Monday, April 23, 2007

Loneliness... Don't Underestimate It

Have you ever had times in your life when you felt like few people truly understand or appreciate you? You think you’re doing your best, you try to be as kind and loving toward people as you can, you maintain the most positive attitude you can, and yet something’s just not “clicking” with people who, maybe even a week ago, you felt perfectly comfortable with.

Naturally, when I feel myself disconnecting from people, a sense of loneliness sets in and I start to worry that I’ve done something wrong. In the past, I’d give in to that pressure and eventually go back to trying to please people and living my life the way they seem to think I should live it.

There's nothing wrong with wanting to do things that make others happy, but a compulsive need to please others and avoid having them feel disappointed in you can become crippling. For example, throughout my life there have been a number of people who have suggested that I need to be more independent, apparently because I have a very close relationship with my parents. This used to bother me and I would try to prove that I do have my own mind and life. Now I just marvel at the irony: Telling someone to be more independent is telling him or her how to live his or her life! If I've gained any independence recently, it's from the people whom I wrongly thought I had to please.

Loneliness that results from making right choices or from separating oneself from unhealthy influences is not a bad thing. I recently heard a great quote by A.W. Tozer: “Most of the world’s great souls have been lonely. Loneliness seems to be one price the saint must pay for his saintliness.” (You can read the whole article here.) I’m not suggesting I’m a saint, but Tozer’s comment made me realize that loneliness can produce greatness. I don’t need to fear it.

Jesus was often alone. He was alone when He fasted in the wilderness for 40 days. He was alone when He prayed in the garden before His crucifixion. He was alone when he was being tried and beaten. And He was terribly alone on the cross. Surrounded by people, yes, but very lonely.

I don’t feel lonely right now, but at times I have felt disconnected from certain people in my life. The good thing is that I always know it will pass, and I also know that it’s okay. It’s a chance for me to refocus on some of my other wonderful relationships. And it’s a great opportunity to stop and think about what God is trying to teach me — to contemplate how He may be guiding me toward greater saintliness.

As Tozer said: “It is this very loneliness that throws [the truly spiritual man] back upon God… His inability to find human companionship drives him to seek in God what he can find nowhere else.”

I love that! What a great reminder that only God can fill the vacuum in our lives. If I never felt lonely, I would forget how much I need God. And whenever I think I’m self-sufficient, that’s when I start to run into trouble. I need people (and I’m not ashamed to admit it), but I need God even more.

If you’re feeling lonely, don’t despair. God is with you, and He can turn your loneliness into a great experience.

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