“Yes, there is joy, fulfillment and companionship—but the loneliness of the soul in its appalling self-consciousness is horrible and overpowering.” – Sylvia Plath
I remember the night before it happened. I was sitting outside. The sky was clear. The stars shone, and I looked deeply into depth of night. Searching Scripture and journaling had come to an end. No answers came. No solution manifested. Dark silence felt like a noose around my neck. Then, a questioned sighed out of my depression, “Where are you?”
Tossing all night, my mind muddled in despair. I couldn’t go to anyone about my struggles, or I could lose my job. I couldn’t open up without rejection. No one was there. Christian clichés cluttered my thoughts. As dawn came, a decision was made: it is time for me to escape this lonely world.
How many of us have felt invisible, lost in a maddening crowd, and forgotten? How many of us have thrown out a prayer for someone, anyone to just be there? How many of us felt loneliness like a walk in a cemetery, talking to cold stones with silence meeting our tears?
How can we escape this lonely world?
The Liminal Space of Loneliness
Where does loneliness come from? Is it from God? Have we done something where God teases us with companionship like a cruel carrot cast in front of a donkey?
God said from the beginning, “It is not good for the man to be alone (Genesis 2:18).” We see throughout Scripture, man is not meant to be alone. Loneliness is not from God. It is a part of the fallen world putting us in a liminal space lost in the space between spaces.
Since God created man not to be alone, then Satan wants man to be alone. We see in many of the miracles of Jesus, he went to the liminal space. The lepers were outcast between villages (Luke 17:11-13). The demon-possessed man was chained among the tombs into a lost loneliness (Mark 5:1-5). A lonely woman wandered to a well in the heat of the day (John 4:6-7). All these individuals (and plenty more mentioned in the Gospels) found themselves in the lonely liminal space.
Loneliness is part of Satan’s scheme to separate others. If man was not meant to be alone, then the perfect way to destroy God’s beautiful creation is to separate them.
How many of us find ourselves lost in the lonely liminal traveling here and there without a place of belonging?
A Settled Savior
One of my favorite verses in the Bible is John 1:14, “So the Word became human and made his home among us…” Jesus, the Son of God, made his place among us. He took on a human body and kept it.
Jesus is a settled savior. Sure, he did not have a place to rest his head (Luke 9:58), but he did have a place to belong. Being known as a friend of sinners shows us where Jesus settled. He settled and found his place among the sinners, the outcasts, and the rejected (Mark 2:13-17; Luke 7:36-50; Luke 19:1-10). His place was with those who had no place.
When he healed people, he not only cured their diseases and cast out demons, but he also gave each individual a place. They no longer were outcasts to somehow survive in the the lonely liminal. He brought them to a place of belonging and in fellowship with other humans just like he originally intended back in the garden.
The Called Community
The place Jesus gave people to belong to wasn’t a village, a building, or a commune. It is a called community known as the Church. As we look through the various epistles, the vast majority of them are written to a group of people or church(es) in various regions.
Paul, in I Corinthians 12:12-27, likens this community to a body. For a human body to work, everything must be working together. There isn’t any lonely body parts off doing their own thing, meditating on God’s Word, or contemplating in silence their identity. All parts have to rely on each other in order for the body to work. Even in Philippians 2:1-2, Paul tells us that to belong to Christ is to be in relationship with one another in humility. How many passages in the epistles mention unity or have the theme of unity?
In Romans 12:9-10, we read about how we are to love each other with genuine affection. You can’t show affection to yourself. Affection is shown to another. The church is to be a community collectively cherishing each other in genuine affection, called out by Christ for his purpose.
Lashing Out at the Lonely
Yet, why do we have an epidemic worse than Covid? Why does loneliness suck the life out of Christians? Why does the struggle of loneliness cause more loneliness?
When someone comes up to us who seems “needy for people,” isn’t the first thing said, “You need to work on finding your identity in Christ and not others”? So, we meet the struggle of loneliness with more loneliness? It is the same as saying to a fellow believer without food, “Be warmed and filled, and I will pray for you as you pray for God to provide.” Yet, we “comfort” with trite treatises of prayer and Christian clichés without helping (James 2:14-16).
Yes, our identity is hid with Christ. But, our place and belonging is with our called community together. What we forget is the Bible is originally written to a collectivistic society (no, not socialistic). Collectivism, in cultural studies, means to value the group or family identity over the individual identity. Americans are very good individualistics. We tend to prize our individual identity over a group or family identity. Yet, we see many places in Scripture that our identity is in Christ and is worked out together in the church.
When we push the lonely away to “focus on their relationship with Jesus,” we further Satan’s scheme of separation. Instead, wouldn’t it be better to come alongside each other to disciple? Discipling does not happen in the lonely liminal. It happens in a community.
The Invisible Made Visible
In all of our hearts, we know we are not meant to do life alone. Through the Covid Pandemic, mental health issues rose as isolation and loneliness crippled our souls. Yet, why are we so quick to say to the lonely, “Focus on God. I’ll be praying for you”?
One of my favorite lines in a Disney movie comes from The Princess Diaries. When Michael asks Mia, “Why me?” Her response is perfect, “Because you saw me when I was invisible.”
I have been lonely. I have felt the insane, pinball effects of loneliness. I have felt the deep ache seeing others together wishing I was there. It is like a snow-covered orphan looking in a window at a family enjoying a Christmas dinner. Yearning to belong.
Why do you think Paul uses terms like brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers in talking about the church? It is because the church is a family of belonging. The church makes the invisible visible. There is no more wandering in the church. We have a body to belong to. We get to be visible to others around us, because Jesus changed us from invisible to visible.
Let’s not let Satan separate us anymore. God created man not to be alone and to be a part of a called community. Sure, we can’t be friends with everyone. As a teacher, I know this very well. Yet, we can make friends in our local communities and develop friendships far away as God allows.
Loneliness does not have to be tool Satan uses to divide. Instead, the power of Christ brings us from the lonely liminal into a place of belonging – the Church.
Today, how can we help people escape the lonely liminal to find the called community we belong in together?