“I am like a desert owl, like an owl among the ruins.” Psalm 102:6, NIV
In an interview on the British Broadcasting Corporation a statement was like a dagger, “Most people go through life in a coffin of loneliness”! We are now being told that this is “the central and inevitable fact of human existence,” by one pundit. And Erich Fromm several years ago made this comment, “The deepest need of man is the need to overcome his separateness, to leave the prison of his aloneness.” Mother Teresa, formerly of Calcutta, said, “Loneliness and the feeling of being uncared for and unwanted are the greatest poverty.”
Two words have been developed to explain our experiences. One, of course, is the word loneliness, which speaks of the anguish and pain of being alone. But the positive word is solitude, which speaks of the glorious triumph and even the glory of it. Someone said, “Solitude is where reason speaks like the voice of God.” Paul shows he has the right healthy balance, “I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content” (Philippians 4:11).
Let’s stop for a moment and realize, in the Bible loneliness was the first thing that God himself said was not good (Genesis 2:18). A German thinker commented on the human need for company saying, “even if it’s only a small burning candle,” it gives positive emotions. And we know that Jesus had moments of loneliness, for “the disciples forsook him and fled.” (Matthew 26:56, RSV)
William Sharp wrote that, “My heart is a lonely hunter that hunts on a lonely hill.” So that, loneliness is now called one of the diseases of modern society. In what way do we describe loneliness? It is living with unsatisfied desire for human companionship, for intimate friendship, and for a sense of authentic belonging. Lonely people, it is said, have a deep desire for completion and security found discovered by being wanted, needed, and finally included. All humans crave to be cared for by others. Contact with others is not really enough; no one wants to feel that they are artificially added to a group or that they are a nuisance to others, feeling like “a desert owl.”
Everyone needs to feel that they are appreciated and are doing something valuable and useful to others. Often, there is no greater blow to an elderly person than being forced to drop out and realizing, “I am not missed!” We are safer to say that most of us have no idea at all of the devastation many people experience as a result of loneliness, we have no idea! We see the contrast. Some people in the midst of a hectic lifestyle of constant bustling activities report they are terribly lonely. Others who are not surrounded by people and living far away in remote areas or without a circle of friends report they are never fighting moods of loneliness. Even professional social workers are without, at times, an explanation.
A writer who chose to seclude herself wrote that it was so lovely to discover the experience of being alone—the beauty of solitude. And yet to contrast—each of us has memories of the past and especially when there is no one to listen or share it with. Loneliness becomes a mood of insignificance. Unshared happy memories are one expression of loneliness; this is especially true in the loss of a mate.
There is in our world a few rare people whose greatest gift is the skill to listen, and that one thing may be the most needed thing in some people’s lives. In fact, one doctor said the greatest gift we can give a person is to give them our total attention, to hear what they are saying and to understand what they are not saying. The question to be asked is: When did you or I give a sympathetic ear? The wise people in our world know how to listen, and by listening they are loving.
What has been observed is this, circumstances have little to do with loneliness. It’s not things around us or the things that happen to us, it’s the person within us that determines—that is the deciding factor. So that, living alone does not make one lonely. A minute of listening from a friend cures an hour of loneliness. Especially if that friend is Jesus and you know He is listening. “… there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” (Proverbs 18:24)
Long ago I knew a unique man who was very saintly. He lost his wife when he was in his thirties and never remarried. In his home he had a “Jesus chair,” and he said he very often talked to Jesus and it was as if Jesus sat in that chair. He didn’t bow his head when he prayed and he talked to Jesus as if He were sitting there. So when he was asked was he ever lonely, he just smiled and said, “I have a dear friend I talk to.” Call him crazy if you choose, but, believe me, he didn’t die of loneliness! He said, “Lonely? How could I be? He is always with me. I’m alone but not lonely.” All of us should turn to Jesus as our never failing friend with His ever present presence. We could quote, “I will never leave you, nor forsake you. So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me.” (Hebrews 13:5-6)
I would say to any lonely Christian—practice His presence! How few have learned that secret. Let me say to anyone, you can always hear the voice of Jesus! Pick up the Gospels, read His words, and let them be as fresh and as forceful as if He spoke them to you for the first time.
