California Federal Savings and Loan on North Federal Highway has an answer to the issue of loneliness. Many people have embraced this answer and many more will in the future. When I was there I saw this sign prominently displayed near the teller’s window: “Bye, Bye loneliness … Hello happiness. Turn the lyrics of your life around with The Money Line. Use it for a car, a boat, trip, home improvement, business, college education, bill consolidation … and more.”
Interesting, isn’t it, that this million-dollar institution has a program that assumes that most of the people who enter their doors are lonely. They are trying to capitalize, trying to make a profit on the loneliness of people in their lobby. What one thing do they assume about the majority of us? That we are lonely! “Bye, Bye loneliness … Hello Happiness!”
Well, of course, California Federal is right. Rollo May (Man’s Search For Himself, p. 25) has written that “All man’s history is an endeavor to shatter his loneliness.”
Thomas Wolfe has written that “The whole conviction of my life now rests upon the belief that loneliness … is the central and inevitable fact of human existence.”
W.H. Auden has written that
“Aloneness is man’s real condition.
That each must travel forth alone
In search of the Essential Stone.”
Billy Hanks has penned a song about us and he titled it “Lonely Voices.”
“Lonely voices crying in the city
Lonely voices sounding like a child.
Lonely voices come from busy people
Too disturbed to stop a little while.
Lonely faces looking for the sunrise
Just to find another busy day
Lonely faces all around the city
Men afraid but too ashamed to pray.”
The psalmist expressed this dramatically in our Old Testament Scripture. “My heart is stricken and withered like grass, so that I forget to eat my bread.” Ever been so alone that you couldn’t eat? “The sound of my groaning of my bones cling to my skin.” “Bones cling to my skin.” He’s losing weight. “I am like a pelican in the wilderness.”
Now he is talking my language, for I know about pelicans in Florida. Hillsboro Inlet is full of them, but they are also evident at the Pompano Beach Pier, the Deerfield Beach International Pier and the Lighthouse Point Marina. Pelicans love water. They must be near water to survive. They love to swoop down to grab an unsuspecting prey. A pelican in the desert wilderness would be like a fish out of water. The poor Psalmist has a very lonely existence.
He goes on, “(I) am like a sparrow alone on the housetop.” Ever seen a lonelier sight than one poor bird on a housetop? I tell you the Bible knows our troubles … loneliness, “like a sparrow on the housetop.”
All of us have a large “loneliness cup” and it is divided into thirds. When all three sections of it are full, then we are not lonely. But when any one of the three is empty, or low, we feel the ache of loneliness. Jesus, himself, experienced all three kinds of loneliness.
1. The first kind of loneliness is our relationship to God. Saint Augustine’s well known comment is true: “We are restless until our hearts find our rest in God.” We are also lonely until we find God. It is only natural that a creature is going to have an ache until he finds his Creator. It is a little like an adopted child who spends all of his adult years trying to discover who his biological parents are, who created him, so that he may know who he is. We are lonely if we do not find our God.
Jesus felt this pain of loneliness when He cried from the cross, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?” What a feeling! To feel as if God had forsaken you. We have a phrase when someone is in very poor straights. We say that the poor soul is “God-forsaken.” Is there anything worse?
On the other hand, there is nothing better than to know the Christ-like God Who made you. When the creature knows the Creator, then we really have a friend for life. “What a friend we have in Jesus. All our sins and griefs to bear! Can we find a friend so faithful, Who will all our sorrows share?” No, not anywhere.
To know the Christ-like God is to know where we have come from and where we are going in life. He is the beginning and the end. Jesus said in our text, “Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with Me.” We must begin here; however, if we end here, we have ended too soon and we will find our “loneliness cup” two thirds empty.
