The loneliest Christmas I ever spent was in my grandfathers’ cottage near Sakogu, northern Ghana. I was just 15, and my parents and siblings were a thousand kilometers away. In previous years, when I had been with them and my village friends, Christmas was always big and memorable. But this Christmas was quiet and lonely. As I lay on my floor mat early Christmas morning, I remembered a local song: The year has ended; Christmas has come; the Son of God is born; peace and joy to everybody. Mournfully, I sang it over and over.
My grandmother came and asked, “What song is that?” My grandparents didn’t know about Christmas—or about Christ. So I shared what I knew about Christmas with them. Those moments brightened my loneliness.
Alone in the fields with only sheep and occasional predators, the shepherd boy David experienced loneliness. It would not be the only time. Later in his life he wrote, “I am lonely and afflicted” (Psalm 25:16). But David did not allow loneliness to cause him to be despondent. Instead, he sang: “My hope,
From time to time we all face loneliness. Wherever Christmas may find you this year, in loneliness or in companionship, you can enjoy the season with Christ.
As a child, when I felt lonely, rejected, or sorry for myself, my mother would sometimes attempt to cheer me up by singing a popular ditty: “Nobody likes me, everybody hates me. I think I’ll go eat worms.” After a smile came from my downcast face, she’d help me see the many special relationships and reasons for gratitude I truly did have.
When I read that David felt no one cared for him, that ditty rings in my ears. Yet David’s pain wasn’t at all exaggerated. Where I had feelings of loneliness typical for my age, David actually had good reason to feel abandoned. He wrote these words in the dark depths of a cave where he hid from Saul, who pursued him with murderous plans (1 Samuel 22:1; 24:3–10). David had been anointed as Israel’s future king (1 Samuel 16:13), had spent years in Saul’s service, but now he lived “on the move,” always fearing for his life. In the midst of the loneliness David felt, he cried out to God as his “refuge” and “portion in the land of the living” (Psalm 142:5).
Like David, we can cry out to God when we feel alone, giving voice to our feelings in the safety of His love. God never minimizes our loneliness. He wants to be our companion in the dark caves of our lives. Even when we think no one cares for our life, God cares!
"What had I done?" It should have been one of the most exciting times of my life. Instead, it was one of the loneliest. I'd just gotten my first "real" job after college, in a city hundreds of miles from where I grew up. But the thrill of that big step quickly faded. I had a tiny apartment. No furniture. I didn't know the city. I didn't know anyone. The job was interesting, but the loneliness felt crushing.
One night, I sat at home with my back against the wall. I opened my Bible and stumbled into Psalm 16, where verse 11 promises God will fill us. "Lord," I prayed, "I thought this job was the right thing, but I feel so alone. Please fill me with a sense of Your nearness." I offered variants of that plaintive plea for weeks. Some nights, my sense of loneliness eased, and I had a deep experience of God's presence. Other nights, I still felt achingly isolated.
But as I returned to that verse, anchoring my heart in it night by night, God gradually deepened my faith. I experienced His faithfulness in a way I never had before. And I learned that my job was simply to pour out my heart to Him . . . and humbly await His faithful response, trusting His promise to fill us with His Spirit.
I recently stumbled across some of my journals from college and couldn’t resist taking time to reread them. Reading the entries, I realized I didn’t feel about myself then the same as I do today. My struggles with loneliness and doubts about my faith felt overwhelming at the time, but looking back now I can clearly see how God has carried me to a better place. Seeing how God gently brought me through those days reminded me that what feels overwhelming today will one day be part of a greater story of His healing love.
Psalm 30 is a celebration psalm that similarly looks back with amazement and gratitude on God’s powerful restoration: from sickness to healing, from threat of death to life, from feeling God’s judgment to enjoying His favor, from mourning to joy (vv. 2–3,11).
The psalm is attributed to David, to whom we also owe some of the most pain-filled laments in Scripture. But David also experienced restoration so incredible he was able to confess, “Weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning” (v. 5). Despite all the pain he had endured, David discovered something even greater—God’s powerful hand of healing.
If you are hurting today and need encouragement, recall those times in your past when God carried you through to a place of healing. Pray for trust that He will do so again.
