“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:12–13)
True to my optimistic nature, I emerged from my teenage years never having any boyfriends but with a plan to be married by the time I was 23. Now 33 and as single as ever, the very human urge to pin it on an unexplainable lack of ‘luck’ has made itself an unwelcome guest in the waiting room of my heart.
With years of training by now, I chase the bitter feeling away with prayer and Scripture, and — more humanly — divert my attentions to a good book or Netflix series. But when another new relationship announcement is made, or a season that celebrates love and loved ones comes along — the guest returns, along with its equally unpleasant friend, loneliness.
The years of training, however, also gave me time to study this condition and discover that loneliness pervades even the best of romantic relationships. No person will ever be able to fully know or understand us, and any person will inevitably fail to love us perfectly. “But Joanne,” you might be thinking, “I know God is the only one who can love me perfectly, but I don’t really feel it or believe it.” And can I just say: I get it. Neither do I, on so many days, when the feelings overwhelm my faith.
The loneliest I have ever felt was through a physical ailment of sorts that developed in my early twenties, which remained undiagnosed until a year ago. The condition had worsened through the years, with no doctor being able to identify what was causing it, and it brought me much physical and emotional pain. Not wanting to burden anyone, I kept it largely to myself for years, going from one doctor’s appointment to the next — alone, since I didn’t have a partner.
Only at the height of the illness, when my symptoms got really bad, did I finally crack open the door of my tired heart and admit to a few close friends the severity of what I was going through. I was met with much sympathy and support — though I continued heading for my check-ups alone, as I was used to.
It was only very recently that a friend who lives near me suddenly offered to come for my medical appointment with me. I later discovered it was another friend, to whom I had mentioned I was nervous about this upcoming review, who had asked her to accompany me. At first I refused, saying it was unnecessary, but something in my heart told me to receive the gesture of love.
As she sat with me opposite the doctor, the first friend to ever do so in the last decade of my long health journey, I realised this is what Jesus instructed His disciples to do in John 15:12: Love each other as I have loved you. I imagine this is what Jesus would have done for me, and always does, though I cannot see Him. But I could see my friend, in the flesh, and this is also what He left for us, besides His Holy Spirit: each other. The Church of fellow believers.
Loneliness is an inescapable part of life, but its real cause is not the lack of a partner, since no one person can fulfil our need to be fully known and loved. Rather, it is the lack of presence, where someone else is with you in your loneliest of experiences. God has promised He is always with us, and that remains true, but He’s also given us friends to demonstrate His presence with us.
Jesus calls us, His disciples, to lay down our lives for each other (John 15:13) — to give of ourselves and our time and any other acts of love. So, should you or I feel less than perfectly loved on tough days, we’ll see — through the community He’s sent to us — that we’re not as alone as we think.
Dear Heavenly Father, thank You for promising to never leave me nor forsake me. In my loneliest moments, please remind me of Your presence through Your Holy Spirit and the community of believers You have given me. Send me friends for the journey ahead. Amen.
1. In what areas of your life do you feel most lonely? Ask God to show you who you can share this with, or for Him to bring someone alongside to support you.
2. Do you have godly friendships that reveal Christ’s love for you? Are you a friend in whom the lonely can find comfort in? Build your friendships and be a good friend!
KNOW THE WORD
Allow the Holy Spirit to illuminate His truths in these passages:
– Proverbs 17:17; 18:24; 27:9
– Ecclesiastes 4:9–12
– 1 Thessalonians 5:11–15