Have you ever been really lonely?
Katie Spotz knows what lonely means. She’s the young American adventurer who rowed by herself across the Atlantic Ocean in 2010.
Covering 2,817 miles in 73 days, Spotz had to struggle through the physical strain of rowing, the fear of inclement weather and dangerous sea life. But most of all, she faced the extreme loneliness of having no one else around on the vast, open ocean.
Lost and alone
Maybe we haven’t crossed the sea alone in a rowboat, climbed a mountain solo or trekked the Sahara Desert on our own, but we’ve all been lonely.
Life can hand us circumstances where we are physically all by ourselves. If you’ve ever gone backcountry camping or hiking and been separated from your fellow campers, you know the fear that can well up inside and tug at your thinking, begging you to panic.
Good wilderness instructors teach how to avoid that panic and what to do about it. By following a logical progression of steps, you can ride out the fear and maintain your presence of mind. With clear thinking you can take stock of your actual situation, including what resources you have available, and develop a positive plan of action.
Alone in a crowd
Loneliness can also creep into our lives when family life isn’t perfect. Even people who love each other don’t always know how to express outgoing concern, and in the course of time they can hurt each other deeply. It’s possible to become lonely even while living among friends or family.
Young people who are old enough and economically stable may want to become married, but when there is no one of the opposite sex to date, especially within a particular religious faith or belief set, it can be an emotionally lonely time.
Panic can set in, not unlike what happens when we get lost on a hike. The emotions scream, and the brain seems to shut off! Fear leads to despair, and hopelessness is an unhealthy place to be.
Hit the “don’t panic” button
The physical and emotional stress of being alone is a starting place. Just like being lost in the woods, we have to establish a “don’t panic” rule and develop a set of actions that will lead to a better place—a place filled with caring friendships and strong, positive relationships! What, more specifically, should we do?
Pray: Here’s the secret: We are never completely alone! God is always aware of us and of what we are thinking. We are only a prayer’s length from His intervention. So start with prayer. Tell God how you feel, and ask for His help and mercy.
Assess: God says if you “ask in prayer, believing, you will receive” (Matthew 21:22 Matthew 21:22And all things, whatever you shall ask in prayer, believing, you shall receive.
American King James Version×). But we also have to do our part. Take stock of the situation. Are you actually alone, or do you simply feel alone—having become, as is common, simply drawn into yourself?
Act accordingly: If you are truly in a dangerous situation at home or among friends, leave and find help. If your problem is too much inward focus, turn your perspective outward and seek others around you. Show concern for them; see if maybe they, too, could use more friends. Talk to them. Listen to them.
And make yourself friendly. This is difficult for shy people, but the first step is the hardest. After that it becomes easier to meet a stranger and make an introduction. There are nearly 7 billion people on the earth—so in this lifetime there will always be someone new to meet!
Develop an action plan: Make a list of people to connect with. The elderly who can’t leave their homes or care centers love to receive notes, phone calls and visits. Likewise, get-well cards will encourage those who are dealing with health challenges.
Skills and hobbies we’ve always thought about, but never tried, can be a great starting point. Join a club or take a class! Have you always wanted to learn to step dance? Go find a group of amateur Irish dancers to join! Want to work with clay? Take a pottery class! Joining a group or class is a fantastic way to meet people, and often these are provided free or at very low cost at community centers.
An outward focus is essential to fighting loneliness. Showing love and outgoing concern will bring love into your life. God made it that way!
Love and loneliness
For those who are single and want to be married, it can seem like everyone around them is finding “the one” while they are still alone. We are each at a different stage in life, but circumstances can be discouraging.
The apostle Paul wrote, “I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content” (Philippians 4:11 Philippians 4:11Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatever state I am, therewith to be content.
American King James Version×).
Contentment and gratitude are two important antidotes to loneliness. Contentment is often defined by the preconceived aspirations we have for ourselves. But God’s timing and His goals for us are often different than we expect. Always remember, God’s plan is the best!
The hard part is reconciling His path for us with the one we think we want. This is the point of Paul’s instruction: We must accept that wherever we are, that is according to God’s will. The lessons we learn may be greater than we could ever imagine, and they are preparing us for eternal life in the Kingdom of God.
So now what?
Being unmarried isn’t a one-way ticket to Hermitville. An active, productive, outward-looking single life will connect us with others, bringing companionship and close friendships. And it can enable important pursuits. Historically and biblically, God’s servants were both married and single. Being single has at times been advantageous—with less familial responsibilities like parenting allowing more time to spend on God’s work of proclaiming the gospel.
Look around. Are there ways to serve? Are there experiences to enjoy that won’t be as available after marriage, like travel and educational adventures? Seek those out!
Don’t give up on your married friends though. Keep in touch with them! They may need your perspective from time to time. Likewise, married folks, don’t forget your single friends. Though the focus of our lives may differ, good friendships are worth maintaining.
Loneliness is just a starting place. Where we go from there is a mark of the character we are developing.
Establish a “don’t panic” approach to combat loneliness. If we feel inward and caught up in self-pity, the antidote is to turn outward and think of others. Try to understand how they feel, and learn how to reach out and encourage them.
The Golden Rule, the guiding principle of proper interaction with our fellow man, is to do to others as we want them to do to us. If we want to be less lonely, then we should help fill the lives of others with care and friendship. It takes effort, but the end result is priceless!