“Why Am I Still So Lonely?”
For years I asked myself this question.
It started when I was very young. I felt very different from other boys my age. I was athletic, well-liked, and I even got excellent grades. I was smart, talented, and popular (and oh so humble). What could be wrong?
Well, for starters, I was just about the only little boy that wanted to talk about my feelings. I loved trampoline basketball as much as the next kid, but once we worked most of the play mode out of our system, I wanted to talk about life. I wanted to share my thoughts, my hurts, my dreams, and my struggles.
You may think, “You were little. How difficult can life be at eight years old?”
That’s a fair question, but from the eyes of a little boy, the world is vast and full of emotions. Everything seems like one great adventure waiting to happen or one great fear pressing down on you, and I wanted to talk about these things with the people close to me.
It didn’t take long for me to realize the other boys wanted nothing to do with it.
It was always subtle; a chuckle at something I said, a facial expression that said “What’s up with HIM?” or blatantly ignoring my question and choosing to do something else instead. I soon started to recognize that my friends weren’t experiencing the same world I was, and if they were, they certainly didn’t want to talk about it like I did.
I felt different. I felt weird.
I felt alone.
I’ve grown up now and loneliness has become a familiar companion. It has taken various shapes and forms over the years. Middle school was a war zone where everything was “them against me.” High school brought me the joy of watching my friends change for the worse, and then choosing to change myself just so I could still hang out with them. Once I got to college, I was so tired of being rejected by girls that at 20 years of age I literally cried when a girl didn’t want to go on a date with me (Thanks a lot, Kelsey…ya big meanie-head).
I wish I could say loneliness has gone away now that I’m older, but the truth is it hasn’t. I’m not sure it ever fully does. But I can also say, it is no longer my most constant companion.
I believe everyone is lonely in one way or another.
You may long for a spouse or a loved one to come home to. You may be dissatisfied with the shallow friendships you have. You may have all you ever wanted, but still feel your soul longing for a deeper connection that you just keep missing.
Many of us have turned to churches for help. We have bought in and stepped out in faith, believing they would deliver on their promises of God, community, and purpose.
However, most of us leave Sunday morning feeling like we’ve been sold counterfeit versions of all these things. We follow the rules, we get involved, we try to share our lives, yet we still feel like we’re just spinning our wheels.
We’re faking it till we make it,
but when the hell will we make it?
Sure, some sermons inspire us and give us glimpses of a better way. Some people in our small groups are fun to be around and seem to genuinely care. Church is not a terrible place. It’s a great way to meet people, find some friends, and learn some great things.
But is it really working?
Do we really belong? Would anyone really notice or care if I stopped coming (aside from the attendance trackers of course)? Even if they would care, where is all this joy, peace, kindness, love, and deep spiritual connection pastors keep promising?
Some of you may be thinking, “That’s not me. I love my church and the people there.” If this is you, praise God! That is a rare gift God is giving you to draw you closer to Himself. This post may not be for you.
The truth is, there are millions upon millions who have never felt the way you feel; who have only felt like a cockroach in a restaurant when they go to church. Every day there are people that walk in a church building looking for a home, and leave feeling more alone than ever.
If this is you, I have something I’d like to say to you if you will allow me. I want you to imagine me in the room with you right now. Picture me looking into your eyes and hear me say this:
You are not wrong
And you are not alone.
Loneliness is being called an “epidemic” in our society today. Some statistics say chronic loneliness affects 6x more people today than it did in 1970, rising from 22.4 million to nearly 145.4 million.
Loneliness has been found to cause all kinds of havoc on our physical well-being, and even increases our risk of early death by up to 26%.
It has no biases in deciding whom to attack either. It reaches more than just the socially awkward. It’s not solely the burden of the introverts or the uncomfortable. Those that are gifted with exceptional social skills are just as lonely as the hermit crabs and homebodies. There is no group or criteria linking all lonely people together.
People in America today are simply lonely.
And for most people, the church is failing to change that.
I have felt the weight of loneliness throughout my life despite 30 years of attendance, 20 years of leadership, and 10 years of employment in churches and Christian organizations; yet I still find myself experiencing joy, intimacy, and glimmers of purpose at different times. It is rarely easy, loneliness often rears its ugly ass at some point or another in my world, but I do not believe it has to be our constant companion.
No, despite all the statistics trending toward the negative, the very fact that people are lonely is a source of great hope!
It means even in our loneliness, WE ARE NOT ALONE!
Our feelings of isolation from God and from one another can be the very thing that connects us. It can be used to link us together and guide us to experiencing a truly loving, compassionate God who suffers with us.
In the coming weeks, I will be posting some articles about common beliefs and practices found in most American churches that actually increase our sense of loneliness. It is not an attack on any person or organization. My intention with these posts is to help those who feel alone in a crowded room find a better way to honest faith. To find a deeper connection with a God who loves us, and people who suffer with us.
Additionally, I have a book coming out soon that dives into these practices in more detail. It’s called Unsettled: 7 ways church as left us wandering and alone, and if you click here and give me your email, I will send you a copy of it for free!
You are not alone in your loneliness.
Together, we can find a better way to deeper connection with God and one another. We just have to get a little Unsettled.