Who Am I . . . When I am Lonely?

Who Am I . . . When I am Lonely?

Psalm 139

Loneliness is an epidemic in America and the West according to the Center of Disease Control.  Dr. Vivek Murthy, former Surgeon General of the Unites States, wrote in an article published in the Harvard Business Review: “Loneliness and weak social connections are associated with a reduction in lifespan similar to that caused by smoking 15 cigarettes a day and even greater than that associated with obesity.”  One study listed loneliness as a risk that increases the chances of coronary heart disease and stroke by 30 percent.[1]

Every article and study that I have read all point to the same reality: We are the most technologically advanced and connected people in history and at the same time we are more lonely and isolated than in any time in history.  According to one survey conducted by Cigna, “nearly half of Americans feel alone, isolated, or left out at least some of the time.”  It also reported that, “The nation’s 75 million millennials (ages 23-37) and Generation Z adults (18-22) are lonelier than any other U.S. demographic and report being in worse health than older generations.”[2]  

In her book iGen (those born between 1995 and 2012), Jean Twenge notes that, “iGen’ers look so happy online, making goofy faces on Snapchat and smiling in their pictures on Instagram.  But dig deeper, and reality is not so comforting.  iGen is on the verge of the most severe mental health crisis for young people in decades.”[3]  The root cause of this crisis is loneliness.  In fact, the CDC just released a report revealing a 76 percent increase in teen suicide in the last decade. 

Loneliness is not just a problem for people 37 years of age or younger, it is a problem for older Americans too.  Studies are also showing that 42.6 million Americans over the age of 45 suffer from chronic loneliness. 

So what is the solution to the crisis of loneliness?  There is a mythology that exists that if you are single and lonely, just get married, find a partner, or hook up and you will not be lonely any more.  If this were true, then why do more than 50% of marriages end in divorce?  According to a recent study published in The Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, the top three reasons of the 2,371 surveyed were:

  1. 47% participants said that it was a lack of love or intimacy due to one or both partners falling out of love. 
  2. The second reasons said it was communication problems.
  3. The third reason was a lack of sympathy, respect, or trust. 

In other words, the reason why so many marriages end in divorce is loneliness.  Marriage or having a “partner” will not cure your loneliness.  In fact, if you believe that the answer to your loneliness is romance, you will be disappointed.  J.D. Greear said of lonely people, “After watching a number of marriages come together and break apart over the years, I can confidently say that insecure, lonely single people become insecure, lonely married people.”[4]

What I want to do with our time today is show you two important relationships you were created for that if you pursue those relationships will address your loneliness.  I am going to tell you what those two relationships are first, then we dive into what each of those relationships look like.  So, here we go.

  1. You were made for a relationship with God.
  2. You were made for a relationship within a community.

You Were Made for a Relationship with God

We spent a lot of time in Psalm 139 last week.  The foundational conclusions that David made about life were:

  1. God is who he is and there is nothing that I can do to change him.
  2. I am who I am because of who God is.

David’s second conclusion does not mean that I am who I am, flaws and all, therefore I can’t change.  Our culture says: “Accept your flaws because they define who you are.”  God says: “You are fearfully and wonderfully made, but your flaws do not define you.”  Do you hear the difference in those two statements?  At the core of your being, you are fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of God, but your flaws are not the core of your being. The culture states that what you gravitate towards is your identity (e.g. the desire for romance, who you are attracted to, what you want to do with your life, etc.).  God declares that he loves you too much to leave you the way you are because you were born for something greater.

David’s response to the God whose knowledge knew no limits was that it was incomprehensible, and he could not wrap his mind around it (v. 6).  The reality that God was so in tune with David that he knew his thoughts before David knew his thoughts caused him to feel besieged by God: “You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me” (v. 5). 

What do you do with a God who knows everything about you because he knows all that there is to know?  You let him guide you because not only does he know your thoughts before you know them, he is also everywhere at all times; he is present: “If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!  If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me” (vv. 8-10). 

Don’t you see that with a God, who always present, there is no room for an impersonal god?  It is not in God’s nature to be impersonal.  If he is a bad god, then that is terrible news, but if he is good, then that is fantastic news. David’s conclusion is that he is a good God: “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.  Wonderful are you works; my soul knows it very well” (vv. 13-14).  Therefore, David concludes: “search me, O God, and know my heart!  Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there by any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (vv. 23-24)! 

Because God is all-knowing, because he is all-present, and because he is good, he is the only one who is able to guide me and lead me.  Lead me to where?  Lead me “in the way everlasting.”  What is the “way everlasting?”  It is the way that God loves because it is the way that is good.  To go any other way, is to navigate in the darkness without his guiding hand upon you. 

The first area of your life that must be addressed if you are to address the loneliness you feel is your relationship with God.  Apart from him, you are like ship in the pitch-dark blackness of night with no compass with no real direction.  St. Augustine put it this way: “You have made us for Yourself, Lord.  Our hearts are restless, until they find their rest in You.” 

