Are you lonely? After a few years of social distancing, quarantine, and isolation, many of us are feeling disconnected. Politics are polarized, families are divided, and we're having less conversations with others. While life has returned to "normal" in many ways, we've lost many of our daily interactions and even some of our social skills. Many of us work from home indefinitely, we're no longer used to not having people over for dinner, and we don't remember how to engage with others through small talk.
Or maybe, your story is different. You've consistently showed up for gatherings within your local church and have been present for in-person relationships, but you still feel a gnawing sense of loneliness. Others don't seem to understand you. You're lonely, not because you are physically alone, but because of something deeper: You feel different. There's no one quite like you and you feel like an abandoned outcast. Thankfully, Scripture gives hope for our lonely days. God reminds us that we are never alone, and He invites us to join His global mission by inviting others into His family.
The Bible is full of men and women who pour out their hearts to God in times of despair and trouble. One example is Psalm 16, when David reminds himself that God will never leave Him. David proclaims that he is never alone, and neither are we. Let's read Psalm 16 and see how David responds in times of trouble:
1 Protect me, God, for I take refuge in you.
David is writing these words in a time of distress and danger. I love that even through his difficult seasons, David goes to the Lord. He talks to God at all times. He doesn't pull away from the Lord in his fear, loneliness, or despair. Instead, he presses in and talks to the Lord about all of it. We can do the same. When we're feeling lonely, uncomfortable, or upset, we can talk to God about it. We can ask for His help and tell Him how we feel. We can find a safe refuge in God, who always listens and always understands.
2 I said to the Lord, "You are my Lord; I have nothing good besides you."
3 As for the holy people who are in the land, they are the noble ones. All my delight is in them.
Throughout his life, David felt lonely (Psalm 25:16). Not only did he go through periods of isolation as he was on the run from those who were trying to kill him, but he also was different from everyone else. There was no other shepherd-boy-turned-king in David's day. His story was unique. And then, on top of it all, he was betrayed by those close to him (i.e., his father-in-law and son) and had a difficult life in many ways (2 Samuel 12). Yet throughout the Psalms, David continually finds hope in God. David even goes so far as to say in verse 2 that he has no good apart from God. Even through dry or dangerous seasons, David knows that God is enough for him.
But not only this, David also loves the people of God. He knows that God designed him to live in community with God's people. He delights in those who trust in God and values being with the people of God.
4 The sorrows of those who take another god for themselves will multiply; I will not pour out their drink offerings of blood, and I will not speak their names with my lips. 5 Lord, you are my portion and my cup of blessing; you hold my future. 6 The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance. 7 I will bless the Lord who counsels me–even at night when my thoughts trouble me. 8 I always let the Lord guide me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.
In Israel's day, the people were tempted to worship statues of metal and idols that represented fertility, rain for good crops, or safety. But David knows his hope is not found in people, places, or things. The Lord is David's portion, and He's ours too. Even when life isn't looking good, David trusts in the God who determines his fate. He praises the Lord who leads him, protects him, and provides for him. He is not shaken because God is with him.
I also love that through this prayer, David keeps his eyes fixed on the Lord. He doesn't fix his eyes on others (Why has no one said hi to me?) or even himself (Is there something wrong with me?). He fixes his eyes on the Lord, remembering that his hope is found in God alone.
When we feel sad or alone, we too can fix our eyes on God and cling to the good Father. We can thank the Lord for the ways He has blessed us and taken care of us. We can find comfort in His counsel and protection. Our hope is found in God alone.
9 Therefore my heart is glad and my whole being rejoices; my body also rests securely. 10 For you will not abandon me to Sheol; you will not allow your faithful one to see decay. 11 You reveal the path of life to me; in your presence is abundant joy; at your right hand are eternal pleasures.
David concludes Psalm 16 with great hope for the lonely: God will never abandon us (verse 10). We are never truly alone because God dwells inside us. He brings gladness to our hearts and joy to our tongues. We can rest secure because He takes care of us. David knew the comfort and joy of following God, even in less than ideal circumstances. We can too.
Applying the Psalm: Loneliness in the Church Today
Are you involved in a local church community? For over two years, COVID has complicated many of our church gatherings, from online services to masks, to building a habit of not going to church on Sundays. To be certain, there are extenuating circumstances that can keep us from gathering in person for a season. But for many of us, we have returned to social settings in every other arena of our lives (sports, school, work, etc.), yet we've lingered in returning to church community. Maybe it's been a nice break from the weekly dressing up and singing of songs. Or maybe if we're honest, we just don't miss church that much. But then, moments of loneliness sneak up and remind us that something is missing. God has designed us to live in community with other Christians within our local churches, to be known and loved in the flesh. Like David, we are called to love the people of God. The local church is God's plan A, and it's a gift to us in countless ways.
But what if you've been attending your local church, and still feel lonely? First of all, you're not alone; we've all felt lonely at church at one time or another. And if you feel this way, odds are someone else around you does too. Because we are sinners living with sinners, we can hurt others and be hurt by them. We can feel lonely, even in a room full of people. But thankfully, God has not abandoned you. He is your refuge and closest friend, and He can redeem even your loneliness for good.
God promises to use even our lonely seasons for His glory and our good (Romans 8:28). He can even use your longing for community to bless others in ways that you never could have dreamed. Is it possible, for example, that God could use your season of loneliness to bring healing and hope to someone around you–that you could be an answered prayer for someone else? What would it look like on a Sunday if you tried to look for someone who is new or looks uncomfortable, if you went up to them, introduced yourself, and helped them feel welcome? Because of your feelings of loneliness, you may have a unique opportunity to see those who are broken and hurting in your local church. Maybe God can even use you to build a gospel-centered community in ways you never expected.
God has good plans for us. He intends for us to live in community with others, loving one another and reflecting His love to the whole world (John 13:35). Even on our lonely days, we can have hope that one day, He will return and we will live forever with Him. We will not be lonely any longer as we live in perfect communion with the Father. But until then, we press into Scripture and are honest with Him in prayer. We lean into our local church communities. And on our hard days, we remember: God is with us. He will not abandon us. Because He is at our right hand, we will not be shaken.