Many well-intentioned people have ended here and offered this advice: “You should never be lonely, for you always have God with You.'” That’s not the full answer. God’s presence cannot completely fill my loneliness. My “loneliness cup” is only partially full when I have all faith. This means that loneliness is not evidence of a lack of faith in God. Don’t feel guilty if you feel lonely. Don’t think you are losing your hard-won faith.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer spent several years in a concentration camp in Nazi Germany. He was one of the one million Christians that Hitler murdered along with the six million Jews. Bonhoeffer wrote (Letters and Papers From Prison) that there is nothing that can fill the gap when we are away from those we love, and that it would be wrong to try. Speaking out of his lonely prison experience and deep pious faith, he wrote that even God cannot fill that gap. God is not meant to fill fully our loneliness.
2. A second thing we need is a satisfactory relationship with other human beings in order not to be lonely. This is why faith in God is not enough. We need companionship with a “significant other,” as one philosopher expressed it.
Jesus was aware of this human need and spoke in our text to His disciples about the approaching time when they would all leave Him alone, each one going home. He “would be abandoned: no friends, no loved ones, no one to share life with. There would be no one to “divide His sorrow and double His joy.” Jesus knew how much we all need each other. Jesus needed the fellowship of other people in order not to feel lonely — and so do we.
It is a cruel hoax to tell a widow or widower that they should not grieve over the death of a loved one. It is insensitive to tell a parent that they should not miss their deceased child. Those who we love had an important place in our lives, and when they die there is a large void. God can’t fill it because it is not the divine void that is vacant. It is the human void. We need those human relationships.
If my wife were to die, I would feel very lonely. I would not lose my faith, but I would be lonely. God could not replace that loneliness because Jan does not fill the “God space,” that God need, in my life. She isn’t my God.
When a loved one dies — any object of love, even an animal — there is a void, but that loneliness is different from a loneliness of not knowing God. It is a human vacuum. I can have a very meaningful relationship with the Christ-like God and still be very lonely, because my loved ones are gone and I miss them.
3. The final section of my loneliness cup that must be full is my relationship to my environment. I must have a harmonious relationship with nature and my surroundings. For example, I may have companionship with a loved one and be a faithful believer in Jesus Christ — my loneliness cup may be two thirds full — but we might both be prisoners of war in some far off jail. I am going to be lonely because I am out of harmony with my environment. I don’t like where I am.
Jesus, because He was fully God, had trouble being accepted by His fellowman. There are a number of instances in the Bible that indicate that, try as He did, His hearers simply did not understand Him. It was as if He had come from another planet — which, in a way, He did.
On one occasion, after telling His listeners a number of parables, He turned to them and asked, “Do you not understand this parable? How, then, will you understand all the parables?” (
The more Jesus spoke, the clearer it became that He was not being fully understood. He was a Man Who was not in full harmony with His environment, for they couldn’t figure Him out. He even advised His disciples not to be conformed to this world. This tension of being in the world but not of it was always with Him, and it is always with us. When we do not feel at home in this world, or at home where we live, we are lonely people. There is a “tilt” to our existence.
Henry David Thoreau reminds us of how productive a harmonious relationship with nature can be in his essay on solitude (Walden). It opens with a recollection of those times in which we walk out into a pleasant evening by ourselves, maybe along the ocean, and forget all our human concerns with people. We are totally attentive to whatever nature is doing with its light, air, plants, animals and wind. We are not alone and nature appears to respond.
“Bye, Bye Loneliness … Hello Happiness.” I don’t know if we ever escape some kind of loneliness, for there seems to be these three aspects to it: our relationship to God, our relationship with other people and, finally, our relationship with our environment.
If we were people who were never lonely, people who never longed for God or a loved one or harmony with nature, if there was no vacuum in our lives, no emptiness, we probably would think that this was our permanent home and not be preparing for our heavenly home. We would be perfectly happy here. Some kind of loneliness may be one of those “givens” in life.
Rather than “Bye, Bye Loneliness,” our relationship to it should be “Hello, Loneliness, my old friend. I’ve come to talk with you again.”