Monday 7 December 2015


This is a topic that I have wanted to write for a long time, but not too sure how. I wrote this partly as a continuation from the previous 'Communities of God' post, and partly also as something that is really close to my heart. The issue of loneliness is something that plagues everyone at different points of time in our lives and walk with God. I make a disclaimer that what I post here are mostly, if not all, from my own personal experience, thoughts and emotions. Hopefully, through my stories, you will become more exposed to and aware of your own loneliness, whether it was in the past, now or in the future. (That's why this post is so incredibly long. There are lots of stories!)

Loneliness is something that everyone faces and struggles with, even Jesus. It is the consequence of other people's inability or unwillingness to understand/appreciate the situations and circumstances we go through. How do you know you're lonely? Well, it sounds really d'uh, but it is when you wish someone was by your side (doesn't matter whether you expressed it explicitly or not). In this post, I want to bring up what to do if we are faced with crushing loneliness, and how God tided me over. Below, I may describe situations where people find themselves to be alone, but that may not necessarily cause you to feel lonely. Likewise, you may be surrounded by people - loving people, even. But you may still feel lonely, and there's absolutely nothing unusual about that. 

Is Loneliness inevitable?

Yes. There is no avoiding loneliness in our life on Earth. It is inevitable that there are things in our lives that we have to, and can only, face on our own. I acknowledge that at times loneliness may be caused by people around us failing to play the part their supposed to in our lives. However, as we grow older and also as we do the work of God, we will surely come across settings where only God understands. Jesus faced such situations many, many times in His life: in the desert, where He was tempted prior to starting His public ministry; in the garden of Gethsemane, where He was preparing to complete His work on Earth at the cross. God already knows that even if people do not fail us, we will still end up face to face with loneliness, which is why the Holy Trinity continually assures us of their presence while we are on Earth.
  • Father: Deuteronomy 31:6 NIV - Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you.
  • Jesus: Matthew 28:20b NIV - And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.
  • Holy Spirit: 2 Timothy 1:14b NIV -  ...Guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us. Also, in 1 Corinthians 3:16 NIV - Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in your midst?
For the rest of the post, I will structure it according to two kinds of loneliness: unavoidable loneliness (loneliness that exist in the absence of sin and human failings), and avoidable loneliness (loneliness that exist due to sin and human failings). Although I'm covering it separately here, in reality the loneliness we face often exhibit components of both. The red bar represents the unavoidable loneliness, while the blue one refers to avoidable ones. They co-exist.

Unavoidable Loneliness

Unavoidable loneliness refers to times when we wished that we were not lonely, and yet it is either not possible or good for us to not feel this way, because of the nature of the circumstance itself or the purpose of God that He wants to achieve in and with that moment. For example, the nature of conscription means that I can't choose to not serve army or choose the people serving alongside me, and this made it a lonely period of time, at least initially till I made new bosom friends. Likewise, in our education and future jobs, we may not always have people and friends we know who are doing or intending to do the same things as us. Would you change your job or aspirations just because you don't want to do it alone? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. But when it's no, then that's an unavoidable loneliness you're facing. At times, the extent of your circumstance may be very extreme: it could be a life-and-death matter or a financial issue. The more extreme the situation, the harder to find someone who could even remotely understand or imagine and that results in  a crushing loneliness, where nobody else but God could keep us company.

In the other cases, adhering to the purpose of God may result in unavoidable loneliness. A role model would be Jesus, described by the Bible to be 'despised and rejected by men...' (Isaiah 53:3). His conviction by Pilate followed by torture and then the crucifixion, for one resulted in great loneliness - Jesus described God as having 'abandoned' or 'forsaken' in Matthew 27:46. Here, Jesus' loneliness does not arise due to His supporters' failings, but out of the understanding of the conviction of the 'good work, which God prepared in advance for us to do' (Ephesians 2:10), and then working towards accomplishing it. As a Christian, the fate of fulfilling God's purpose also falls on us, and so does the loneliness that comes with it. Have you ever felt like in your entire ministry, you're the only one who cares or who cares the most about it or a specific aspect of it? Or that in your entire workplace/school, there's no one who cares about God other than you, or that you're the only one who is willing to go that far for whatever God wants you to serve in? Even worse, sometimes you get mocked, ridiculed or shortchanged for these convictions. That is probably how Jesus felt, incomparably frustrated and in pain. He, a sinless man living in a sinful world, was lonely because no one, apart from the Father, understood or appreciated exactly what He was doing, and why. 

