Pain is perhaps the loneliest thing in the world. That goes for emotional pain, physical pain, spiritual pain. It becomes a vicious cycle; you feel alone and it hurts. And that pain makes you isolate even more. It’s as if you physically and/or emotionally curl up into a ball, wrap your tail around your face, and close yourself off to the outside world.
You can feel alone even when other people are around. That’s perhaps the biggest difference between being alone and being lonely. When your heart is OK you can enjoy times without other people around. When your heart is not OK you may not feel connected even if you are with family, friends, church people, or in a crowd. Some of the most painful loneliness may be feeling alone in a broken marriage.
I’ve experienced both being alone and being lonely. As a troubled young woman I would often return home from church or school feeling more misunderstood and isolated than before I went. But I’ve grown a lot since then. More recently I am living alone again after my husband’s death. While grief is an excruciating journey, I’ve learned what it takes to not feel lonely.
Being alone and feeling alone are different. If you feel alone – lonely – there are things you can do that will make a difference. We all face circumstances that cause pain, that are NOT OK! How do you move forward when that happens?
Loneliness is a Choice
That can be difficult for a lonely person to believe. How your brain processes the experience of pain and being alone makes feeling lonely one of the most common results. There’s nothing “wrong” with that feeling in itself, but it will become destructive if you stay there. Ongoing loneliness has been correlated with illness and even premature death.
Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that remaining stuck in loneliness is a choice. As with any negative or painful emotion, your feelings are real. There are circumstances outside of your control that are triggering your loneliness, but that does not mean you are powerless. I cannot change the reality of my husband’s death, but I have a great deal of choice about what I do next.
Your feelings are real, and they deserve to be taken seriously. But your feelings are not the whole truth. Acknowledge your feelings, and then look for the rest of the truth. That may not always be easy, but it’s important.
For example, realize that while some people don’t like you, that doesn’t mean no one likes you. You may not feel at home where you are now, but that doesn’t mean you have nothing to contribute – or learn. You may be grieving the loss of someone you loved deeply, but there are other relationships that can be meaningful.
Only in eternity will all our tears be wiped away. But here and now there are very real steps you can take when you feel alone that can move you past the loneliness.
What to Do when you Feel Alone
Check your Thinking
Once you acknowledge your feelings, realize that you have a great deal of choice in what you do next with your mind. You have the ability to choose what thoughts you think. That may not change the circumstances, but it will absolutely change your experience.
Learn to call yourself out on your negative thinking. Among other things, it’s a lie that you are the only one experiencing whatever painful circumstance you are going through. Are you grieving the loss of a loved one? There are others who are grieving also. Are you weighed down with shame over a sexual addiction? Someone else is there too. Are you wrestling with mental illness, financial problems, or a broken marriage? You’re not the only one. That’s part of the rest of the truth.
Intentionally feed your mind healthy nourishment regularly; that will make it easier to choose healthy thoughts to think.
Look to Jesus
No human being can be with you 24/7/365. No human being can fully enter into all the pain you experience, feel everything you feel, and be 100% present with you at all times.
But Jesus can. And He wants to.
Jesus knows what it’s like to feel completely alone. Isaiah’s prophecy says of Him: “I have trodden the winepress alone, And from the peoples no one was with Me.” (Isaiah 63:3) When He was approaching His death on the cross and desperately desired His disciples to be truly with Him, they let Him down. (See Matthew 26:40) Jesus has “been there, done that.” He truly knows how you feel.
Take the time to soak in His presence. Let yourself experience Him being With You. (See Matthew 1:23) He’s the only One who will always be there, and will truly never leave you. (Hebrews 13:5)
While no one feels exactly what you feel, connecting with someone or several people who are going through similar experiences will make a difference. God intended us to heal in community. (See James 5:16) It’s wonderful when someone reaches out to you and expresses care and understanding. But don’t wait for them! Take the initiative to reach out even if it’s difficult.
You may have been hurt in relationships in the past; reach out anyway. Look for someone who has been through even a portion of what you are experiencing and just ask to talk. Find a group of fellow travelers on a somewhat similar journey as you are. And with the online capabilities of connection today, it’s never been more possible to find others facing a similar struggle. Just do it!
You won’t feel 100% safe and connected right away; take a step to connect anyway. It won’t feel like heaven, at least not completely. But it will bring you so much more of the life Jesus intended for you than you probably imagine.
When you feel alone, choose to believe that Jesus is with you. And that I and others truly care. And then choose to do something about it.
Your Turn: What do you most naturally do when you feel alone? What could you do more proactively to move past loneliness? Leave a comment below.
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