Loneliness and Belonging
by Sonya Knepp
This article first appeared in the March/April 2015 print edition of Daughters of Promise.
When I married, I moved away from my home state to live with my husband in his home town. I loved our trips back to the south. Going home meant family, friends from first grade, dear relationships, a place of comfort and belonging. I so enjoyed these visits because I felt loved and accepted and it was so wonderfully familiar. Leaving all this was more difficult than I had anticipated. I was no longer a part of a small community where everyone knew me and I belonged. I did eventually get to know people and make friends in my new community but the process seemed long and painful. I gained a new appreciation for deep friendships and was able to empathize a bit more with others who are experiencing hard things in life.
We all go through seasons in life, sometimes drawing us in, other times setting us apart. It’s the setting apart that can be so very painful and lonely. There are many reasons why we experience seasons of loneliness. New babies, a move to a new community, or a new school, are of few of the many things that can make relationship hard. It’s a difficult thing to see active beautiful relationships in others and feel set apart and lonely. It’s like waiting for an invitation to a beautiful wedding and contenting yourself with peering through the windows.
I’ve experienced some of these seasons of life and the loneliness that accompanies them; I’m guessing you probably have too but I hope you aren’t staying there. We need active relationships with others. If you feel stuck in a season of loneliness, I want to challenge you to take this opportunity to reach out and give to someone else. If you need a friend, there’s a good chance you are not alone. I love elderly people, with their stories and wisdom. Often, they are some of the loneliest people around and they absolutely love the chance to just sit and talk. An individual may be fifty years your senior but you can still connect with and learn so much from them. If you don’t know any elderly in your area, check the local nursing homes and hospitals. Try volunteering at a local pregnancy care center if you enjoy babies or working with young women. Care centers can often use someone in small ways, even if it’s just for a short period of time. And then there’s always the harried young mother you see sitting in the back of the church. She would love your company and your help!
“A man that hath friends must shew himself friendly.” (Proverbs 18:24, KJV) This is fairly practical advice as most of us are attracted to friendly people. Who doesn’t love the lady who extends friendship to everyone? She asks about your week and is genuinely interested in you. She’s the one who pulls you into a conversation and then speaks words of life. The women who build up and reach out are the most attractive ladies.
Building relationships requires vulnerability. Go ahead, unclench that hand, smile, and reach out to someone you don’t know well. I promise they won’t bite, the exception being the occasional two year old. And while you’re reaching out, don’t just guess at who you think you might hit it off with the best. Some of my dearest friendships have been built with people who have different interests and personalities than myself. “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another”. (Proverbs 27:17, NIV) Diverse friendships build character; they make us think outside of ourselves. Sometimes you may feel like you’re the only one giving in a relationship. Keep giving - you’re earning both trust and an eternal reward.
Jesus showed us so well how to give relationship, to show people they belong. In fact, He didn’t even belong on earth and He still did it best. I think of Jesus’ disciples and wonder what Jesus really did gain by having them as His followers. I’d like to think they were good companions but it seems they were always questioning Him or missing out because they fell asleep. Jesus taught His disciples and loved them. He didn’t think about Himself or what one person’s words would do for him. He gave. Period. True friendship gives before it takes, loves instead of reacts, and reaches out instead of stepping back. Looking back at the times where I was lonely for relationships, I can see where I failed in practicing these truths. How often when we do pursue friendship, is it with a selfish motive? Friendship for the sake of feeling good about ourselves is not friendship at all but selfgratification. Relationships will always have the potential to hurt us. Do we react or do we treasure our friendships well enough to love past the hurts? Focusing on Jesus and His example brings real relationship into perspective.
We do need to reach out and care for others, to love and care and help along the way. Sometimes, however, we need that helping hand ourselves and it’s just not there. Please hear me when I say that lack of earthly relationship is never ever because you are not worth loving or pursuing. You have tremendous value simple because you are you. The Creator of the universe made you and then He died for you. Jesus believes that each of us is worth His own life, a value that is out of this world. It’s easy to forget how much Christ loves us, the value He places on every one of us. In Isaiah He says “Fear not for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; You are mine” (43:1 NKJV). He knows each of our names and He is proud to say we belong to Him. Learn your value in Christ, accept it, treasure it. No other words or accolades bring the value and sense of belonging that Jesus wishes to give to you.
I love how God wants us and wants to know us. We ladies love our coffee dates and times of catching up. God wants that time with us too. Sure, bring your coffee, curl up with your blanket, but bring your heart because He wants to know what’s going on in your life. Time spent with Jesus will lift you up more than even the best of earthly friendships because He always wants the very best for us. Trust in His goodness even when life seems filled with hurt.
Whether we are intentionally left to ourselves or simply overlooked, loneliness does hurt. No one likes to walk through a season of pain and we usually react in one way or another. Sometimes we heap blame on ourselves and experience feelings of depression and rejection. You may build a wall to keep people out and therefore eliminate any future hurts. This also effectively removes our ability to accept love. It’s easy to hold on to a wound, to use it as an excuse for bitterness or anger. And while loneliness or rejection does hurt, acknowledging that hurt is not a bad thing. Accept the pain but then forgive and take your hurt to Jesus because He wants to heal your heart.
So many times relationships can become about us and our happiness or fulfilment. When I stop thinking about myself and worship the One Who made me, loneliness fades away and my little hurts grow even smaller. We were created relational beings, but we were made for worship. Turn to Jesus, focus on Him, give Him a heart of worship and He will lead you into a place of belonging.
Sonya Knepp fills her days being a wife to her dear husband and mama to her two little boys.She enjoys doing life surrounded by southern people and a community of friends. In rare quiet moments, she loves a good book, chats over coffee, and making crafty “ messes”.