Storming the Gates of Loneliness

by Andy Wood on October 11, 2010

in Esteem, Life Currency, Love

“Loneliness does not come from having no people about one, but from being unable to communicate the things that seem important to oneself, or from holding certain views which others find inadmissible.” (Carl Jung) 

In an eastern hospital years ago, a group of medical students were doing a pediatric rotation.   As they worked with these hospitalized kids each day, they noticed that the patients responded with great joy to one particular med student.  Nobody could figure out why.  So they talked one of their cohort members into doing a little spying. 

The observer followed him around all day and discovered nothing.  Finally that night, the mystery was solved when the young doctor made his last round.

He kissed every child good-night.

That doctor understood something about people.  And about the natural barriers that surround people and make them vulnerable to loneliness. 

We humans are strange – we put up these walls around ourselves, and then secretly long for someone – anyone – to crash through them.  We are victims of our own self-protection and self-rejection.

And the result?  Loneliness.

Next time you’re mixing it up with people, really anywhere, just scan the room.  (Or, with a little more imagination, scan the Facebook newsfeed.)  There you will find people dressed up or dressed down, alone or in clusters of people, posing or preaching, listening or laughing, eating or working.  Most of them will most likely be putting on their best, um, face.

But appearance doesn’t matter.

They may be married or single, young or old, sickly or healthy.  You probably won’t see their pain – they have learned to hide it well. 

They may actually be loved and adored by many, many people, yet live in a prison of isolation or separation.

They may even be lonelier than you are.

A Peek Behind the Face

The Lord did us an amazing favor by giving us an inside peek at the heart of someone who was lonely.  Frankly, in the natural it’s a bit depressing to read because there is no cheering up at the end.

But if you read Psalm 88 carefully, you will find a graphic picture of loneliness and its symptoms. 

Unheard Prayer

Lonely people, if they have prayed at all, feel that God has not heard their prayer. They feel as though He has deserted them.

Lord, God of my salvation;

I cry out day and night before you.

But I, O Lord, cry to you;

 in the morning my prayer comes before you.

O Lord, why do you cast my soul away?

Why do you hide your face from me?(Psalm 88:1, 13-14) 

Utterly Exhausted

Many times lonely people have reached their emotional and physical limits.  They feel they can’t take any more.

 For my soul is full of troubles…

Your wrath lies heavy upon me,

and you overwhelm me with all your waves (Psalm 88:3, 7)

 Unfairly Forgotten

Lonely people feel as if they may as well be dead.  They feel forgotten and passed by.  This happens often to people who were once the center of attention.  Or maybe the center of activity.  But now, for whatever reason, they aren’t there anymore.

I am counted among those who go down to the pit;

You have caused my beloved and my friend to shun me;

my companions have become darkness (Psalm 88:4, 18)

Untimely Separated

Lonely people feel separated from their friends.  Relocation, death, or some other change in circumstances often creates a barrier between them and those they love. 

You have caused my companions to shun me (Psalm 88:8)

Untouchably Self-conscious

Lonely people often feel untouchable – like the children in the hospital.  They are often self-conscious, and may feel, like the psalmist, that they are “an object of loathing” (v. 8).  I have noticed that many lonely people desperately long to have their hand held, or for someone to hug them, or put their arm around them.

you have made me a horror to them (Psalm 88:8).

Unable to Get Out

Loneliness is often the result of not being able to get out.  This may apply to sick people, or even to parents with sick or disabled children.  There are many times when those who would do something about their loneliness are unable to.

I am shut in so that I cannot escape (Psalm 88:8).

Unspoken Death

Ed Litton once wrote that “loneliness is a form of dying.”  And that’s true.  Lonely people often focus their thoughts on death.  Whether that person becomes suicidal or not, they seem to have a recurring – and nearly always unspoken – focus on dying. The entire psalm is a relentless rant against – and dance toward – the grave.  All hurled at God.

Unrelenting Fear

Lonely people often live in great fear.  They feel defenseless and helpless.  They need to experience God’s security and peace.

 Afflicted and close to death from my youth up,

I suffer your terrors; I am helpless.

 Your wrath has swept over me;

your dreadful assaults destroy me.

 They surround me like a flood all day long;

they close in on me together (Psalm 88:15-17).

What to Do?

You can’t fix somebody else’s loneliness.  There are too many dynamics going on that are far beyond your control. 

What you can, do, however, is be available to be part of the solution… then let God do the rest. 

In the words of Hippocrates, “First, do no harm.”  Don’t make the problem worse by the ways we all can be too distracted, busy, or careless for people.

Try this.  Over the next few days, make it a practice to deliberately try to make someone feel important and thought-of.  Make them feel that they aren’t alone against the world.  Give them your (undivided) attention.  Introduce yourself to a stranger.  Give somebody a hug or a touch on the shoulder or back.  Say with your smile and your eyes that life is worth living. 

Be.  There.  With.  Them.

In ways you don’t yet understand, you will be investing in your future… and your eternity.

And if you’re one of the lonely ones (and we all are at some point)… let me encourage you to do what the psalmist did.  Cry out to God!  But go one step further.  Reach out to somebody.  You may find that they are as lonely as you are.

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