BRADY COLUMN: When You’re Lonely

Published 11:30 am Friday, January 7, 2022

After a civic club meeting, a middle-aged woman came forward with several of her friends. In the course of conversation, she said, “You will never know how lonely I am.” Immediately the others nodded in agreement, and one of them said, “I guess that goes for all of us.”  And, in reality, I guess it does. At times, all of us are held captive by loneliness-the feeling of being disconnected or separated. Jesus gives us some direction for dealing with loneliness in one of his parables (Matthew 12:43-45). Here we find a man possessed by an unclean spirit. With strong resolution, this man sweeps his mind clear, only to later suffer the return of the spirit and the invasion of “seven other spirits” more loathsome than the first. This parable shows us that we can’t just sweep our lives clear of loneliness unless we fill the vacuum that is left with other things. In other words, to successfully cope, we must replace our loneliness with something else — something better.

First, we can replace our loneliness with an active mind! One of God’s greatest gifts to us is the power to use our minds, the ability to think. And recognizing this can go a long way toward helping us deal with our loneliness. An illustration of the power of the disciplined mind to cope with loneliness is the imprisonment of the late Nelson Mandela. In one of his first post-release interviews, Mandela said that in his 27 years of prison life, he “never felt despair.” What an astounding statement for him to make: In 27 years of imprisonment, he never felt despair. Mandela went on to explain that while in prison, he continually read novels and biographies, and in later years he was allowed to see films. He went on to say that he was more interested in educational pictures. This remarkable man had turned his captivity into an opportunity to learn, to grow and to enrich himself in some way. Such is the power of the mind!

Second, we can replace our loneliness with a noble purpose! A person focused on some significant and noble purpose, some reason for being, may know brief moments of loneliness-but not for long!  Friedrich Nietzsche once said that having a “why” to live for enables one to endure any kind of “how.” The devastating life that grinds most of us down can lead to a life that plays out with no useful purpose.

Third, we can replace our loneliness with a living involvement! We nourish our loneliness and feed it when we focus our thoughts upon ourselves. Most of the lonely people I have personally known have lived primarily to themselves and for themselves. Someone once asked Dr. Karl Menninger, “Suppose you suspect that you’re heading for a nervous breakdown. What should you do?” You’d think this great psychiatrist would suggest that you see a psychiatrist. But this is what he said, “Go straight to your front door, turn the knob, cross the street, and finds somebody who needs you.”

Fourth, we can replace our loneliness with an active friendship with God! What is loneliness, anyway? Basically, it is our homesickness for God. God has placed that longing in each of us.

Augustine stated it this way: “Thou dost keep us restless, O God, until our hearts rest in Thee.” As incredible as it sounds, the basic answer for our loneliness is aloneness — but aloneness with God. In this deliberately chosen aloneness, we cultivate our awareness of and friendship with God.  “You will leave me alone,” said Jesus, “yet I am not alone because [God] is with me”(John 16:32).

Likewise, we are never truly alone in our friendship with God.