How can I deal with my agonizing loneliness?

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How can I deal with my agonizing loneliness?

Sep 19, 2011 |Candice Watters
Question

I'm a 32-year-old, single, Christian woman, and I've exhausted all options for dealing with the agonizing loneliness of my life. I paid a Christian counselor for months to listen to my problems, but I never received the guidance or advice I desired, except a suggestion that perhaps I'm too hard on myself.

I'm involved in two small groups, one of which is a singles group. I participate in community service with Christians, and I attend and participate in church. I have a career, a house, a car — everything. I have pursued all my interests, including traveling extensively. I make efforts to meet new people and form new friendships. Still, I come home to an empty house every night no matter how involved and social I am (and, yes, I've had roommates in the past, but with negative consequences).

I haven't been on a date for years, and I worry I must be a freak, though I know the dating pool of single men my age is very small in my church. I ask people what glaring character flaw is causing this suffering, but no one gives me an answer. I'm healthy, I dress well, and people say I'm attractive, so I know it's not a physical appearance problem.

Despite all of my best efforts and my faith in Christ, I am directionless and lost. My self-esteem and courage are weakening. I don't know where to turn, and I feel increasingly discouraged and sometimes hopeless. All I can utter to God oftentimes is, "Why aren't You helping me? What else am I supposed to do?" Do you have any new perspective on this?

Answer

Thank you for writing. I remember a time in my own life when I felt very much like what you’ve described. I had attained much of what the world says should satisfy: a car, a college degree, a good and interesting job, nice clothes, and enough money to buy good coffee and books when I felt like it. Trouble is, these things, and the rush that comes with attaining them, are fleeting. Like all things, they fade away. And just getting more of them, or the newest, latest versions provides only a temporary high. Thankfully I didn’t just want more stuff, and I suspect you don’t either.

I comforted myself in the midst of my misery with thoughts that my dissatisfaction was commendable because what I really wanted was what really mattered: meaningful friendships, a husband, a family. And these things, as God designed them, are good, and good to want and work for. But still they’re not the ultimate thing.

We’ve largely been convinced by our materialistic culture that this world and its pleasures is all there is. We may not say we believe that, but we often live as if we do, evidenced by feeling entitled to certain to things — a certain standard of living, a boyfriend, a husband, a family, happiness, education, a satisfying career, etc.

But as good and satisfying as these things sound, they’re nothing compared to what awaits a child of God. Paul said,

Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith — that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead (Philippians 3:8-11).

Even service, though commendable and central to the life of the believer (Philippians 2:4), is still secondary. 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 says,

And I, when I came to you, brothers did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.

I’m assuming, based on your letter, that you’ve been saved by faith alone in Christ alone. If you have, then I think it’s clear that the tempter, the devil, is trying to take your eyes off what matters and keep you distracted by what ultimately doesn’t. It’s the same temptation he placed before Christ in the desert. After 40 days of fasting, Jesus was hungry. And weak. And in that context, Satan taunted Him, saying, "If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become … bread" (Matthew 4:3).

As Russell Moore writes in his exceptional book, Tempted and Tried,

Bread is important here. Satan, after all, could have referenced virtually anything that could have provided basic nutrients. … But when the unclean spirit mentioned "loaves of bread," he was pointing to something familiar, tapping into what psychologists call a trigger for the appetites. … As Satan spoke, Jesus might have even imagined it there before him, the sensation of breaking open the crust to the hot yeasty stuff inside. That is human in the most basic sense of the word.

But this was about more than eating; it was about trusting God as Father, the One who provides. Moore writes,

This is where Eve fell, and Adam right behind her. Satan suggested, back in the garden, that somehow God was withholding good from the humans, something that, in fact, would make them like him. Eve started to see God not as Father but as rival, and that’s when she struck out to grab what he was holding back from her. Her appetites, Satan said, were a more reliable guide to what she needed than the word of her God.

What if God doesn’t want you to have what you want? Is it possible to go on and not be bitter and angry? I think it is. Scripture shows us how. Rather than focusing on what you’ve achieved — your car, house, job, etc. — focus on what you never could achieve:

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions — it is by grace you have been saved (Ephesians 2:4-5).

Rather than focusing on what you don’t have, focus on what you don’t have to face: the wrath of God.

Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God (Romans 5:9).

And focus on what you’ve been given: eternal life, the right to be called His child, an inheritance in the kingdom of God.

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God (John 1:12).

God may still answer your prayers for deeper friendships, a husband and children. I pray He does! But Satan would love for you to stake your eternity on whether God answers your prayers the way you think He should. Even as we ask our heavenly Father for good gifts, full of faith that He is able to meet our needs, we must still remember that His ways are higher than ours (Isaiah 55:8-9).

God works all things together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). What is the good He’s working toward? Conformity with Christ. That means being more like Jesus. Who made himself obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:8).

Jesus told His followers to take up their crosses and follow Him (). He told us that we would face trials (John 16:33). But all of this is part of the Father’s plan to make us like His Son.

Mercifully, He doesn’t leave us to our own wits or resources to do it. Jesus sends the Holy Spirit who fills new believers (Ephesians 1:13) with the power to obey and with hope (Romans 15:13). And Jesus who is our great high priest understands the trials we suffer:

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:14-16).

Rather than accusing God in prayer, asking Him, "Why aren’t You helping me?" Ask Him, "Why, of all the people in the world, did you choose me?" Praise Him. Ask Him to help your unbelief. Thank Him for what He’s already done — the most important work of rescuing you when you were dead in sin and bringing you back to life. That alone is reason to be overflowing with joy, thanksgiving and praise all of your days.

I realize that you may not have heard a lot of this before, even in church. I spent the better part of my life in church services where the Gospel was as one writer put it, "the diving board" when in reality, the Gospel is "the whole pool." Once you receive Christ’s gift of salvation, then the work of sanctification begins. And God works through means, most often difficult circumstances like the ones you find yourself in, to make us more like His Son.

We can resist Him, kicking against His good will, or we can surrender to His plan, submit to His authority and watch a miraculous transformation occur as "we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us" (Romans 5:3-5).

And in the midst of the struggle, we can find comfort in Jesus’ call to "come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light" (Matthew 11:28-30).

You said you’re facing "agonizing loneliness." To agonize is to "undergo great mental anguish through worrying about something." It seems you’re causing yourself great mental anguish needlessly, because mercifully, Scripture tells us to do the opposite.

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Is that a positive-thinking mantra? It would be if it just said "don’t worry." But it doesn’t stop there. Paul tells that instead of worry, we should in everything, with thanksgiving, present our requests to God.

This is no arbitrary or unknowable God. This is the God who has revealed himself as mighty to save, all knowing, all powerful, wise, loving, for us and working all things together for the good of those who love Him. He is trustworthy. The question is, will you trust Him?

I pray that you will. May He guard your heart and your mind in Christ Jesus.

Sincerely,
CANDICE WATTERS

Copyright 2011 Candice Watters. All rights reserved.

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