Why must Unavoidable Loneliness exist?
Firstly, carrying and obeying God's purpose will bring about loneliness because someONE (a specific individual) must be chosen by God get the vision/purpose first, before anything gets done on Earth. And in your vicinity, you are that chosen and preferred someone. You, after being chosen to bear that burden and conviction, will OF COURSE become the one who sees its significance feel the most about it. Else, what's the point? Ephesians 1:11-12 says: "In Him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of Him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of His will, in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of His glory." (emphasis mine) I want to highlight the term 'first' in the above verse. First can be in that amongst your community and friends, you're the first who was inspired by someone else in another place, to pursue God's purpose in a particular manner. It could also be first in terms of the burden itself - it may be a very unique and radical way of serving God or advancing the kingdom of God. Regardless, as in verse 11-12, you are there to get it started, so that those around you will praise God for what you have done and been used for. And this role of a pioneer in will naturally result in a sense of loneliness. As we become more Christlike, we will realize that there are many things that God has given exclusively to us, and that to be faithful includes bearing that loneliness, acknowledging that it comes from God - and whatever comes from God is a gift for our benefit. (Romans 8:32). To conclude this part, unavoidable loneliness exists because God has a special, unique mission for each and every single one of us.

Unavoidable loneliness also brings us closer and closer God. Not many of us go into God's embrace on a daily basis. If we do, we may not go very deep. For the few of us that goes deep, God has even more of Himself waiting for us to discover. When we realize that we have no one but God alone that we can count on in those lonely times, we will very willingly and assuredly WANT to go to Him. My personal experience with this was when I first started out trying to find ways to use Dota to serve God; and it was pretty hard. There was insufficient support or understanding from people and also because I do not know how to proceed. There were so many uncertainties that in the end, I could only seek God alone for help. I had a small notebook worth of incidents and prayers to God regarding my journey, and each time I journal my progress in this venture, I simply fell more and more in love and awe of God :))))

Our Appropriate Response to Unavoidable Loneliness
During my journey as I sought God in Dota, I met my ex-mentor and we talked about this struggle of mine. What struck me during the conversation was when he asked me: "So do you rather be the people who don't understand the importance of the things that God has convicted you about?" Without any hesitation, I said, "No way." At that point of time, and also on hindsight, I was pretty surprised that I could reply immediately with conviction, not even needing to think about it. Despite my pains and loneliness, I knew that what God had given me and only to me is precious beyond compare - no way would I ever want to live without them. And the next thing he said was: "If you keep trying to get them to understand, they may eventually understand. But if you give up on them now, how will they ever come to understand and support you?" Likewise, if you're in a situation similar to mine, where serving God with conviction and passion has resulted in nothing but loneliness and pain, remember that the negative sentiments will end someday. But once you give up, that's the end and it will not result in the 'praise of His glory'. While Jesus, bearing and facing all the pains in his heart and flesh, was on the cross, there was only love and compassion in His eyes. He wants to complete the work the Father has given Him, because He knows that this is for the benefit of those whom He served and also for the glory of His Father. Let this also be the reason why we are willing to, and joyfully so, bear the pain of loneliness.

Avoidable Loneliness

Avoidable loneliness arises due to 1) people not being in our lives when we need them, 2) us not seeking or being with them when we need them, 3) people being there for each other, but not in a way that benefits and ministers to one another or 4) any combination of the above. For most of us, many of our good friends and sources of support are from our church or Christian communities in work or school. Here I want to equate good friends as part of a structured community (refer to previous post on 'Communities of God'). We don't need an entire cellgroup to be there to meet our needs or when we feel lonely, but if you still feel (avoidable) loneliness even after being in a community, then it is safe to conclude that the community, or you, or both, have failed in some ways.

I think most of our first experience with loneliness would come from our communities (which includes our good friends). Communities are often the answer to loneliness, but are also often part of the reasons that causes it. If you're currently feeling left out by your community, I want to tell you that you're absolutely not alone in this (the puns!). Feelings of exclusion from the community, if not felt at the start of joining the community, are often felt as the community grows larger. With more people, the majority of resources and attention are directed towards meeting the needs of the majority, thus resulting in the possibility of some feeling left out because of their more special circumstances. This is obviously not intentional, and if you're on the receiving end of such a treatment, let us defend our own hearts and mind from the devil's lies about people in our community disliking us or wanting us to fall. For people with obvious special needs, the community may divert more attention to meet their needs, but for those non-obvious ones where people just try to 'go with the majority' and not say anything, the sense of exclusion tend to get worse. As they feel more and more lonely, eventually they may give up and leave the community or even God altogether.  

