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How to Overcome Loneliness and Isolation, Part 1

From the series Breaking Through Life's Biggest Barriers

What do you do when you’re consumed with loneliness? How do you overcome those feelings of isolation? Chip begins this series with a message he calls, “How to Overcome Loneliness and Isolation.”

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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.