I sat in my chair on a cold winter morning, and as the black of night turned to the dark blue of dawn, I wrote in my journal: “I think what I’m feeling is a deep loneliness.”
It wasn’t that I’d never felt it before, but it was the first time I’d felt lonely while being married. I was lonely while having what the world told me should make me immune to loneliness.
That was months before the quarantine and isolation of the 2020 pandemic, and as I entered a year of even more separation and isolation, the loneliness only grew.
But over time, I’ve learned some things about loneliness that surprise, comfort, and challenge me. The most surprising aspect is the fact that it doesn’t follow a predictable pattern: I can be lonely in marriage. I can be lonely and have meaningful friendships. I can be lonely and go to church.
Somehow, I thought those things would save me from loneliness. How can I be lonely and yet share my life with someone? How can I be lonely and yet have friends?
As I began thinking more deeply about the topic, I began to wonder how many of my friends felt the same. So I did what all Millennials do – I went to Instagram. “How many of you are feeling lonely right now?” I asked. Those who wanted to participate simply pressed “Yes” or “No.”
Out of all the people who answered, 97% said “Yes.”
Knowing we’d all been isolated from each other for a year, I wasn’t surprised to see the number so high, but I was saddened by how many said yes. Mostly, however, I was intrigued by how many various life-stages and circumstances I saw represented: singles, people with spouses and kids, those who love their jobs and families, people who attend church.
This made me realize something: anyone can be lonely. And, just because you have a certain “thing” doesn’t mean you won’t experience loneliness sometimes.
The world says that if you have friends or a spouse or kids or a good job then, surely, you can’t be lonely. But what happens if I have all of those things, and yet I’m still lonely? That’s where the shame creeps in: What’s wrong with you? You shouldn’t feel lonely. Just be thankful for what you have and get over it.
It’s true: thankfulness does help me put things in perspective. But the ache of loneliness still lingers.
The loneliest part about loneliness: not telling anyone. Feeling so alone, and yet no one knows I feel this way. When I write it out like that, it seems so obvious. But it’s true: Nothing isolates us more than struggling alone.
I thought that if I didn’t talk about it or think about it too much, it wouldn’t exist and it would eventually fade away. It hasn’t faded.
However, I now know this: Loneliness loses its edge when I speak about it. When I talk to God about it, when I tell my husband, when I tell my friends.
Here are a few things I’ve learned that have slowly started to shine a light of hope into my loneliness:
Getting honest with myself.
Instead of hiding in shame or denial about feeling loneliness, I started by acknowledging it. Admitting to myself that although it doesn’t “make sense” for me to be lonely, I still very much am. It was so freeing to bring it into the light where I could see it.
Telling God about my loneliness.
Telling God about my ache, my tears, how I miss having weekend plans, how I sometimes feel deeply alone in my marriage. Asking Him the questions I don’t have answers to. Asking Him: How long, O Lord?
Making the effort to connect with people, even if they’re not in the same city.
Almost all of my deepest friendships are with people who live hours, states, even countries away from me. Although it’s not the same as being in person together, a phone call or a Zoom call is better than nothing. After the call, the ache is less.
Opening up to others about my loneliness.
Although it made me sad to know so many of my friends are lonely, it’s still deeply comforting to know I’m not alone. I wouldn’t have known, though, unless I went first in sharing about my loneliness.
Seeing Jesus in the lonely place.
Recently, I saw something about Jesus that helped me view my loneliness in a new way. It’s the brightest light of hope so far: In God’s Kingdom, the lonely place has purpose. It is never wasted.
Luke 5:16 says, “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.”
I’ve found myself in many lonely places this year. However, unlike Jesus, I didn’t go to them willingly. That’s what intrigues me about this verse: Jesus chose to go to the lonely place. God called Him to the lonely place – often.
I believe it’s because God knows there are things that only the lonely place can teach us about Him.
Jesus went there to pray, to commune with His Father. What if I viewed my lonely place in the same way? What if, the next time I feel the ache, I ask God why He called me here and what He has to say? What if I saw it as a place for me to commune with Him?
The fact that Jesus went to lonely places shows me there are lessons in the lonely place that can’t be taught among the crowd. He went alone to reconnect with His Father, because in doing so, He was more effective among the crowds when He returned to them.
So now I ask myself:
What can I learn from God in the lonely place, that I wouldn’t learn if I were in the crowd?
What can I learn from the lonely place that will help me be more connected with God when I do return to the crowd?
Knowing my lonely place has a purpose gives me so much hope. I’ve started to view my loneliness differently, to become more aware of the hidden, small workings God has done in my heart.
Loneliness is a deep, tender ache. But in this ache, I’ve felt God’s nearness. I’ve had no choice but to call out to Him – I have nowhere else to go. He’s met me in my tears; He’s met me in His word; He’s met me in worship songs.
When I do finally leave this lonely place, I will enter the crowds more compassionate, closer to God, and more convinced that He alone is truly the deepest satisfaction of my heart. I see now: my loneliness is not wasted. God is using this season for a greater purpose than I realized before.
I still have so many questions about loneliness: Why am I lonely? What makes someone lonely? When will it end?
I wish I could say I’ve found the answers. But one thing has become abundantly clear: in the midst of my question-asking, I’ve found Him. I’ve found Jesus there. He’s in the lonely place with me.
More than giving me answers, God wants to give me Himself. Will I accept that as enough?
If you’re also in a season of loneliness, what’s one next step you can take?
Have you admitted it to yourself? Have you acknowledged it to God? Have you opened up to others about it?
What is God teaching you in your loneliness that you would miss out on if you were “among the crowds”? What are the small, hidden things God is doing in your heart as you meet with Him in your lonely place?
It’s okay to start small. It’s okay to carry questions.
I pray you find comfort in knowing that in God’s Kingdom, the time you spend in the lonely place is never, ever wasted.
I pray you find Him in your lonely place today.
Natalie writes to help women see God’s grace in their daily moments and find Him in the midst of “all the things.” Her life and her words are forever influenced by her time overseas, but now she makes her home in North Carolina with her husband and their dog. She can usually be found reading a book next to a window, preferably with a cup of tea. She loves hanging out and writing on Instagram @natalieakscott, or you can find her at natalieakscott.com. Come say hello!