This day after Christmas I have loneliness on my heart. Not that I feel lonely, but I’ve had enough of it in my life and am acutely aware that this is the time of year that presents such painful reminder to many that they are alone. Let me say from the start that I know there can be a world of difference between aloneness and loneliness; I get that. When given a choice any particular day, some of us will choose solitude and others prefer to socialize. But the aloneness to which I refer here is more of a pervasive state of being- a separation from family, partner, or other close companion. Today I’m focused on people who are not alone by choice, and so experience loneliness- sometimes profoundly. Here’s where aloneness and loneliness mingle; either way you label it, whether real or perceived, it is a state of disconnection with others. And that is just not a good thing.
This morning I took a few moments to walk through a scriptural perspective, since the Christian scriptures are where I find my truth about life. I write here from the belief that these are the inspired teachings of a real, loving and interactive God. Whether or not you believe in the validity of these scriptures, I think you will find an interesting and loving view towards man in this state, and an idea or two of how best to help. For my purposes I will use “alone” and “lonely” interchangeably.
Man was not meant to be alone.
God establishes His attitude toward man’s aloneness from the beginning, in the book of Genesis: “The Lord God said: ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make him a helper suitable for him.” (Gen. 2:18).
The writer of the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes (probably the uber-wise King Solomon) wrote of the senselessness of aloneness. “Again I saw something meaningless under the sun. There was a man all alone; he had neither son nor brother.” (Ecc. 4:8). There are millions of “only children” out there with no sons of their own; but I think the point here is the “meaninglessness” of man’s being alone. Man hungers for meaning, or reason if you will; it is one of our most basic needs. The writer goes on in verse 9: “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work. If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who has no one to help him up!” Look at that: pity is a pretty strong word here from the wisest of writers, if Solomon indeed penned these words. A man with no helper, no close friend, is pitiable.
“Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though they may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands cannot be quickly broken.” Contrasted to the contracted state of aloneness, togetherness brings warmth and strength. Nice. But think about it; that means being alone leads to weakness and being cold. Would we wish that on our enemies? (Don’t answer that).
Who are the most “alone” people in the world?
Throughout scripture, these four categories of “people alone” are mentioned together: Widows, orphans, Levites and aliens. Clearly, widows and orphans are those who’ve had a dear connection with someone, and then experienced loss of that connection through death. For those of you who think Levites have something to do with blue jean manufacturing, they were actually priests. I can’t expound but I suspect they may have been celibate or at least remained unmarried Correct me here…. Aliens are simply foreigners. Think what it’s like to travel in a foreign country and not know the language or your way around. Even if you have a few companions, you eventually feel isolated and long for home and people you’re connected with. Perhaps scriptures do not need my help, but I would certainly add the divorced and those emotionally predisposed to feeling lonely. The latter might include those experiencing mental illness, depression, or those simply hypersensitive to connection with others.
God wants those who are alone to be included and provided for.
Dt. 14:29: “At the end of every three years, bring all the tithe of the year’s produce and store it in your towns so that the Levites and the aliens, the fatherless and the widows who live in your town may come and eat and be satisfied, and so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.” So all the rest of us are to provide for the nourishment of those alone. Think about it; even today one of the most satisfying ways to connect with others is through the sharing of food. Whether you’re dining out with friends or delivering a meal to the family shelter, this is a way to connect from the heart through togetherness and provision. A side effect is that all the work of our hands will be blessed. I’m guessing that means we ourselves will lack nothing when we connect with these lonely people.
God reminds us to include the alone in our communities: Dt. 16:11: And rejoice before the Lord your God at the place he will choose as a dwelling for His name- you, your sons and daughters, your menservants and maidservants, the Levites in your towns, and the aliens, the fatherless and the widows living among you.” And verse 14: “Be joyful at your feasts- you, your sons and daughters…” He goes on here to list the same groups of people, including those alone.
Neglect of the lonely is a bad thing for all of us.
Job 22:9: “You sent widows away empty-handed and broke the strength of the fatherless.”
Granted, this is not God speaking to his people, but a man named Eliphaz speaking to Job, trying to make sense of his sufferings. Sure, Eliphaz is one of Job’s accusers, an unhelpful person in the scene of Job’s tragedies. But I consider him a standard human with standard ideas, such as “Neglecting the needs of the of the widows and fatherless is a bad thing.” I agree. Malachi the prophet says of people who neglect the lonely:
“’I will come to you for judgment. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress widows and the fatherless, who deprive aliens of justice, but do not fear me,” says the Lord Almighty.’” (Mal. 3:5).
It is our job to connect with those who are alone.
James the brother of Jesus writes to the twelve tribes (likely Jewish Christians), particularly to a “dispersed people” in order to instruct and encourage them in the face of difficulties. He writes: “Religion that God our father accepts as pure and faultless is this- to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” (James 1:27). So this is my summation: “This is the definition of religion that God wants from man’s heart. Avoid being polluted by the world, and connect with the lonely.” Nothing else seems to matter.
God himself desires to connect with and provide for those who are alone and lonely.
From the Old Testament we learn about God’s heart for the lonely: “Sing to God, praise His name…a father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in His holy dwelling. God sets the lonely in families.” Psalm 68:5. “Leave your orphans, I will protect their lives. Your widows, too, can trust in me.” (Jer. 49:11). This speaks to my heart in a big way. I’ve been divorced for a number of years. I have filled the role of mother and father for my daughters, and have felt lonely and defenseless, and not known whom to trust. But having drawn closer to God these feelings have, for the most part, melted away.
Fast forward to the time of Jesus’ ministry to the disciples. Jesus says, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you… On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” John 14:18,20 & 23.
What a beautiful picture of connection, of togetherness, of the lack of aloneness. I don’t know about you, but for me, what keeps me from feeling lonely and disconnected is the perpetual awareness of the presence or love or attention of others who care for me. If God “makes his home with me,” that speaks directly to my need to be chosen, to be attended to, to be connected, and to never being alone.
Our human mandate:
The thing is, all of us who are alive are asked to reach out to the alone and lonely and meet their needs. Some call this “social justice.” My personal take on social justice comes from Isaiah 10:2: Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless.” Or you could just contemplate this as a life principle. I believe that when you are in need and focus on your need your heart becomes more contracted and you feel more pain. But when you feel pain and transform that into energy focused on meeting others’ needs, everyone benefits. If you are feeling this aloneness, try reaching out to others who are alone. What better way to diminish aloneness in your own community?! And if you are not alone, and are so lucky as to sense a perpetual connection to others, I’d invite you to share that rich treasure with others who, for whatever reason, are not so fortunate. I, for one, would prefer to live in a world where we all generate a little more happiness for ourselves and others every day.