The trouble is not that I am single and likely to stay single,
but that I am lonely and likely to stay lonely. – Charlotte Brontë
Loneliness is that sometimes persistent—yet unwelcome—friend. It meets us after a spouse dies. Or when a loving parent passes away. We may greet loneliness when a relationship ends or when a child heads off to college. Loneliness will occasionally join us on the couch as we dwell on the realities of another night at home alone: making dinner, paying bills, and considering life without a spouse. It greets a mother late at night nursing her infant while her husband is deployed. Or a father, striving to faithfully raise his children after losing his wife to cancer.
In our moments of strength, we attempt to keep loneliness at arm’s length through various distractions like family, friends, movies, games, social media, work, etc. However, in the late nights, or even early mornings, when we finally manage to settle down—loneliness finds a way to join us as we watch the hours slowly melt away. It plagues our thoughts with feelings of isolation as we persist in the joys and sorrows of living life on our own.
Loneliness never respects age or relation. It pursues grandparents, fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, men, women, teens, and even children. It is difficult to find a life lived to the fullest without loneliness at some inopportune moment shadowing their path. Some of the bitterest tears are shed in the wake of loneliness. So how do we confront this unwanted friend? How do we combat loneliness when it bitterly plagues our souls?
In Psalm 25, David confronts loneliness by crying out to God: “Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted. The troubles of my heart are enlarged; bring me out of my distress” (vv. 16-17). We do not know exactly at which point in David’s life this psalm was written, yet because of what we know about David through Scripture—we know that he experienced loneliness. David was pursued by his father-in-law, who attempted to put him to death numerous times and then he was sought out by his son Absalom, as well as other nations who desired to put him to death. David experienced the bitter loneliness of betrayal by his friends and family while he constantly fled for his life.
First, in Psalm 25, it is important to note how David acknowledges the truth of his situation. He declares that he is lonely and afflicted, but that is not where he stops. Even before acknowledging the reality of his situation, David asks the Lord to turn to him, be gracious, and bring him up out of his distress. Often when we are afflicted by loneliness, it is easy to sit and dwell on our loneliness and let loneliness lead in our emotions. Or, let loneliness guide the perception of our current circumstances. When we collapse on our bed in tears, it is easy to acknowledge—I am lonely—however, if we stop there, we will only find ourselves wrestling with more loneliness. Instead, we must be like David and bring our loneliness to the only one who fully understands, which is the Lord himself.
David does not speak to his family and friends (though there might be a time and a place for this), or turn to social media to share his feelings of isolation, instead, he cries out directly to God. He asks God to be gracious and turn and see that he is lonely. He directly asks the Lord to bring him out of his distress (v. 17). David’s cry rests in the truth that he proclaimed in the beginning of the psalm that God is his trust and that those who wait on the Lord are not put to shame, for we worship the God of our salvation (vv. 2, 5, 15). David appeals to the Lord in declaring who he is: The Lord is merciful, full of steadfast love (vv. 6-7, 10), good and upright (vv. 7-8), faithful (v. 10), a friend to those who fear him (v. 14), our deliverer and refuge (vv. 20), and much more. David affirms God’s character, which is what gives him hope—for these truths ground him in God’s faithfulness and love.
When we acknowledge these truths about God and remind ourselves of who he is and what he has done, then we can be confident that he will be merciful to us—He will hear our cries in the night watches, he will remember us because his love is constant and he pursues us as a friend. In Christ, we have eternal salvation, which means the loneliness we encounter in this world is only temporary. Jesus Christ went through the affliction, the gruesome death upon the cross, in isolation and utter loneliness in order that through him we now have access in one Spirit to the Father, which means we are never truly alone (Ephesians 2:14-22).
It is true that loneliness may continue to seek us out in moments of solitude when we are home, or wrestling with sleepless nights. Sometimes loneliness may even intrude while we walk through a crowd. However, if we acknowledge our loneliness and cry out to our heavenly Father who hears us—we will not be put to shame, for he draws near when we call upon him (Psalm 145:18-19). Our God is faithful—He sees, he hears, and he saves. We have only to be like David and cry out to God and acknowledge the truth of our situation—declare our loneliness—and give it fully and entirely to him, trusting that he will gently quiet our cries with his love (Zephaniah 3:17).
A Few Resources to Consider:
Path of Loneliness by Elizabeth Elliot
Finding God in My Loneliness by Lydia Brownback
Loneliness: Connecting with God and Others by Lou Priolo
Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy: Discovering the Grace of Lament by Mark Vroegop (This book provides a beautiful framework for lamenting and helps one work through grief over the loss of a loved one, but also provides a framework for lamenting loneliness.)