Him. Show yourself friendly. Don’t expect Him to come seeking you out, while you’re busy watching tv or hanging out on social media. Seek Him out, and let Him know that you value His presence and closeness in your life.

Like with any friend, don’t just come to Him with your complaints list. Tell Him what is going well in your life, things you’re happy about and that you’re thankful for. Be real with Him. Don’t put some fake personality to try to impress Him. He knows what you’re all about anyways.

Be a good listener and listen to what He says to you through the Word and prayer. Be loyal to Him and when you’re around your “cool” friends, remember not to snub Jesus or make like you aren’t His friend. Don’t be ashamed to know Jesus or to have Him with you.

Take time with Him like any other friend. Ask for His forgiveness and ask Him to draw near to you and help you to be a better person and friend. It’s not good to be alone. Become a person that YOU would want to spend time with. How do we do that? By spending time with Jesus and picking up His mannerisms, His heart, His caring for people. The abundant life that you receive from Jesus will spill over into your outer life and then, you’ll find God bringing quality people into your life, and bringing you into THEIR lives!