I want to add also that communities are possible sources of loneliness. However, at times it is not possible to remove avoidable loneliness from our lives FIRST because part of the issue lies with us - the lonely people. Perhaps its our doubts about God that causes us to not see things the way our community does. Perhaps its our worldview or brokenness that causes us to doubt our communities' love for us. Perhaps.... In such cases, then loneliness is a result of our pain, not a cause. The only way to remove loneliness then is to overcome the initial issue.

Negative Consequences of Avoidable Loneliness:

It hurts. Like mad. For unavoidable loneliness, it is no less pain, but at least we know that God is doing something in us and has a purpose for us through this period. But for avoidable loneliness,  it often feels purposeless, unneeded, and unfair as you might feel that you don't deserve it and that this happens because of other people's failings. However, the truth is that sometimes we feel left out or neglected because or partly because of our expectations about others. Our expectations may be very reasonable, reasonable, unreasonable or very unreasonable, but these are based on our own standards after all. People may think differently or a simpler explanation is that sometimes they don't know what our expectations are (maybe we never tell them before). My parents live and work overseas ever since I was pretty young, and my siblings have a very large age gap with me. So the consequence of that is that I generally grew up alone, and though I didn't realize it then, I was feeling somewhat lonely and that loneliness shaped my worldview and some of my values; it's harder to be vulnerable to people and accept people into my life because I thought that the 'normal and obvious' thing is to depend on myself when l encounter setbacks and struggles. At that time, the expectation my parents of my situation is that I can depend on my siblings if I needed to and yet I expected them to be present in my life more, though I did understand that they had to work. I wish I did tell them then, and not simply live with the consequences of loneliness because I never said anything.

In the long-run, loneliness may cause us to fear people and withdraw to ourselves. This is especially fatal for Christians, called to love God and people. Naturally, we have to be in contact with them to do so. What is truly fatal, is when the notion of community and inter-dependence as a gift of God disappears from our worldview, as in my story with my family above. Think of a lake on which rain doesn't fall for a long time. It may have been there for years, have a thriving flora and fauna bio-system. It may even have become a tourist attraction; a symbolic landmark of the land. A drought then comes and day by day other living things consume the lakewater, but no rain replenishes it. Eventually the lake dies, together with everything in and around it. Now it becomes a picture of death; an evidence of the destruction of global warming. Our heart is the same; a drought of affection brought by loneliness is slowly but surely robbing it of life. Eventually it will die. A dead heart cannot give life. If, after sometime, God revives the heart and gives it 'water', what would a person, whose worldview excludes community, do with the 'water'? Hoard it, and let no one come near to draw it. This person has already deviated from its purpose of providing life and instead become a destroyer of life by starving the ones who need nourishment from him.her. Lonely people eventually learn to fear others and detest interactions, loving ourselves much more than other people and the kingdom of God. To do the smallest acts of love and kindness costs the world to us.

I recall in my days in a previous ministry, in my periods of loneliness. In my previous LGs (cellgroup), I was usually one of the pillars of support to my leaders, but in this particular one, I was just a straightout rebel haha... My face was permanently black and I didn't talk with them much, not encouraging, not caring, not following the program. I recall my leader's attempt to get us to share about our week and I just snapped at him and said that I have absolutely nothing to share. (I'm sorry! ><). It was truly difficult, and what makes it worse that my mentee was in the same LG as me and I did set a terrible example for him to follow. Frankly, it was all I could do to just turn up for weekly LG and service, and this went on for about 3 months till I essentially took shelter overseas for a month.

