Okay. Can I just say that Stuart Greaves kicked my tail in FCF this Sunday. Perhaps that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but I definitely had a couple moments of feeling like he was preaching the sermon straight at me. The rest of the room just thought it was a general message. Except that, come to think of it, what I just said is part of the problem he addressed. “Overcoming loneliness.”
Loneliness is something I’ve struggled with off and on throughout my life. Sometimes I couldn’t help it (like the years-long stretch of my childhood where — long story — I literally had no friends). Sometimes I definitely could have helped it, but didn’t (like the years I spent being too blasted timid to speak to anyone). Lately, it’s been more of a nuisance than a real-deal slump. I’ve had semi-regular bouts with it, but it hasn’t been totally messing up my life like it used to.
But since God seems to be in the mood of bringing a lot of my emotional junk up to the surface lately, the timing on this sermon couldn’t have been more priceless.
Since being here, my mindset of dealing with loneliness has definitely changed. For one, I’m immensely blessed to live in the midst of a fabulous, loving community. It’s hard to feel isolated when you’re surrounded by amazing people. It’s hard to isolate yourself on purpose when you’ve got godly roommates and teammates who will call you on it if you try. This might be a good case of what you’d call “hedging in”, Which is a very good thing.
Another way I’ve grown in this area is that I’ve learned how a lot of our emotional needs get out of whack when we stop seeking it in the right Person. (Remember this post?) Loneliness is a classic example of something we try to solve by hanging around people, but we can only truly find resolve when we seek it from the Lord.
Yet there’s something about hearing it from another person that gives it an extra punch. Especially when the person speaks with as much authority and straightforwardness as Stuart. Not two minutes into the sermon, I had whipped out my laptop and was typing as fast as I could to try and keep up with all the points Stuart was making. It was good, and I am happy to have it in my arsenal for the next time I feel lonely — but it was definitely a blend of, “Wow, that’s amazing,” and “Hey! Ouch! Get out of my business.” In a good way.
For example, right off the bat, we get to tackle the little pride-monster that hides behind loneliness as a shield. It’s impossible for me to go, “oh poor me,” when confronted with the reality that my loneliness isn’t there because people aren’t nice enough to me, or because I’m not cool enough, or because I’m just not cut out for social situations. My loneliness flares up because I’m spiritually barren.
Yep. That’s right. I admit it. It still smarts to hear it preached from a platform, though. But when my spirit hungers for fellowship, I can’t fulfill that in the people around me. I can’t stifle it by withdrawing into myself in isolation. It can only be satisfied in the One I was made for.
Loneliness is also rooted in anxiety. It’s a fear of being abandoned and left alone, a fear of not having your legitimate emotional needs tended to. Translation: I’m looking for something to come from fallible people which can only come from an infinite, faithful God. If I truly believe that He is for me, that He sees me, and that He cares about me, why should I worry about whether or not people give me adequate attention?
I don’t want to minimize the importance of fellowship within the body. It’s incredibly important to connect with other godly human beings and do life alongside them. However, loneliness is largely a matter of priorities. If my fellowship with God is out of whack, no amount of human interaction will be able to match my inner neediness.
When we run into extreme loneliness, the human heart responds in one or both of two different ways. Either we begin to inordinately draw on people, oversaturating ourselves with friends and hangouts and coffee dates and IM’s and texts and… well, you get the idea. (It’s worth noting that “true fellowship with one another in the Holy Spirit” and “ministering to one another” doesn’t really come up on that list.) We drown out our sense of loneliness by staying so occupied with people that we don’t have time to feel it.
Or, we swing the other direction, and withdraw from everyone and everything too much. This is generally the direction in which I get off track. By not being around people, we dodge the sensation of not quite fitting in. We avoid the sting of not feeling honored enough, welcomed enough, liked enough, etc. by simply not rubbing shoulders with anyone who could possibly make us feel that way. By choosing to be isolated, then we somehow feel more in control of the situation. We’re not lonely, we’re just a loner, and we decide we like it that way. (Note: Solitude, AKA “alone time,” is good and healthy. This is not that.)
Both responses are not going to fix our problem, but only at best temporarily mask it. The way forward is to pursue the knowledge of God. We learn who He is and how He feels about us. We fill that void with prayer, rather than meaningless chatter or morbid introspection. We bring a few close, trusted friends into our battle, and engage in true fellowship with one another in the Spirit. In short, we seek the solution in the Lord and in His Word. Go figure that one, right?
Suffice it to say, this was an incredibly powerful message, and what I’ve mentioned here is only the nutshell version with an Amanda Beattie spin on it. I highly recommend you get ahold of the whole thing. You can download the notes for free by clicking here. You can download the MP3 for $2.99 by going to the IHOP MP3 page here. Check it out; it’s definitely well worth a listen.