Broadcast

How To Overcome Loneliness and Isolation

From the series Breaking Through Life's Biggest Barriers

There is a place that God created where you can experience authentic love like nowhere else on earth. It’s a place where loneliness is not welcome, and meaningful relationships abound. A community where people can be re-connected to family. Sound like a place you want to go to? Chip reveals where this special place is and how you fit in.

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Message Transcript

Loneliness, isolation.  Remember when you were four or five years old it happened to all of us at least once.  You looked up and your mom was gone.  You were in the mall or the grocery store and that panic, that feeling that came over you--that’s loneliness.  Remember when you were 8, 9, maybe 10 and you went to a new school?  You walked in and every head in that place turned toward you and you felt like an outsider.  Remember the first gym class you ever went to in Junior High?  That terrible feeling of--are they really gonna make us take showers?   (Group laughter)

Do you remember when you hit those pre-teens for some, or teens for others.  And they can call it puppy love, but it wasn’t to you and your heart really got knit to a person of the opposite sex, and it was this overwhelming elation.  And then can you remember what it was like when you got dumped?  How lonely, how hurt, it was a hurt like you’ve never known.  For many, you still know, and for some of us, it’s a memory of being single and yearning.  Coming home to an empty apartment and yearning for a life mate, yearning to eat dinner with someone.  But there’s no one there and you’ve been asking God, but so far He hasn’t provided that person.

One author wrote, “It’s the most desolate word in all human language.  It’s capable of hurling the heaviest weights the heart can endure.  It plays no favorites, yields no mercy, refuses all bargains.  Crowds only make it worse, activity simply drives it deeper.  Tears fall from our eyes as groans fall from our lips.  But, loneliness, that uninvited guest of the soul, arrives at dusk and stays for dinner.”

When’s the last time you felt like that?  Was it this week?  What era of your life brings back memories of the deepest sense of isolation and loneliness?  And as you think here just in the quiet of this moment, where and when do you feel the pangs of feeling like you don’t belong?  Like no one cares, like you’re not really connected-- right now.

One final question: why?  Why do you think breaking down the barrier of loneliness and isolation is so critical to have a life that’s full, a life of real meaning?  Well, I’d invite you to join with me and we want to address this together.

How to overcome loneliness and isolation.  It’s universal, and before we go too far we better define what we’re talking about because until loneliness is understood, it overwhelms.  Some of us think that something’s wrong with us.  That there’s this secret problem we have and no one really has it like we have it.

There are three concepts when you study the idea of loneliness that are critical to understand before we find out what God’s answer is.  The first is that loneliness is more than being alone.  If you look up the word in Webster’s as I did, if you study and look at the Hebrew words translated for loneliness, as you look at the word loneliness in the New Testament, what you find is that there are a couple of different ideas.  One is an aloneness or a “privateness.”  Jesus went to be alone.  It’s in a positive context.  They were alone, no problem.

But the kind of loneliness we’re talking about is more than being alone.  Webster describes it as:  without involving others, separate, feelings of lonesomeness, desolate, a yearning for companionship, unfrequented, to be separated, to be disconnected.  You can be lonely in a crowd.  Thinking of this group and praying about what to share, you know the loneliest feeling I’ve ever had in this church was about eight years ago.  It was a church picnic and we used to do ‘em on Labor Day as well.  And I came in July.  I didn’t know hardly anyone and there weren’t near as many people then, but there were hundreds of people at this picnic.

And they were laughing, and throwing Frisbees, and having fun, and having a great time, and I’m the new pastor.  And I walked around all these faces that I didn’t know and I felt like I was in a glass box, like plexiglass, walking around and I didn’t belong, and I didn’t fit.  And I didn’t know anyone.  And people kinda came up and gave that sort of smiles and hi, and I just had this overwhelming feeling like I just wanted to run out of there.  But I couldn’t, I was the pastor.   (laughter)

And I talked, and I did little superficial type stuff, but I didn’t know anybody.  I didn’t connect with anyone.  I was in a huge crowd where I was supposed to belong, but I didn’t.  I remember comin’ home from that picnic and being as depressed as I’d been since I’d been here.  And you know, the fact of the matter is, there are people in this room right now, you have that experience when you come to church.  You know you’re a believer, but you feel like you’re walking in a little glass box.  And you get a smile here, and a pleasantry here, but you’re not connected.

