Personal experiences of loneliness
By Jenny Schweyer & Peter Biggs
It was a particularly rough period in my life. Along with the everyday demands of raising three kids, my husband was dealing with some unexpected and stressful career challenges. Work was slow, bills were piling up and there was tension in our marriage. The future felt very uncertain…
… and I felt lonely.
I was sitting in my living room, my husband beside me, the kids breezing in and out and yet… I felt lonely. I had a number of good friends and co-workers. I was involved in social and volunteer groups full of people…
Why was I feeling so lonely? Loneliness is not a lack of social contact. A party can be the loneliest of environments. Psychologists describe loneliness not as a lack of company, but a lack of intimacy with at least one other person. Renowned psychologist and author Dr. Karyn Hall puts it this way: “Each individual has a general genetically set need for social inclusion, and your level of need will be different from someone else’s.” Some people may only need to have one good friend with whom they have a deep connection. Others may need several. For married people, some will feel perfectly content and connected with their spouse for intimate familiarity. Others may need one or more close friends outside of the marriage in order to feel completely connected, fulfilled and known.
While that time in my life was particularly troubling, I had also felt lonely at various other times throughout my life, so I knew that it was not circumstances that caused me to feel deeply lonely.
A special friend
I knew that what I needed at that time was a special friend. And so I reached out to someone in my life who, up until that point, had been more of a casual friend, and I poured out my heart to her. It turned out well. She has since been privy to some of my darkest secrets and has borne witness on more than one occasion to “ugly Jenny,” that side of me that’s reserved solely for the people I’m really mad at, and the people (like her) that I know I can show the fulness of my ‘ugly’ to and they’ll still love me afterward without judging me.
Looking back, I realize that God sent her into my life at just the time I needed her. She gets me in a way that others don’t. She was able to fill a need for intimacy in my life, and I feel grateful that I now have this small team of people around me (which also includes my husband) from whom I can seek connection and advice during various emotions and stages in my existence.
I also came to understand that God was acutely aware of my need for human intimacy, and He provided me with what I needed.
– Jenny Schweyer
When others fail us
What we all deal with is not so much ‘social loneliness’ but a deeper sense that no one truly understands us, or even seriously cares enough to try. An ‘existential loneliness’. It can be so depressing to pour out one’s heart, only to be met with “Oh I know, when I…” All we’ve done is trigger their memories that they feel compelled to share with us. Indeed this loneliness may be at the heart of why many (wisely) pay $100/hour for a counsellor who will understand and (hopefully) care.
However our expectation of others may be unhealthy. No one but God himself knows us. To look to others to make us feel loved, is often to invite frustration, disappointment and hurt. God alone can fill that void.
Loneliness and singleness
The Christian understanding are that human beings are designed, hardwired and created to not be alone.
Genesis 2:18, “The Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone, I will make a helper suitable for him.’ … 24, That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.
1. We are joined to a father and mother.
2. Seamlessly we leave parents and are ‘joined’ to another of the opposite gender.
Singleness is not viewed in the Bible as ‘a lack’ however, but a gift. (1 Cor 7:7) So much in our society is structured around couples. It’s often just assumed that adults will have a partner and that there’s something rather odd about them if they don’t for any period of time.
My divorce brought me much loneliness, but also camaraderie with other middle aged singles, an unspoken understanding of everyday life. Virtually all would love to meet someone and get married, and also acknowledge that they deal with loneliness – some better than others.
Church and loneliness
Church can be a difficult environment emotionally for the divorcee, with families who appear to be connected and happy, and many couples. Caring people reach out, but often have little or no idea of everyday life as a single (how could they?). This frequently reinforces feelings of loneliness. I remember one Christmas, a sweet and caring young family came to me and said, “Peter, you can’t spend Christmas day alone, spend it with us!”.
It was brutally sad for me and highlighted for me the ‘happy family’ I no longer had in my life!”
It can sound so cliche to say “God is with you.” However, a clear understanding from Scripture of the Holy Spirit undergirds the experience of God’s real presence with us.
Romans 8:14-16, For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba Father.’ The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.
There are many ways we may relate to God – such as ‘Father’, ‘Lord’, ‘Saviour’, ‘Teacher’, ‘Creator’, ‘Guide’… all describe the triune God, but for me (with those in mind) God as ‘Friend’ has been the experience that has done most to address my loneliness.
Many days I pray on and off informally throughout the day when alone, and do sense His loving presence.
– Peter Biggs