You Were Made for a Relationship Within a Community

We were made for a relationship with God first and foremost; until we have a relationship with the one for whom we exist, we will never be satisfied.  However, in our DNA is the need to be in community just as God has always existed within the community of the Trinity.  God did not create out of a need for community because he already had it in three distinguishable yet inseparable persons of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  God created out his love and goodness. 

All throughout the Bible, we discover that we were designed to exist within community.  In the beginning in Genesis 1-2 we learn that human beings was created in the image of God as male and female (1:27), that human beings were commissioned to manage what God created (1:28-31), and that human beings were to do so within community (2:18). 

The reason why Eve was created was because it was not good for Adam to be alone.  Before Adam named the animals and began to exercise the authority God had given him over the animal kingdom, God had already determined, “It is not good that man should be alone…” (v. 18).   To illustrate his point, God allowed Adam to begin managing the garden without a “helper” fit for him and then God caused, “a deep sleep to fall upon the man…” and then created Eve from his rib for the purpose of helping him. 

In the immediate context, Genesis 2 is a story about the first husband and wife relationship, but it is not just a story about marriage, it is a story about our need for community.  Please understand that our need for community is not because God forgot something when he created human beings in his image.  Our need for community is not there because God is not enough to satisfy us either.  Our need for community is created in us because the very nature of God is one but at the same time a community.  In other words, part of being fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of God is to thrive as a community that is first satisfied in God. 

What you must understand is that the point of Genesis is not to seek marriage.  What we learn from Genesis 2, is that marriage is the only place God designed sexual intimacy to be experienced for the primary purpose creating more human beings.  Marriage is not the only place where the intimacy of community can be experienced and enjoyed (we will address marriage and sexuality later in this sermon series). 

All throughout the Old Testament, God’s people were viewed as a community called to do three things: Love God, love one another, and participate in his mission (see Exodus 19:4-6; Deuteronomy 6:1-9).  In the New Testament this emphasis to love God, love one another, and participate in his mission is the same.  The phrase, “one another” is used 100 times in 94 different verses in the New Testament, of the 100 times “one another” is used, it is used 47 times in reference to following Jesus.  Community is a big deal in the Bible because it is the place where we were created to thrive in our relationship with God through acts of service to one another and in God’s mission together.

Application

Jesus gave us the solution to the loneliness epidemic of our day when he was asked that the greatest commandment was.  Before he was asked that question, he was asked another question, and that question had to do with marriage.  The question was asked by a Sadducees who did not believe in a resurrection, here is the question that they asked:

Teacher, Moses said, “If a man dies having no children, his brother must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother.” Now there were seven brothers among us. The first married and died, and having no offspring left his wife to his brother. So too the second and third, down to the seventh. After them all, the woman died. In the resurrection, therefore, of the seven, whose wife will she be? For they all had her. (Matt. 22:24-28)

Jesus’ answer to the Sadducees was that in heaven and after the resurrection, there will be no marriage: “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven” (v. 29).  The one institution that will not exist is marriage as we know it today. 

When the Pharisees, who did believe in the resurrection, heard Jesus’ answer they came up with a question of their own: “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law” (v. 36)?  The answer Jesus gave, is what I believe to be the solution to our loneliness problem: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (vv. 37-40).  In other words: Love God and love your community.

Let me show you one more passage in the Bible.  In Hebrews 10, the author gives informs us how we can thrive as human beings: “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (vv. 24-26).

The remedy to loneliness is a threefold prescription that is rooted in our identity as individuals who are fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of God:

  1. Worship: Connect with the God who were born to know.  You were created to know and worship the God whose image you were made in.  If you do not know God and if you are not connected to him, you will continue to feel empty.
  2. Love: Connect with the people who are connected to God.  You are called by God to love others because he put that in your DNA as one who reflects his image.  In each of us is the ability and the calling to “stir up one another to love and good works.”  You cannot do this in solitude.
  3. Serve: Connect with others who are not connected to God to help them know God.  Serving others with the gospel who do not yet know God is the mission you were put on earth to participate in.  A lack of purpose is one of the leading reason people feel depressed and lonely; you were called to participate the most important mission on earth and that is to tell others how they can be connected to God.

[1] BMJ Journals: “Loneliness and social isolation as risk factors for coronary heart disease and stroke: systematic review and meta-analysis of longitudinal observational studies.” (Vol. 102, Issue 13; 2015).

[2] WebMD Health News: “Loneliness Rivals Obesity, Smoking as Health Risk.” (May 4, 2018).

[3] Jean M. Twenge, iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy—and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood (New York, NY: ATRA; 2017), p. 93.

[4] J.D. Greear. Gospel (Nashville, TN: B&H Books; 2011), p. 77.