You don’t feel like someone really cares.  You don’t feel like you really belong.  You don’t feel like if something happened to you someone would bleed emotionally.  So, being alone is a lot more than just not having people around.

It’s not being relationally connected in a meaningful way.  Well, you might say, well you know what, I don’t have that problem.  Henry Cloud in his book, Changes That Heal, says there’s eight to ten symptoms of loneliness that people don’t identify with loneliness, but when we don’t feel connected we cover it up.

He gave a few examples.  He said, “Often depression, feelings of meaninglessness, feelings of badness or guilt, a sense of distorted thinking, no one wants to be around me, addictions, fantasy, excessive caretaking.”  Some of the loneliest people take care of everyone.  You want to know why?  Because they can’t stand the fact that no one’s really reaching into their life.  And some of us had such distorted thinking we don’t think anybody wants to.

And when we aren’t connected to people we feel bad because we assume the reason we’re not connected is there must be something bad about us.  If you feel the pangs of loneliness, there’s nothing wrong with you.  There’s nothing wrong with you.  It means you’re human.  It means you have legitimate needs.  It means God really wants to care about you.  Loneliness is more than being alone; and loneliness wears many masks.  We cover it up in a lot of different ways.  Some people make a friend out of a bottle.  Some people make a friend out of a pretend fantasy person.  Some people make a friend out of ESPN or romance novels.  Loneliness wears many masks.

The third thing you need to understand about loneliness, it’s not a unique malady, but is a universal reality.  It’s not something that only rich people have a problem with or poor people, or outgoing people, or shy people, or very intellectual people, or average people.  In fact, my favorite quote in my research, Albert Einstein.

You know what Albert Einstein said?  He said, “It is a strange phenomenon to be so universally known and yet to be so lonely.”  See, we think people have it together because they’re famous, or wealthy, or well-known, or popular, or have an outgoing personality, or seem to have friends.

Loneliness is a part of what I struggle with, you struggle with, every person, every baby, every old person, every middle aged person, every teenager, every black person, every white person, every Asian person, every Hispanic person, every person on the earth struggles with this ache, this sense, that they don’t matter - that they’re isolated and that they’re alone.

In fact, this is the only problem I can find in Scripture that God alone has chosen not to solve by Himself.  You ever think of that?  Genesis chapter 1, before sin entered into mankind, before there was a problem, perfect environment, here’s Adam.

It never rains, plenty of food, he’s never bored.  He can talk to God whenever he wants.  But did you notice there’s a problem that God can’t solve, not that He couldn’t if He didn’t want to, but He made you and He made me to have this need to be connected meaningfully with other people.

And so, do you remember what He said when He saw Adam?  “It is not good for a man to be alone.”  See, loneliness isn’t bad; it’s not a permanent state.  But it lets you know, it lets me know that life was meant for community, that life was meant for relationships, that life was meant for us to be together.  And not in some superficial, go through the motions, but to be together in such a way that things come out of your heart into the lives of others, and things come out of their heart into yours in such a way that you matter and they matter.  And God will do a lot of things for you in your life.

He’ll minster directly, directly.  He gives grace.  He gives His Word.  He gives His Spirit.  But there are some ways where the only way you’ll experience God’s love is not directly.  It will be indirectly.  It’ll be through the touch of a person, through the words of a friend, through the prayers of a group.  The question is, if we all have this need, if you can be lonely in a crowd, if it wears many masks and we all struggle with it, how in the world do we overcome loneliness and isolation?  And I’m excited to tell you that God has a game plan.

Let me give you four reasons why you don’t have to be lonely.  First, you don’t have to be lonely because God cares about your loneliness.  I mentioned it in passing.  Genesis 2:18, “The Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone.  I will make him a helper suitable for him.”  That word “helper” means corresponding partner.  That word “helper” is actually used in the Psalms of God.  He uses this word for Himself.  It means one who will complete, one who will provide companionship, someone who’ll make a team, someone who creates a place where you belong.

God knows your deepest feelings of loneliness and He cares.  He understands what you think when you lay awake at night with your hands behind your head.  He knows what it’s like when you take a walk on the beach and you feel like no one really understands.  He knows what it’s like to be a single mom or a single dad, and to drop your kids off at visitation, and get back in the car, and feel this ache inside.  He knows what it’s like to be a teenager, or a young person, or a single person with this deep, craving desire to be connected, and you’re prayin’, and it seems like nothin’ is happening.

