Lonely in a Crowd
- Wendy Horger Alsup Author
- 2012 30 Jan
My 5 year old son cried last week in bed because he was lonely. And I cried with him because I knew exactly what he was feeling. It all started when friends had to reschedule a play date on Friday. My little one was looking forward to them coming home after school, and when I told him they couldn't come after all, he started crying and asking whom else we could have over. He cried on and off most of that evening. We had friends over on Saturday, and he enjoyed that very much. But by Monday evening (a school holiday), he was very lonely again.
Here's the thing—he's never alone. He has a built in playmate in the form of his 7 year old brother with whom he shares a room. They play together quite a bit. But overall, my youngest is much more social than his Aspie-ish brother. My eldest is more like my engineer husband. My youngest is more like me. My eldest rarely struggles with loneliness, but the little one and I, boy howdy. And it comes at the weirdest times – times that don't make sense. I recognize being lonely when I am actually alone. But with two young boys, being physically alone is so rare that I actually enjoy it right now. Lonely in a crowd – that's a different thing altogether.
We were created for community. In perfection, God said it was not good for man to be alone, and He made a partner for him in the woman. God Himself is not alone—He makes up His own core community, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He talks to Himself in the plural – “Let Us make man in Our image.” And He then created us in His image. We need community – it's core to being an image bearer of God.
The pivotal moment at Jesus' death on the cross was when He cried out, “It is finished.” The veil of the temple that separated man from the symbolic presence of God in the Holy of Holies was torn apart. After sin had alienated us from community with God, Jesus made the way for us to be restored to fellowship with Him. The heart of the gospel is this reconciliation with God. In Christ, we are no longer alone. We have community with the most Holy of all. We have access to the throne of God, and He invites us to enter it boldly and with confidence that we may receive the grace and mercy we need at every turn.
God's community with Himself makes Jesus' cry from the cross, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” that much more poignant. Talk about being lonely in a crowd—Jesus has felt it!
Hebrews 4:15: For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.
So here I am in a moment of profound loneliness even though I'm surrounded by people. There are many lesser reasons for that loneliness. Maybe others with me seem to be enjoying something together, and I feel left out of the group. Maybe something is going on in my head that I want to share with someone, but no one around me seems interested. My youngest in his moment of loneliness wanted someone to play, not just around him, but actually WITH him. He was around people all day, but he wanted to be engaged with someone who enjoyed what he enjoyed.
Maturity in the faith helps me in these moments—not necessarily to solve the problem but certainly to recognize the source of the problem. I was created for something more, and this world is broken. The perception that everyone else is enjoying healthy community while I'm ignored on the sidelines is a deception by the enemy. They are broken too, and so is their sense of community.
The gospel meets me here. I am not alone. And I do not mean that in a trite or superficial way. I. AM. NOT. ALONE. God's community with me through Christ's death on the cross is real. It means something very practical for me in those moments of profound loneliness. I feel lonely in a crowd because those around me don't seem to understand me or care about me the way I long to be understood and loved. Yet, I have access to the One who does understand me perfectly and who does love me unconditionally.
I have found only one source for relief of such loneliness—and it is simply Bible study and prayer. I read the Word, and God speaks to me. I pray and speak to Him. Then maybe I'll read some more, and He speaks more. Sometimes His Word to me reflects His eternal purposes for His glory. Sometimes it reminds me that He's doing something big and transcendent. But sometimes, He speaks a special word to me that pinpoints an exact issue with which I am struggling. It's a word He spoke and preserved thousands of years ago in Scripture, yet for me in that moment, the Holy Spirit applies it in a profound way.
As I talked with my son that evening, I had a simple answer for him that at first sounded trite to me. But it was anything but trite, and I am glad I didn't shy away from it. “Honey, when you believe in Christ and have Him as your Savior, you are never alone.” I said more, prayed with him, and snuggled him in bed for a bit. We talked about what bothered him, and that seemed to help. But most of all, I hope I sowed a seed that will flourish in his heart as he grows older. In Christ, we are not alone. We are known and understood and heard and loved by the most Holy of all. The One who created us for community with Him has made a way to bring us back. Make use of this truth. Appropriate it. Nothing will sustain us emotionally like living daily in this truth. I quoted Hebrews 4:15 above. It's noteworthy that it is immediately followed by this.
Hebrews 4:16: Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
Wendy Horger Alsup is the author of Practical Theology for Women and By His Wounds You are Healed. Alsup resides in Seattle with her husband, Andy, and two young children. To read more of her articles, visit Wendy's blog at Practical Theology for Women.