Another underestimated effects of avoidable loneliness is the feeling of being orphaned. While unavoidable loneliness draws us closer to seek God as we pursue Him and His purpose, avoidable loneliness puts a lie in our hearts, that God doesn't care enough about us to give us people who can understand and support us, or that God simply wants us to be lonely for the rest of our lives - we are orphaned and unwanted. For a good 2 years of my life in the current ministry, that's exactly what I felt, and not only was it crushing, it made me feel that I could never go very far in serving God, and even when I'm making significant impact, I could not fully rejoice nor be certain of my impact because I could not share my joys with others - their hearts were never connected to mine. For some of you in similar situation, you may find ways, either willingly or felt forced to in your heart, to be emotionally dependent on people, which may lead you closer to or further away from God, the latter being the more probable scenario. Because we are often desperate to not feel the pain of loneliness, we may simply entrust our hearts to other people regardless of whether they are worthy or not, whether appropriate or not, such as having romantic relationship when you're not ready to and with people you don't think is suitable. My counsel for you if you're in a state of dependence is that you need not stop being emotionally dependent on people (because it's almost impossible to suddenly stop), but instead to 1) choose the right person, who loves you and will lead you closer to God and 2) set limits on your dependence - do not do things just to get 'more affection/time/attention' from the person to satisfy your loneliness and 3) slowly but surely grow in terms of transferring your dependence from the person onto God.

Dealing with Avoidable Loneliness

Here I want to include my own experience on how God and I dealt with it. I emphasized the efforts that we can do on our part, irregardless of the situation with my community - which means that you can try this out in your situation as well. (What the community can do for lonely people - you can read it at the other post under 'Caretakers'!)

Firstly, I stuck around. How do we learn to get better at anything? By not giving up. This may sound obvious, but it is incredibly difficult; so much more than you can imagine. The difficulty is akin to Matthew 5:44, "love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you". For most of us, the way we obey this command is to not make enemies. But for those of you who somehow have enemies in your lives, you know it is truly difficult to obey this command. Likewise, if you're so hurt and lonely that you no longer desire people and communities, now what I am telling you to do is like telling you to get hurt some more. I'm sorry, I really and truly wish there is another less painful way but, this is the only way for you to move on. You're staying around not for the sake of accumulating more hurts (even though it will happen), but for two specific reasons: for you to grow in love in spite of loneliness, and for God to send the right people to rescue and resurrect your heart. 

I don't want to gloss over the difficulty and seemingly lack of logic in this comment of mine above. I've been there and done that, and have grown to become tired of hoping and expecting things to be different this time. (With no intention to condemn) I used to have some mentors given to me in church whom I felt like I was mentoring them and not the other way round. Communicating with them was difficult because they are generally not emotionally-inclined and not as familiar with showing affection. Also, they are the 'if it's not broken then just leave it alone' sort of people. In almost all cases, I was the one who asked to meet them, asked to get discipled, asked for their input in my life. Because of my emotionally distant biological father, I really came to see elder guys in church as role models, and my own mentors as fathers. (see 1 Timothy 5:1-2). Eventually I had enough - the loneliness of not knowing whether I really mattered in their life, or if they see me as their mentee, pushed me to confront and blow up at them. The first mentor, I simply gave up wanting to be mentored by him, not accepting whatever more he has to say. The second mentor, I thought it'll be different, that perhaps this person will be unlike the previous. I was partially right and majorly wrong, but I was a little more experienced and aware this time - I sought him out before I reached the blowing point, and the outcome wasn't as disastrous. The third mentor, I didn't dare to have any expectations anymore. I didn't want to get hurt. Sadly, I simply view them as a tools for my own growth; I was really unwilling to form any emotional ties with him. But I know this isn't the way forward, and I'm trying to bit by bit accept this person, even now. You too, stick around and don't give up!

The second thing I did was to let Jesus take the front. Earlier this year (or late last year) at a particular church meeting, I was feeling really panicky and dreading meeting large numbers of people. Usually, at such meetings, I'll go for like 30 minutes and hide in the toilet or some other invisible places till everybody has left the venue. On this particular meeting, I was negotiating with God to let me just go back home and not attend at all. Then, He said to me not to worry, that He will take the 'front'. I'll try to describe what that means: Essentially, it felt like the one who is in me is Jesus and not me. I was fully conscious and in control of my body, but somehow and supernaturally so, what I was concerned about were no longer my fears, emotions or thoughts. But Jesus'. It was neither difficult nor painful (which I expected it to be) to just communicate with the people present then and show concern for them. Only after the event did I feel amazed at what happened, before again I felt the heavy weight of my loneliness again. All I can conclude is that Jesus intervened, and truly 1 John 4:4 became alive in my life: "You are of God, little children, and have overcome them (spirits not of God), because He who is in you (Holy Spirit of God) is greater than he (devil) who is in the world." 

