13 Feb 18 Inches: Myths About Loneliness
This is the second installment of our blog series, “18 Inches: Myths that Disconnect the Head From the Heart”. Our goal is to identify some of the lies we’ve been taught about our emotions and counter it with the truth. Click here to view the rest of the series.
Myth #5: Numbness Equals Strength
When you think of a strong person, who comes to your mind? Do you envision someone weeping in grief or passionately expressing emotions? My guess is, the image that comes to your mind is someone unfazed by the words of others and able to “keep it together” no matter the trials of life.
Somewhere along the course of our lives, many of us bought into the myth that being numb is a sign of strength. We believe that in order to be strong we have to numb our feelings. With loneliness, this might look like scolding ourselves and saying things like, “Why do I feel lonely? I shouldn’t feel lonely. ‘Greater is He that is in me than He that is in the world.’ I’m a Christian. I shouldn’t feel this way.” Loneliness is uncomfortable and can feel scary, so we begin to do all we can to run from it and numb ourselves to the pain we feel.
The truth is, God gave us loneliness so we would seek relationship, not turn it off. In his book, Voice of the Heart, Chip Dodd writes, “Loneliness is a feeling that speaks to our deep hunger to belong and be known.” Loneliness is the emotion that tells my heart I was created for relationships. I was created to belong and experience deep connection. Loneliness is fuel that pushes me toward intimacy with God, others, and myself. To deny loneliness is to deny my God-given need and desires for others. It only leads toward apathy and isolation. On the other hand, embracing loneliness and resisting numbness will lead us closer and closer to the intimacy and relational depth we crave.
Myth #6: Loneliness Equals Isolation
Feeling lonely and being alone are not as similar as they may seem. In fact, believing the lie that loneliness is the same as isolation drives division in our communities.
This lie can be tricky because it doesn’t really look like a lie and it doesn’t result in active disobedience – it has a more passive expression. We say, “No one really gets me. No one can relate to me. I can’t trust anyone.” And because we believe no one understands us, we isolate from others, all the while believing we’re open to new relationships. We use our distrust, relational struggles, and loneliness as an excuse to isolate. The enemy uses that lie to create divisions in our body between people who “get” each other and those who don’t.
The truth is, “Loneliness is the gift that speaks to how much is right with us while also pointing to how much has gone wrong.” The ache of loneliness lets my heart know that the world is broken, that relationships are broken and damaged because of sin. At the same time, loneliness reminds my heart I was created to be in intimate relationships with God, others, and myself.
In his book, Bowling Alone, Robert Putnam writes, “Our national myths often exaggerate the role of the individual heroes and understate the importance of collective effort.” This truth applies to our Christian lives, too. We overemphasize the value of “lone ranger Christianity” and underemphasize the importance of the collaboration of the community. Because we value individualism, we live with fear of becoming codependent on others. But, how many of us fear becoming too independent? We tend to overvalue the importance of individualism to the point where we are willing to isolate from the community in order to avoid the risk of trusting others and facing our feelings of loneliness. Embracing our loneliness will lead us toward intimacy, not isolation.
Myth #7: Relationships take too long, and I’m too busy.
We live in an age of technology. We can connect with others from all over the world with just the swipe of a finger. While our phones, gadgets, and social mediums keep us in touch with others, they don’t provide authentic connection. They simply allow us to connect with people without dealing with the emotional baggage of authentic relationships.
Because we can never find someone else who “gets” us completely, we often deny our need and say, “I don’t need friends. I’ll do what I need to do to meet the basic needs of socializing – but I still don’t need anyone. Besides, I don’t have time for that anyway.” This lie leads to the same place as the other lies – isolation.
The truth is, relationships are more important than accomplishments. Solomon was the wisest King of Israel. He wrote the book of Ecclesiastes and described this same struggle of loneliness and isolation. Read what he wrote in Ecclesiastes 4:7-8. “Again, I saw futility under the sun: There is a person without a companion, without even a son or brother, and though there is no end to all his struggles, his eyes are still not content with riches. ‘Who am I struggling for,’ he asks, ‘and depriving myself of good things?’ This too is futile and a miserable task.”
The truth is, relationships are more important than accomplishments.
Going through life without the joys of relationships is a miserable task. Regardless of the reasons you feel too busy for relationships, your heart needs you to address your loneliness. Staying busy or filling your time with pseudo-connections won’t lead you toward the rich relationships your heart craves. If you’re willing to do the work, loneliness can help you fight to have the relationships God created you to experience.
Dhati Lewis is the Lead Pastor of Blueprint Church in Atlanta, Georgia and the Executive Director of Community Restoration with the North American Mission Board. He earned his Master of Arts in Cross Cultural Ministry from Dallas Theological Seminary and most recently received his Doctorate of Ministry in Great Commission Mobilization from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Dhati has seven beautiful children and is married to Angie, a discerning woman who empowers and encourages him to live fully in his identity in Christ. He is the author of both the Bible Study and book, Among Wolves: Disciple Making in the City.
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