He cares about your loneliness and can I suggest--He wants to solve it.  Perfectly in this life?  Never.  It’s not a perfect world.  But He wants to move in; He cares.  And He’s all knowing, and He’s all powerful, and if He cares then He can do something about it.  The second reason that you don’t have to be lonely, and I don’t have to be lonely, is Jesus understands your loneliness.  Mark 15:34 says, “And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice” - He’s on the cross, at the very end of the gospels, the end of His life - “Eloi, eloi, lama sabachthani?”  which means, “My God, My God why have You forsaken Me?”

Now, this is some major theology going on here.  If you’ve ever wondered why Jesus said that let me explain it.  Before the foundations of the earth, God created you as a relational being.  Before the foundations of the earth, He knew that sin would enter the world and cause a division, a breakdown in the relationship between God and man.  Before the foundations of the earth the Godhead, the Tri-unity, God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, They had a council meeting.

And they decided that God the Son would come and take on human flesh and be fully God/fully man, and live a perfect life on the earth so you would understand, so I would understand, what God’s love is like, what His holiness is like, how He feels and how He thinks, and how much you matter.  And then at the end of His life He would be the ultimate payment.  Totally sin free, He would hang on a cross, and He would absorb the just wrath of God, and the full penalty of your sin and my sin as our substitute, our sin-offering.  You might jot down 2 Corinthians 5:21.  It explains that.

And as He hung on the cross and God the Father willfully allowed His Son to be the sacrifice who did nothing to deserve it, but took on your sin, my sin, the penalty, and the guilt of it.  And God poured out His wrath, and placed that sin as a payment on Christ - when sin came upon the Son, the Father turned His head and turned away - and relationship was broken between a Holy God, in that instantaneous moment when the Son took on sin.  And that’s why Jesus prayed,  “My God, My God…” We don’t understand the pain there.  We can’t fathom the pain.

You think you’ve been lonely?  You think you’ve been abandoned?  You think you’ve been let down?  Jesus understands.  He was abandoned, righteously so, by the Father.  Where are the twelve disciples?  They abandoned Him.  He came to His own, the Jews, and what?  They received Him not.  They abandoned Him.  Jesus understands what it’s like to be low.  Hebrews 4:15 says that we don’t have a high priest that can’t sympathize with our weaknesses.

But He, like us, has been tempted in every way, yet without sin.  He understands what it’s like to be frustrated in a marriage and be lonely.  Because He was married?  No, because He was fully human and knows that ache.

He understands what it’s like to be unfulfilled, to feel like on the outside looking in.  He understands everything that you feel in the realm of loneliness.  God not only cares, but Jesus completely understands.  Because He understands, there’s a third reason we don’t have to be lonely.

The third reason is Jesus invites you into a relationship with Him.  This is a great passage.  This passage is so different than all about what I learned of God growing up.  Jesus, in Matthew 11:28-30, says listen to this, arms open, “Come, come to Me all who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.”

Doesn’t loneliness make you feel that way sometimes?  Don’t you just feel weighed down?  Isn’t it amazing that when you feel connected with people you feel like you can charge through a wall no matter what, but when you feel isolated and lonely, I don’t know about you, but I’ve got no motivation.  I just feel like I can’t make it.  So, what’s Jesus say?  Come.  You feel weary?  You feel burdened?  You feel like the weight of the world’s on you?  Come to Me. I’ll give you rest.

Then, notice the offer.  Take My yoke upon You and learn from Me.  A yoke was that wooden thing when two oxen would be plowing and it would be framed over each ox so they had to work in unity.  So, they would be two separate beasts, but their function would be inseparable.  That’s Jesus’ offer.  He says you’ve got a big load to pull in life.  Would you like Me to have a yoke, and allow you to be hooked here, and Me to be hooked here?  And would you like to go through life with Me, since I know all things?  Since I have unlimited resources?  Since I love you unconditionally?