Russian writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky said, “The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.” With that in mind, I read an online article describing “The Top 8 Deadliest Prisons in the World.” In one of these prisons every prisoner is held in solitary confinement.
We are intended to live and relate in relationships and community, not in isolation. This is what makes solitary confinement such a harsh punishment.
Isolation is the agony Christ suffered when His eternal relationship with the Father was broken on the cross. We hear this in His cry captured in Matthew 27:46: “About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ (which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’).” As He suffered and died under the burden of our sins, Christ was suddenly alone, forsaken, isolated, cut off from His relationship with the Father. Yet His suffering in isolation secured for us the promise of the Father: “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Heb. 13:5).
Christ endured the agony and abandonment of the cross for us so that we would never be alone or abandoned by our God. Ever.
Years ago I had an office in Boston that looked out on the Granary Burying Ground where many prominent American heroes are buried. There one can find the gravestones for John Hancock and Samuel Adams, two signers of the Declaration of Independence, and just a few feet beyond that is Paul Revere’s marker.
But no one really knows where in this burial ground each body is buried because the stones have been moved many times—sometimes to make the grounds more picturesque and other times so lawn mowers could fit between them. And while the Granary features approximately 2,300 markers, closer to 5,000 people are buried there! Even in death, it seems, some people are not fully known.
There may be times when we feel as if we are like those unmarked residents of the Granary, unknown and unseen. Loneliness can make us feel unseen by others—and maybe even by God. But we must remind ourselves that even though we may feel forgotten by our Creator God, we are not. God not only made us in His image (Gen. 1:26-27), but He also values each of us individually and sent His Son to save us (John 3:16).
Even in our darkest hours, we can rest in the knowledge we are never alone, for our loving God is with us.
Amid the pile of post-Christmas mail I discovered a treasure—a handmade Christmas card painted on repurposed cardstock. Simple watercolor strokes evoked a scene of wintry hills livened with evergreens. Centered at the bottom, framed by red-berried holly, was this hand-printed message:
Peace be with you!
The artist was a prisoner and a friend of mine. As I admired his handiwork, I realized I hadn’t written to him in 2 years!
Long ago, another prisoner was neglected as he waited in prison. “Only Luke is with me,” wrote the apostle Paul to Timothy (2 Tim. 4:11). “No one came to my support, but everyone deserted me” (v. 16). Yet Paul found encouragement even in prison, and he wrote, “The Lord stood at my side and gave me strength” (v. 17). But surely Paul felt the lonely ache of abandonment.
On the back of that wonderful Christmas card my friend wrote, “May the peace and joy and hope and love brought about through the birth of Jesus be with you and yours.” He signed it, “Your brother in Christ.” I put the card on my wall as a reminder to pray for him. Then I wrote to him.
Throughout this coming year let’s reach out to the loneliest of our brothers and sisters.
A friend struggling with loneliness posted these words on her Facebook page: “It’s not that I feel alone because I have no friends. I have lots of friends. I know that I have people who can hold me and reassure me and talk to me and care for me and think of me. But they can’t be with me all the time—for all time.”
Jesus understands that kind of loneliness. I imagine that during His earthly ministry He saw loneliness in the eyes of lepers and heard it in the voices of the blind. But above all, He must have experienced it when His close friends deserted Him (Mark 14:50).
However, as He foretold the disciples’ desertion, He also confessed His unshaken confidence in His Father’s presence. He said to His disciples: “[You] will leave Me alone. And yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me” (John 16:32). Shortly after Jesus said these words, He took up the cross for us. He made it possible for you and me to have a restored relationship with God and to be a member of His family.
Being humans, we will all experience times of loneliness. But Jesus helps us understand that we always have the presence of the Father with us. God is omnipresent and eternal. Only He can be with us all the time, for all time.
One of the ironic consequences of the sweeping growth of social media is that we often find ourselves more personally isolated. One online article warns: “Those who oppose leading one’s life primarily or exclusively online claim that virtual friends are not adequate substitutes for real-world friends, and . . . individuals who substitute virtual friends for physical friends become even lonelier and more depressive than before.”