You can be lonely in a crowded room, in a busy hospital, in a bustling church. But here's what I'm beginning to believe: loneliness in a church setting may actually hurt most, because in the body of Christ we are to be binding up each other's wounds, listening to each other's confessions, actually physically breaking bread together. In fact, the list of "one anothers" in the Bible is quite extensive!
These are not suggestions, but imperatives from the very words of Scripture.
Today I googled quotes on loneliness for a writing project I'm working on about community. And it was really telling that such similar sentiments came from secular writer Kurt Vonnegut, often known for his outrageousness...and Catholic activist Dorothy Day. It is as if they were at the same party, or at the very least that both had walked through the terrible darkness of loneliness:
“What should young people do with
their lives today? Many things, obviously. But the most daring thing is to
create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be
If I were to ask you if you have ever been lonely in church, in a small group Bible study, or on a Christian retreat, you would invariably say "yes," because each one of us has known the pain of isolation in a group. And many of us hang out in groups that claim the name of Christ. In all of this, though, I believe we've cheated ourselves: so many of us in the U.S. have believed that our faith was an individual matter, that it is "just between us and God," and so we isolate, we posture, we plan our lives out without the interdependence that God built into our natures, that he calls into existence through His body.
"For God never makes private, secret salvation deals with people. His relationships with us are personal, true; intimate, yes; but private, no. We are a family in Christ. When we become Christians, we are among brothers and sisters in faith. No Christian is an only child."
With great irony, I've written this post on a day when I feel a great deal of loneliness and uncertainty. Since moving four years ago, loneliness has been a fairly consistent struggle—pastoral ministry helps, but does not cure this ache. But instead of dwelling on friendlessness, or childlessness, or loss of family members, I feel like I want to hoist my loneliness flag in a different direction: with God's help, I want to paint a vision for what his church should be. A healer of hurts, a noisy bunch of diners breaking bread, a family that stays together no matter the inconvenience or toil. A persistent community of God-worshippers in which solitude only leads us back to the raucous joy that can be found when we gather together.
"We are set apart for service to one another. We mediate to one another the mysteries of God."-Eugene Peterson
What about you? Do you struggle with loneliness in your church community? Have an example of the church doing well in celebrating life together?