Since I want to care about you and fulfill the deepest desires that I’ve placed in your heart?  He says come, take My yoke and it’s a process, isn’t it?  Learn from Me.  Why do we learn from Him?  Notice the two adjectives.  I am gentle.  The word means power under control.  I’m power under control and humble of heart.  That word means vulnerable, approachable, non-judgmental, and you will find rest for your souls.  Did you ever think maybe it’s time to quit hustlin’ and bustlin’, and trying to impress people, and look this way, and get this way, and get this, and gain this, and earn that, and have this, and do this, and hope your kids have this, and…

Have you ever just wondered what it’d be like to have rest for your soul?  To be clean, to be forgiven, to have the God of the universe put His arm around you and say, “I love you just how you are.”?  And, in ways that you can take a little at a time, I’ll teach you and love you and help you become all that I designed you to be.  Notice how it ends, “for My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

See, a lot of us grew up with a view of God, and God’s got His arms crossed, and He’s got His finger out.  You better get with it!  There are a lot of rules to keep.  You’re not keeping the rules.  You better do this.  You better do that.  You better do this.  You better do that.  And our view of God is so distorted.

The God of the Bible has arms open, “Come.”  Do you have to surrender?  Sure.  Do you have to let up on your own agenda?  Sure.  But let me ask you, how are you doing running your life?  Filled with anxiety, struggling in relationships, no matter how much you get or how much I get it never satisfies us.  Wouldn’t it be wise to come?  And I don’t know how this works, but even as I’m talking, a little light goes on inside your heart, the Holy Spirit’s moving all throughout this room.

And a little light’s going on in some of you because He brought you here just for today, because He wants to have a connection, a relationship.  See, it’s the offer of relationship and He’s saying to you, I’m standing at the door of your life.  I don’t care where you’ve been.  I don’t care what you’ve done.  I don’t care who you’ve hurt.  I don’t care the sin that’s so grievous to your heart and you feel so guilty, I’ve come, and when I died on the cross, I paid for it.  Come to Me.

And this morning if you don’t have a relationship with Christ - if you’re not 100% sure that if you died, because it’s gonna happen to all of us sometime, somewhere - Jesus is inviting you.  I’d like to solve your loneliness problem.  I’d like to forgive you.  The moment you pray and say, “Lord Jesus, come into my life, I believe when You died on the cross it was for me, and my sins are forgiven.”  The moment you pray and receive Him as your Savior, the Holy Spirit will come into your life, He’ll take up His dwelling place.  The Bible says you’ll be sealed in the Spirit.

You’ll be adopted as one of His sons or daughters.  You’ll have power over sin.  You’ll still struggle.  You’ll have freedom from the penalty of sin.  You’ll have new relationships.  You will move into a whole new arena.  Will it be easy?  Well, of course not.  Live a holy pure life in a fallen world with the flesh and the enemy?  Of course it won’t be easy.  But is your life easy now?  Mine’s not, but you can go through it with someone.

Look at 1 John.  I want you to see this relationship between being in a relationship with God and, therefore, in a relationship with other believers.  By the way, that’s the theme of 1 John.  The apostle writes, “That which was from the beginning which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes,” speaking of Christ, “which we have looked at and our hands have touched,” he’s saying this is real, “this we proclaim concerning the Word of Life.  The Life appeared (Jesus); we have seen it and testified to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life which was with the Father and has appeared to us.” 

The Gospel, great.  Now, get the next two verses.  “We proclaim to you that we have seen and we have heard,” notice the purpose clause, “so that you also may have fellowship with us.”  I would expect Him to say, what?  So you can have fellowship with God.  He doesn’t say that.  So, to you, we’ve proclaimed it.  When we share the Gospel, it’s so people can have fellowship with us.  “Our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son, Christ Jesus.  We write this to make our joy complete.”  Do you get it?  Once you’re related to God, you are now organically related to other believers all over the world.

And have you picked this up, yet?  Have you figured this out about life?  That joy is not a target or a thing that you can try to achieve, but that joy is a byproduct of relationships, period.  You know, you ought to write that down and if you learn that it will transform how you live life.
Look at 1 John.  I want you to see this relationship between being in a relationship with God and, therefore, in a relationship with other believers.  By the way, that’s the theme of 1 John.  The apostle writes, “That which was from the beginning which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes,” speaking of Christ, “which we have looked at and our hands have touched,” he’s saying this is real, “this we proclaim concerning the Word of Life.  The Life appeared (Jesus); we have seen it and testified to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life which was with the Father and has appeared to us.” 

