You’re not the only one.
For years I was alone. Not alone alone, because I had my husband and family and all…but really, I was alone. My life was defined by feeling alone in a crowded room. Maybe you know the lonely feeling I’m talking about.
I’m not entirely sure how it happened for me, but here it is: I used to hate Sunday mornings.
That sounds pretty bad, doesn’t it? Especially for someone like me, who is always up in front of the church in a leadership role. But Sundays were really hard for me. For most of the week I could pretend that I wasn’t as alone as I felt. I could stay busy and, because I work from home, I could chalk up my lack of interaction with other people as simply being a side-effect of my vocation. I had Facebook to make me feel like I was connecting with people, and with that I could have “conversations” with lots of people within the course of a day. So even though I was alone, I could convince myself I wasn’t lonely.
What good would it do to give in to the loneliness, anyway?
But on Sunday morning? I couldn’t hide from the fact that I was alone. My church is fantastic. I wouldn’t dream of going anywhere else. Even so, I did not have the sense of community and of “doing life together” that I saw others experiencing around me. The irony of it all is that because I was onstage nearly every week, I was one of the ones to project our church’s vision: that every week, in every gathering, and in every interaction with one another, our community members would experience God, experience relationships, and experience change.
There it is: relationships. I would stand in the bright lights onstage and tell the shadowed faces in the rows of seats before me that the way to life change is through relationships. I would sincerely and enthusiastically invite people to connect and become a part of community groups and to experience all that it could be.
It wasn’t a lie. I believed in the vision. I just wasn’t experiencing it.
I had just been hurt too many times. Community groups had imploded one too many times. My husband and I had been treated as unimportant too many times. I had been a nonessential part of too many groups, and I had experienced the awkwardness of unreciprocated vulnerability far too often.
I had tried, but because relationships are made up of real, broken people, things had fallen apart. They had gone wrong too many times. I had been hurt too many times. I had to muster up forgiveness too many times. And eventually, I just gave up.
I remember telling my husband one night, “I don’t want to do this anymore. It’s just not worth it.”
And that became my mantra. Relationships are good in theory, and I still believed in their potential to change lives. I had heard testimonies of it happening and I remembered times in my past when I could vouch for that. But I was tired of being hurt and I was tired of expending the emotional energy on people who weren’t willing to do the same for me.
It wasn’t worth it. And I quit.
I came into church alone and found my seat on the front row. I would sit and journal or play on my phone before church started, intentionally avoiding the laughing conversations and joyful reunions happening around me. I would do my “experiencing relationships” spiel onstage, but then I would retreat back to my seat to sit by myself. I would leave quickly after worship, avoiding eye contact and looking just busy enough that no one would try to talk to me.
I was surrounded by community, but I wasn’t living in it. I didn’t have that kind of relationship with anyone, and that was okay with me. I didn’t think I wanted it and intentionally shut myself off from people. I built up walls to protect myself and keep everyone else out. I was really okay with that.
Maybe I’m just meant to be by myself, I thought. Maybe this is what God has for me in life. He created me to be a writer, and He called me to be a stay-at-home mom, after all. Those are pretty solitary things. Maybe this is just how it is for me.
But then God started doing something in my heart, and where I had been content in my isolation, I suddenly woke up every morning and laid down every night with the ache of loneliness gnawing at my insides. I realized I was desperately lonely, and didn’t know what to do.
You know how Starbucks and Panera and places like that always have that table with two or three women laughing over coffee? I wanted that. I wanted to be a part of a group like that.
And you know how sometimes something happens in your day and you want to tell someone? It doesn’t have to be anything big – maybe it’s not even big enough to make it to Facebook – but you just want to share it with someone. You want to be able to text someone and have them understand. To laugh with you or to sympathize or to just be there. I wanted that. I wanted that kind of friend.
But I remembered the hurt. And even while I watched those laughing groups of friends at church and coffee shops, I doubted somehow that it was as good as it looked. My experiences hadn’t been like that, after all, and because of that I doubted that those kinds of relationships were even possible for me.
Even so, I wanted friends. I needed people. I knew it would be hard and I knew I would get hurt and I knew I would have to be vulnerable again and possibly be rejected again and have to go through the whole process of getting to know people again. I was scared and knew it would be difficult and didn’t know how to make it happen, so I prayed.
God, give me a friend. I need a friend. Just one real friend.
It was more of a heart cry than a verbalized prayer, but I sent that cry heavenward with every breath I took. I would inhale loneliness and breathe out a prayer for rescue.
And God heard me. He heard me and He answered my cries. In His faithfulness, over the course of a year or so, He brought me friends. Not just one, but many real, true, kindred-spirit friends.
Friends I could text from a Target dressing room and get a second opinion on a potentially bad fashion move.
Friends I could meet up with at Starbucks and share my heart and see into their hearts and leave feeling encouraged and uplifted and connected.
Friends I could text about a bad morning with my daughter or a funny thing that happened.
Friends who knew what was going on in my life and would pray for me.
Friends who would laugh just as hard as I did about the ridiculous things that happen in life.
And as those relationships grew and strengthened, a strange thing happened. I realized I was living the life God had intended for me to live. He never meant for me to be alone, and as long as I allowed myself to live that way, I was keeping myself from becoming who He meant for me to be.
That’s no exaggeration, and I don’t say that flippantly.
So sweet friend, if you feel lonely today, please know that I understand. And please know that while you may feel very, very alone, you’re not. And if you’re tempted to believe the lie that isolation is the only option for you, do not give in. You were made for people, and that is what God wants for you.
All you need to do is ask. Believe me, friend, when I say that God hears you and He longs to give you the desires of your heart.
And even when you feel like it’s too hard to put yourself out there in friendships again, please know that it is worth it. Yes, it will be hard. Yes, there is still a chance that you could get hurt. It’s pretty likely, actually. But it’s still worth it. The joys of living life alongside other people far outweigh the risk of pain and the ache of loneliness. We were made for each other.
You’re not alone. You’re not the only one who feels the way you do, and there is hope for something so much better. Give it a chance, and I think you’ll find something better than you imagined.
In this with you,