Making Loneliness Your Friend
2 Timothy 1:13-18
Dr. Jim Denison
A man who felt constantly dominated by his wife went to see a psychologist, who gave him a book on assertiveness. He read it and then drove home, pointed his finger at his wife, and said, “I want you to know that from now on, I’m in charge around here. First you’re going to cook me a delicious dinner. Then you’re going to make me a sumptuous dessert. Then you’ll draw my bath so I can relax. Then, guess who’s going to lay out my clothes and comb my hair?” She replied, “The mortician?” The man then needed our topic today.
This morning, I want to talk with you about loneliness.
Less than 4% of US mail is personal cards and letters.
James Lynch, a medical researcher at Johns Hopkins Hospital, is convinced that loneliness is the number one killer in America, the primary factor in deaths due to heart attacks and cancer. We look self-sufficient and happy, all the while being stung to death by loneliness.
This epidemic is only getting worse. Glenn Cartwright, a researcher with McGill University, warns that the Internet makes it possible for us to develop our own parallel identity. We can choose a body, gender, and role through chat rooms, Instant Messaging, and games which are amazingly real. He concludes: “The twenty-first century may well be the century of technologically induced disaffection, characterized by an increased sense of loneliness, alienation, [and] powerlessness.”
I read through several books on our subject this week. The best definition of “loneliness” I found was this: loneliness is “the feeling of not being meaningfully related.” It’s not the same thing as being alone—you can feel lonely in a crowd, sometimes more so. It’s feeling that you’re not “meaningfully related” to people, to enough people, to the right people.
It’s a feeling we all face. Every one of us, more than we know. Let’s try to understand the problem, then find ways to live with it in hope.
Erich Fromm, the eminent counselor, once wrote: “The deepest need of man …is the need to overcome his separateness, to leave the prison of his aloneness…. Modern man is alienated from himself, from his fellow men, and from nature. He has been transformed into a commodity, experiences his life forces as an investment which must bring him the maximum profit obtainable under existing market conditions…. While everybody tries to be as close as possible to the rest, everybody remains utterly alone, pervaded by the deep sense of insecurity, anxiety and guilt which always results when human separateness cannot be overcome…. Man overcomes his conscious despair by the routine of amusement, the passive consumption of sounds and sights offered by the amusement industry; furthermore by the satisfaction of buying ever new things, and soon exchanging them for others.”
Fromm wrote those words in 1967, before the Vietnam War came to its bitter end; before Watergate; before September 11. Today sociologists describe our society as “cocooned,” withdrawn into ourselves more than ever before in human history. Gone is the front porch—no one even builds them on houses anymore. Gone is the evening stroll with the neighbors. Gone are extended families—most are scattered across the country and beyond. In their place, 25% of the populace experiences acute loneliness at any given time, and nearly all of us face it with regularity.
Loneliness starts early: as infants we feel unwanted, even though we are. Every time we are left alone when we want to be picked up from the crib, or the babysitter, we become afraid. Afraid of being alone.
By adolescence, our greatest fear is that others will not like us. That’s why we dress to conform, act to conform, and are more concerned with who “likes” who than anything else in our lives. We fear being unpopular above all else, and learn not to risk loving people or seeking their love. We’d rather be lonely.
As adults, we learn that we are what others think of us—of our performance, appearance, possessions. We learn to fear their rejection above all else. We are afraid to love and seek love, because we may be rejected. Then our children grow up and move away, and we feel less needed. We grow still older, and it seems that the world knows us or needs us even less. And our loneliness grows.
At the root of it all, we believe that we are not worthy of love. Not really. People may like us, appreciate us, need us, use us, but we don’t deserve to be loved. And so we make ourselves lonely as a result.
People turn to technology and the Internet to find companionship. Or to pornography to fantasize that they are wanted. Or to drugs or alcohol to dull the pain and find people who share our problem. Or clubs, social groups, sports teams, hobbies, churches to avoid loneliness. But we can be lonely in a crowd—some of you are this morning.
What do we do? Our text offers us steps which are so simple, every one of us can take them today.
See yourself as God sees you (vs. 13-14)
First, we seek our worth in God. One of our Father’s names in Hebrew is “Jehovah-Shammah,” which means “the God who is there.” He is.
What you have heard from Paul, and from the rest of the biblical revelation, keep as the pattern of sound teaching (v. 13). Believe that it is true. Believe that Jesus died on the cross to pay for your sins and failures. Believe that nothing can separate you from his love. Believe that he loves you without condition, that he has forgiven every sin you’ve confessed to him, that he’s on your side. Have “faith and love in Christ Jesus.”
Then “guard” this “good deposit that was entrusted to you” (v. 14a). “Guard” means to protect it, to preserve it from all thieves and attack. See yourself as God sees you, his created child, one died for by his Son. No matter what the world says you are.