The Gospel, great.  Now, get the next two verses.  “We proclaim to you that we have seen and we have heard,” notice the purpose clause, “so that you also may have fellowship with us.”  I would expect Him to say, what?  So you can have fellowship with God.  He doesn’t say that.  So, to you, we’ve proclaimed it.  When we share the Gospel, it’s so people can have fellowship with us.  “Our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son, Christ Jesus.  We write this to make our joy complete.”  Do you get it?  Once you’re related to God, you are now organically related to other believers all over the world.

And have you picked this up, yet?  Have you figured this out about life?  That joy is not a target or a thing that you can try to achieve, but that joy is a byproduct of relationships, period.  You know, you ought to write that down and if you learn that it will transform how you live life.  See, there are a lot of people that think success will bring them joy, and then they’re successful, and it’s empty.  They think getting something, earning something, achieving something, being something, dressing a certain way, having a certain house, driving a certain car.

They think it will bring them joy and what happens?  It’s like the old cat chasing its tail.  You bite into it only to find out it certainly wasn’t what you expected.  See, joy is a byproduct of relationships with one another, and with God.  So, well, we’ve solved it, haven’t we?  Aren’t you glad you came?  Oh, we have!  You don’t have to be lonely.  God cares, right?  He’s all knowing, all powerful, and He loves you.  Jesus understands your loneliness so if you talk to Him at anytime, I mean, His heart will break with your hurt.  He invites you into a relationship if you haven’t.

And finally, once you’re in a relationship with Him, you belong to one another.  And so since you belong, everything’s great, right?  Gosh, we’re done pretty early.  Doesn’t work quite like that does it?

See, the fact of the matter is there are a lot of us that belong, we’re born again, we know Christ, but your experience in the body of Christ is like you live your life feeling like there’s a plexiglass box around you, and you’re on the outside looking in.  And in your heart of hearts you don’t feel like anyone really cares and you don’t feel deeply connected.

And it may be true of you that you know God, and it may be true of you that you belong, but you don’t feel it.  So, let me take some time and see if we can’t discuss and discover -how can you experience authentic love and real connection in the body of Christ?  How does that work?  Let me give you a quick picture that might help you at least register, intellectually, with what I’m talking about.  Many of us have had this problem of getting in shape, right?

We all want to be in shape, at least, sometimes the doctors say get in shape and it motivates us, and other times around Christmas someone buys us one of those coupons to go to a gym or to a spa, so sometimes we get motivated.  But whatever it is, whether someone else bought it or you bought it, you can sign up to go to one of the area gyms or one of the spas.  Or you could even buy a treadmill and put it in one of the back bedrooms.  And the moment you sign up for the gym or for the spa, what?  Your problem with getting in shape is solved.  Isn’t it?

All the machines that you need to get in shape are available.  And when you go there they’ll talk about nutrition, and they’ll talk about habits, and they’ll talk about lifestyle, and they’ll even pinch you and tell you your body weight fat, dup, dup, dup, and all that stuff, right?  And they’ll tell you which exercises.  You’re in.  Now, help me with this.  However, if you sign on the dotted line and you’re a “member” of the spa or the gym, you have positional membership, but you never go, how in shape do you get?  Zippo.  Nada.  Flaborine.  Right?  High cholesterol!

It’s the same in the body of Christ.  You can be a positional member.  You’re saved, you know Christ, you’re forgiven, you’re in the family, you belong to other believers, but a “positional member” is very different than a “practicing member,” a participating member.  There are very few benefits.  It’s like the kid who might live in your house and this isn’t hopefully happening anywhere, but it’s like living in a house and all the fun’s around the dining room table, and people are eating and laughing, and having fun, and giving high fives, and even having a good few healthy arguments.

You can live in that house, but if you stay in your room all the time you don’t get it.  See, I believe it is the state of scores of people in this room and all over the world, people are positional members, but you know, they’re not practicing members.  And until you are a participating member of the body of Christ, guess what?  You’re lonely.  Are you lonely because God doesn’t care?  Nope.  Are you lonely because Jesus doesn’t understand your pain?  Nope.  Are you lonely because He hasn’t invited you into a relationship with Him to solve a problem?  Nope.

