I know what it’s like to feel lonely.
The worst thing is to be in a group of people and feel alone. I used to feel this way at church, especially out on the plaza after the service. I was lost in the middle of a sea of people.
I’d see other people enjoying conversation, smiling, laughing, but didn’t know how to break in. I felt as if no one wanted to talk to me and so I’d start to feel more and more self-conscious. Before long, it seemed like people were looking at me standing there all alone!
I felt lonely, awkward, anxious, embarrassed, bad about myself. All I knew to do was to hurry to my car and drive home.
We Introverts are Especially Likely to be Lonely at Church
Lonely at church. That’s what it was like for me as an introvert at church before I got married. Introverts are drained by being with large groups of people, especially if they don’t know the people, it’s a loud environment, or it’s unstructured. They are easily overstimulated and overwhelmed when around lots of people. Of course, this is exactly the situation I kept finding myself in at church! The hardest situation that left me feeling the most lonely at church and uncomfortable was before and after Sunday services or midweek events.
As an introvert having time alone is what energizes me. I like being in relationship too, but my need and my comfort zone relationally is being with someone I know or in a focused conversation in which there is opportunity for deepening personal conversation. The social scene on the church plaza is more like chatting at a party than sharing hearts with friends over coffee!
This struggle of feeling lonely at church continued for me for many years, even after I got married. I didn’t want to be standing around in a crowd clinging to my wife for companionship! I felt I should be assertive to connect with other people, but I didn’t have the confidence and I was too anxious. Eventually I just gave up, accepting that I’d always feel lonely at church services because they just weren’t designed for soul talk.
The Psalmist Felt Lonely
Maybe you relate to my description of feeling lonely at church. The Psalmist felt lonely. He described himself as a lonely bird sitting atop the roof of house and waiting for the Lord (Psalm 102:7).
The Psalmist shows us how to pray our way out of loneliness and into the arms of the Lord. He opens his heart to share vulnerably and to reach out for God’s comfort. Time and again he cries out to God: “Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted” (Psalm 25:6; see also Psalm 142:4-5).
The whole Bible is filled with God’s promises of Comfort for Loneliness.
I Sought out Lonely Places with Jesus
Jesus knew this lonely way of the Psalmist. We read in the Gospels, “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed” (Luke 5:16). Jesus chose to be lonely! This was a turning point.
A number of years ago I began seeking out lonely places to be in solitude with Jesus for extended hours. The emphasis was on being with Jesus. This wasn’t a time for getting work done or studying. It was a time to be. And the way to be was to do nothing, absolutely nothing — just be with Jesus and see what happens. At first I felt antsy and unproductive. Then I felt lonely and bored. But I stayed with it. I cam to experience that Jesus was with me in a very real way — I wasn’t alone!
I Practiced the Presence of God
I learned to draw strength and nurture from the reality of the risen Christ with me in solitude and silence. I grew to know — really know, not just think or feel, but sense with a settled confidence deep within me — that Jesus was indeed with me caring for me when I was alone.
To help me stay in tune with the presence of Christ even after my time of solitude I meditated on Scripture and used it to carry on a secret conversation with my Lord. I learned to practice the presence of God.
Watch what happened after that! For the first time in my life when I was in a group situation where I found myself left out of conversation I found that I naturally turned my attention to Jesus and trusted that he was with me caring for me — I was at peace! Secure and confident in my belovedness to my Lord, despite being alone in a crowd, I was then free to pray, “Lord, show me who needs a blessing right now? Use me to be your instrument of love.”
Then I looked for someone I might encourage or I stood alone with Jesus, carrying on a secret conversation with him!
Solitude with Jesus has become so sweet to my soul. I don’t feel lonely at church anymore or anywhere, not in that depressing sort of way like I used to. I’m so grateful to have Jesus as a Soul Friend and to share him with others!
One day hiking with Jesus in solitude and silence I watched a lonely bird. I thought about how the Lord met me when I was lonely and loved me out of my loneliness. I ended up writing a prayer poem about this:
A Lovely Bird
On the hillside
A lonely bird
Apart from the flock
Standing atop a reed
Blowing in the wind
I’m longing for a friend
From the heavens
A Lovely Bird
A heart for the flock
Stooping onto my reed
Dancing in the wind
We’re singing together