Do you know of Madame Guyon? She was a French woman who had a profound experience with Jesus. She was bound to the Jesus of the Bible, and she said she needed no priest. Her writings were controversial, and as a result she was legally considered crazy and condemned to prison because of it. The prison was actually the Bastille in Paris. This strong Christian woman was put behind nine-foot-thick walls, much of the time in solitary confinement. Books, paper, pens were taken away from her dark and dreary cell where there was only a narrow slit to see outside. On the wall she scratched these words:
My prison walls cannot control The flight, the freedom of the soul. And in God’s mighty will I find The joy, the freedom of the mind.
Alienation is a terrible experience. It starts with alienation from God and it can extend to alienation from human relationships. One can lead to the other and we become strangers and feel we are aliens and the result is often meaninglessness—life without purpose with nothing to live for. Loneliness results as people feel they do not belong anywhere and they become misfits and lost and outsiders.
It is unto that bleak world that God’s promise to us through Christ radically changes everything. The lonely find a friend, the outsider is brought inside, the unattached find attachment, and, of course, a family—brothers and sisters—as we realize God has made us sons and daughters. Here is the Good News, God has loved us, will redeem us and adopt us, and then he supernaturally recreates us in the person of Christ. Once all that is understood, how can there be loneliness? What a wonderful surprise to finally discover how un-lonely having Jesus in your heart is! And to discover that God gave us a desire for company just so that we might welcome Christ into our life.
It is when we make peace with God and have in Jesus a friend, we will never be discontent with who we are or even what we have. And He then is the secret to solving loneliness at its source—when one is out of touch with God, they are out of touch with themselves, tragical almost, it’s impossible to touch others or to feel their touch of love.
Jesus helps us discover ourselves! And that means that it’s impossible to remain what we once were or even being satisfied with what you are but realizing what you can become. When that happens, the world opens up before us. The verse chosen with the title speaks of the desert owl sitting among the ruins. How many people would be compared to that? It describes their life! But why should you be—with a God who loves you and dispels all loneliness?
There is an old country/western song, “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.” We often see it in people’s faces. There is a lonely separation which then leads to cold isolation and total insulation where loneliness is born and thrives.
A study of the loneliness that characterized the people in the Roman Empire reveals the revolutionary power of the early Christian “koinonia,” the unconditional sharing of love with other forgiven sinners. Today it may be little more than a time of religious small-talk and tea with biscuits in the church hall, often without the winning warmth that characterized the church in its infancy. Wesley was born and reared in the church, but when he encountered real Christian fellowship, he said it was early heaven, and it should be!
One comment seems unusually useful: someone said, show me your shelf of books and then show me your circle of friends and I can tell you if you feel loved or lonely. There is total liberation from loneliness by “the friendship that flourishes at the fountain of forgiveness.” Moods of loneliness may come as visitors without an invitation, but that can’t last long in an atmosphere of New Testament warmth and grace. New Testament grace means the mercy and the active love of God, it means the strength of God to help us overcome, and it means the warm and winsome action of God through people who banish loneliness with the overflow of love expressed.
Let’s say it like this: you begin to know Him and know yourself well enough that you start to want to know people and discover they want to know you, and loneliness cannot exist in that kind of world—you will confess, I can never be lonely again!
If you’re longing for a friend, Loving and true, Turn to the Savior He waits for you; He will do the same for you As He did for me; He’ll never leave you, Never forsake you, Trust Him and see. I’ll never be lonely again, Never again, For I have opened My heart’s door to Him. So I’ll brush away the tears And forget my Foolish fears I’ll never be lonely again, Never again.