The next time I had to face such a community occasion, I was thrilled and asked that Jesus did the same thing for me again. This time, He didn't, but asked me to follow in His footsteps. I remember God telling me to go through it as though my loneliness doesn't matter at all. I was pretty confused, because obviously it matters, and I'm not confident in my ability to 'fake' it. Neither do I think 'faking' a politically correct response or front in front of my church friends is a good thing. But regardless, that day I just obeyed and acted and thought as though loneliness isn't eating at my heart. And now on hindsight I understood why did God do that. When we act as though our loneliness doesn't matter, we are in someways not hindering others from coming near us to show concern for us and enter our lives. I'm sure you have seen unsociable/rude/off-putting people in your lives. If you see them, would you be enthusiastic about communicating with and getting to know them? No, right? If we want to and are waiting for God send the right people to us to minister to us, we should not behave in a manner that pushes them away. I'm not saying we have to smile brightly and laugh loudly and be the life of the party, but do try your best to not be producing negative vibes that can be felt by everybody present. The second reason is that we do love our community still, even though we may not receive much from them. We don't want to be a disruptive presence in the meeting by pulsating negative vibes or making harsh comments unnecessarily. I have come to learn that to love people is to give them our best even when we don't receive/have the best. Jesus Himself said in Matthew 5:46-48, "If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much.... But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect." And that is how we grow in love, not just when we receive it and then know what it is, but also when we lack it. God's love is all we need to love people.

Lastly, I encourage you to keep in mind those who have given up/left due to the same reasons you are feeling now. I have seen many people come, and many people leave. Of those who leave, I know some who left because of loneliness and issues similar to mine. I too have thought many times of making the same decision as them and giving up on this community. Praise God that He has given me a very powerful protection not to - innate laziness to find and settle down in another community. How would I be certain that I'll find a community which can meet all my needs and not fail me in the same way? In the end, I remained. And as I think of those who have left - with no judging or blaming any of them - I really really really want to see what God has in store for those who walk this path of loneliness till the end, trusting that the Sovereign One has a plan to prosper us. God has ordained that men will reap what they sow (Galatians 6:7). I have sowed my heart in tears and pain, as with the countless before me, some of whom have never seen what God has prepared for them. I want to see it, for their sake and also for the sake of future generations, that I may tell them that our God has never failed, has never shortchanged them and has planned something great for them, if only they would have persevered. I haven't reached the end of this, but I'm seeing the end, and I'll definitely get there someday before I leave this ministry. 

If you're considering leaving your current church community to go to another church elsewhere, I recommend you read my previous post on 'Communities of God', whereby I wrote a part on what are some considerations you should have before making your decision.

Loneliness as Strength

Having lived with it for so long, I have come to see loneliness (both unavoidable and avoidable) as a strength, as a friend. Some people may see loneliness as something to be 'rectified', and not beneficial for the long run. My own thoughts are that it is a strength that we can use to serve God, because only lonely people can truly understand lonely people. It's the same as who can understand grief. The one who has grieved the most; and that's why Jesus - God in human flesh - can fully understand and relate to our human struggles though He is God. A lot of times a lot of well-intended gestures from others fall deaf on our ears and heart, and it's not because we do not appreciate it, but it is because simply these words sound too rosy for our broken and isolated hearts. We cannot believe them easily. And therefore for those of us who has faced loneliness, your words are credible; they offer the hope of God; that He who has done a new work in us can do it in the one you're ministering to. So do not be discouraged: what you're facing now is also part of how God is building you up to serve Him and speak on His behalf to others who were/are like you.


Ultimately, loneliness is one form of brokenness. It's only seemingly harder to overcome because it is not as visible/obvious as the rest - few people would parade themselves as lonely people and be seen as attracting attention. Through this whole season, I learn that no matter how deep our loneliness we feel, we are still part of creation. The things we face, does not and cannot refute that. In fact our loneliness tells us that we are still part of creation as it shows that we desire to be part of it. I want to end this off by encouraging you with these two verses:
Matthew 7:7-8 NIV "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks,the door will be opened. "
We have been given the freedom to seek, and only by seeking can we stop being lonely and keep our hearts one with God and His community.
1 Peter 5:8-9 "Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour, Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering.
No matter how lonely you feel, you are never alone. God is with you, and all your named and unnamed brothers and sisters, apostles and saints who have gone before you, are all with you, praying and interceding for you. Don't give up! :)

1 comment:

  1. Good read! I am sure it will bless others!