There’s a good chance someone in your congregation, indeed in your home group is struggling with loneliness right now. Indeed it is highly likely that you have struggled with it yourself. However, it’s a topic we don’t really talk about.

My comments here are prompted  by a helpful twitter conversation with Rebecca McLaughlin which you can read here: https://twitter.com/RebeccMcLaugh/status/1230267563898265600

If I can stereotype a little, the classic Christian teaching on the subject runs along the lines of “God said it was not good for man to be alone.[1] Jesus was alone at Gethsemane. Join a Home Group.  My conversation with Rebecca was around concerns that the issue is a little more complex than that and that quickly jumping to the conclusion that if someone is lonely, it is either their fault or the church’s fault may well be hasty.

Now, at this point, note a qualification. First of all, I have acknowledged already that loneliness isn’t something that churches are great at dealing with. As Rebecca comments in the conversation, dealing with it is about more than just having activities where people can be in groups. Meetings can fail to provide the real community, friendship and intimacy that lonely people long for. However, it is possible for someone to still experience significant loneliness as part of healthy, gospel centred church that emphasises community. Loneliness is not necessarily the fault of the church, nor of the individual.

I experienced loneliness when I was in my first year at theological college. It was not that I did not have friends or that community was lacking but my soon to be wife was in another county and we were limited to really poor quality skype connections.  More seriously I recall a period of intense and extended home-sickness and loneliness when I first moved to Kent to work for BAE SYSTEMS.

I was part of a church with a strong sense of community. There was plenty to get involved in and there were families committed to offering hospitality including those who were not adverse to you dropping in without notice. Yet I was lonely. There were plenty of evenings when everyone else had other commitments and there were plenty of times when I said goodbye to a visitor or walked home to an empty, quiet flat and felt hopelessly isolated and alone.  It was not a failing on the church part that I was experiencing loneliness. Nor was it sin on my part.  It was just the reality of living in the now, not yet.

Just as we can say that loneliness does not necessarily mean that a church has failed but sadly many churches do fail at community, so too, just because loneliness is not itself sin, does not mean that it is always without sin.  Loneliness is a battleground for serious spiritual warfare. The devil wants to use it as an opportunity for temptation. He wants you to wallow in self-pity. He wants you to become bitter, to believe lies about others – that they are better off than you because of their relationships, that they don’t understand and don’t care.  He wants to offer all sorts of addictions and attractions to numb the pain of loneliness and draw you away from clinging to Christ. I know, I have been there.

However, I also discovered over time that loneliness could be a friend.  Loneliness taught me to value solitude. It grabbed me and dragged me kicking and screaming into God’s presence as I learnt to spend time with him, studying his word, growing in gifting, praying for others. Loneliness taught me the importance of loving my neighbour. It got me giving hospitality, it got me visiting. It alerted me to others that for all sorts of reasons might be on their own and struggling. In a small way, it helped prepare me for ministering to those struggling with isolation and desertion.

It is not that loneliness was a good or welcome companion. However it became my friend because God intended it for good. 

[1] Although hold on, doesn’t Christopher Ash say that aloneness in Genesis 1-3 is not primarily about loneliness but the need for a helper in the work. 

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