Are you lonely because no one cares, there’s no place to belong?  Nope.  Why are you lonely?  You’re lonely for two reasons.  One, I believe you have a distorted view of the Church and two you have a distorted view of relationships.  And so in the time remaining here’s what I want to do.  I want to help you break out of your loneliness and isolation by rethinking your view of the Church, and by revising your approach to relationships.

First, rethinking your view of the Church.  Many people think of the Church as an institution.  When you say the word Church, it’s buildings, it’s programs, it’s structure, it’s this idea of “them.”  In fact, when I meet you out at the mall or when I’m running errands and  you tell me, “I go to your church,” I always correct you and say, “No, I go to that church, too.”  But you’re telling me that you think Church is a “them” and you’re a “we.”  So, you don’t feel a part.

The Church is not an institution, the Church is a community.  Community is where you have involvement, sharing, relationships and connection. See, the Church is not an event to attend, like I’m going to the theatre.  It’s Saturday night or Sunday morning, let’s go to the church.  It’s a place to attend.  Hope the music’s good.  Hope Chip has a good day.  You know?  I’m going to the church, an event.  That’s not the Church!  The Church is a place to belong.  It’s a family.  It’s “us.”

It’s in relationships, and until you rethink how you think about the Church, you’re gonna be lonely.  And there are steak dinners, spiritually, on the table; and starving people and that doesn’t make sense to God.  Look at the early Church, Acts chapter 2.  Just listen to it.  Just listen to it and you tell me.  You tell me if this sounds like an institution or an event to come to, to schedule in your planner, or if this sounds more like life, and relationships, and involvement.  Early Church:  “They devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching, and to fellowship, and to the breaking of bread, and to prayer.  Everyone was filled with awe.  And many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles.  All the believers were together and had everything in common,” koinonia, sharing, relationship, involvement, “selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as they had need.”

That means they at least knew each other’s names, didn’t it?  They cared about one another.  They got out of their comfort zone.  It wasn’t any easier for them than it is for us.  “Every day they continued to meet together in the Temple courts.”  They had large group worship--Temple courts.

They had instruction, they had celebration, they had worship, but in Temple courts or on a Saturday night or a Sunday morning you can’t experience all God wants for the Church.  This is one function.  But notice what happens after the Temple courts and they get it daily.  “Every day they continued to meet together in the Temple courts, they broke bread…” they had meals together, shared the Lord’s supper - where?  “…in homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts.”  [gasp]You’re kidding!  You mean small groups isn’t a new method that someone made up to help churches grow?  Nope.  Nope.

You mean meeting at home, sharing meals isn’t something that some seminar group came up with?  Nope.  It’s actually right from the beginning.  See, it’s real-life relationships.  You worship here, you learn here, but life doesn’t take on meaning until you sit down over a coffee table, or you sit down around a fire at the beach, or you go have some fun together, and you look into someone else’s eyes and those eyes say – you matter.  Tell me your story.  Tell me your struggle.  Tell me where you’re frustrated.  Let us pray for you about the relationship that’s not working in your life.  Let’s pray for your boss.  Let’s hang in there with your sick kid.

Notice what happens when the church operates this way?  Verse 47, “They were praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people, believers and unbelievers, and the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”  Everybody needs somebody that cares about you as you.  And I know, I know, but Chip, I don’t do relationships well.  I tried one of those groups you’re talking about in a church and you should have seen the whacko who lead that group.

Or I shared something in one of those groups and then I heard about it from someone else two weeks later.  I’ve been burned.  I’ve been hurt.  I’ve been rejected.  I’ve been abandoned.  I have tapes from my childhood that convince me that no one really wants to know me.  No one really cares about me.  No one will really want to enter into a relationship with me.  So, I’ve learned to keep acting in a way that makes that true.

What you’re saying sounds great, Chip, and with all these people here when we laugh together, it seems, yeah!  But when they play that last song and you walk out the doors, I feel like I’m alone again.  How do you do relationships where you can start to break down these barriers and get connected in the body of Christ?

Suggestion number one:  Realize your need.  As long as it’s an option, you won’t do it.  It’s our pride that makes us think,  I don’t really need other people.  No, you just need to keep lying to yourself.  There are no lone rangers.  The Bible is clear that attachment is essential.  Life was made, listen, life was made for relationships.  It can’t even be just you and God.  He didn’t design it that way.  Realize your need.

Two:  Move toward others.  Now, it’s great when people move towards you, but for some of us, we walk in and here’s how we all think.  See, you look happy.  You look smiling.  When everyone gets up, and introduces, and says hi, you know, I look around the room and everyone’s got it together.  And you’re probably in a group, and you’re probably in a ministry, and life’s probably goin’ great for you.  But it’s not for me.  What you don’t understand is 65 – 70% of all the people that you think that about, it’s not true.  They’re struggling just like you are.

They don’t have it together.  They’re hurting and they’re struggling.  They need you to walk across an aisle, make a phone call, extend a hand, smile, and say, how are you doing?  And you’re saying, “Well, no one’s ever done that to me in this church.”  And they haven’t.  And, “I’ve counted.  52 weeks, no one’s done that.”  Of course, you haven’t done that to anyone else, have you?  You’ve gotta move toward others.  Scary?  You bet - can’t be any worse than loneliness.

Number three:  Be vulnerable.  The word vulnerability literally means, be open to attack.  See, when I meet someone that either looks like they have it all together or projects they have it all together, you know what I’ve learned over the years?  One, I’m too intimidated, I don’t want to get around ‘em.  And, two, I’ve been around the block to know that they’re either faking it or they’re lying.  So, I don’t want to be around them either.  Right?

But the moment someone shares a hurt, the moment someone shares a struggle, the moment someone peels a little bit of the mask off and lets me know what’s goin’ on inside, I’m immediately attracted to ‘em.  You know why?  Because, oh good, they’re like me, insecure, struggling, temptation, all kind of problems, and I need help with them.  And, I don’t know, I just feel comfortable.  Is it scary?  Yes.  But be vulnerable.  Do it wisely, open up a little at a time, notice how people respond, don’t do it with everyone, but take some steps.

Fourth:  Channel distorted thinking.  All those tapes, no one likes you, they’ll abandon you, it’ll be just like last time, you keep those tapes running, and you’re right; nothing will change.  Challenge those.

Fifth:  Take risks.  Step out, extend a hand, join a group, reach out to someone.  Take a risk.

Six:  Be empathetic.  Identify with others’ hurts.  If you can get other-centered and listen, listen, listen.

I have never found a person who’s a great listener that doesn’t have tons of friends.  You know why?  Who do people love to talk about more than anyone else in the whole world?  Ourselves!  Do you realize what great friends you could have if you say, where are you from?  Well, do you have any children?  What part of the country?  How’s that goin’?  What’s the biggest struggle you have in work?  Boy, that must be very difficult, how do you manage that?  You just keep asking questions and listen, listen, listen.  You know what?  They walk away thinking, man, what a nice guy. (group laughter)  Right?  And then, out of sheer politeness they might try something like, You know, I’ve been talking for 20 minutes, how are you?  And where are you from?  And you’re thinking, this works; I love it.

Finally, pray.  Trust God.  Pray, pray, pray.  Every time you come to a crossroads and you think I’m wanna take a step towards this person.  I’m afraid, I’m afraid, I can’t do it.  And God’ll say, “That’s right you can’t, but I can with you.”  Ok, I’ll do it.  Pray, pray, pray.  Trust God.  How does connecting occur?  The first, smile.  It’s amazing, just smile at someone.  Two, extend a hand.  Hi, my name is, I’ve been coming so-and-so.

Three, for three minutes I want you to talk with someone you don’t know.  You know what we do, those of us who feel connected?  We come here, smile, think everyone’s ok, and I think, great Marty, how ya’ doin’.  I know Marty.  Hey, Sue, how’s it going?  I know Sue.  Hey Gordon, hey man, how’s it going, tell me about.  And so we all know each other, we talk to each other and all the people who are not connected walk in, walk out, walk in.  For three minutes, don’t talk to anybody you know.  Fourth, help out.

The quickest way to get connected is people are desperate for help.  You want help in the kitchen?  I’ll help out.  You need help with those kids, I’ll help out.  Hey, shakin’ hands and givin’ out bulletins, I’ll help out.  You need help puttin’ these chairs up?  I’ll help out.  What happens?  You forge relationships.  The summary, to lick loneliness you’ve gotta – write in the word – belong.  You’ve gotta belong.  You see, it’s these informal steps plus formal strategies that will produce a connected community of love.