I slipped from beneath the heavy blankets, dressed in my warmest clothing, and quietly stole through the halls and staircases of the orphanage. A blast of cold air drove any remaining sleepiness away as I stepped into the dimly lit courtyard. I began walking, once around the large courtyard, twice, three times… For years this had been my favorite place and time for prayer. It was quiet, almost eerily so. The wind swayed the tops of the giant poplars that grew up between the buildings; but on the street level it was calm, sheltered from whatever storm was brewing.
Snow and ice crunched beneath my feet as I made my circuits. I prayed up and down both sides of a 3×5 card, prayed for each of the people still sleeping behind the dark windows above me, prayed for my family, for friends I hadn’t seen for years, for things in our ministry that were especially on my heart. As I finished and slipped the card into my coat pocket, a light came on above me. The world was beginning to stir.
As the trees creaked and groaned in the breeze, heaviness crept into my spirit. I reached into my pocket again, this time pulling out a set of 3×5 cards, laminated with packing tape to keep them from being ruined by the chaos of the day. I studied them for a moment, got my starting point, and quietly began quoting the verses I had been memorizing. The words came in rhythm to my steps, but my mind wasn’t on them. I heard a door open at the far end of the courtyard and turned to see a group of our staff headed out for their morning jog. I watched them disappear into the darkness beyond the front gate. I completed my circle around the courtyard, making one more attempt at the verses; but it was no use. I couldn’t focus on memorization with such a burning question in my heart.
“Lord,” the whispered word escaped as a vapor, rising through the cold air toward Heaven, “why is this school year so lonely? You warned me that last year was going to be lonely, but this year there was no warning…Knowing was much easier.”
The previous year had been difficult. The area of ministry that I had been involved in had taken me out of the normal circle of staff and friends that I had worked closely with in the past, but it had also been filled with joys and victories and approached with a heart prepared to endure the lonely hours.
This year was different. I was surrounded by people all the time, and yet I found myself deep in an incredible loneliness. Everyone was busy, having little time for real conversation. Those who did come to talk poured out their hearts but rarely asked about my own. It was the way it was. I was still content to be where I was, still happy in what the Lord had given me to do. I was just lonely—painfully lonely.
I don’t suppose I expected an immediate answer to my question, but it came. It was very simple, but so powerful it took my breath away. God said,
“Because I love you enough to want to walk alone with you.”
My eyes filled with tears as the meaning of the simple words sank into the crevices of my heart. God loved me. I knew that. But this was a new thought: He loved me enough to want to be alone with me. I had known He wasn’t allowing loneliness in order to make me miserable. I had also known that those lonely moments were opportunities to spend more time with Him. But I had never considered that He had allowed that loneliness specifically because He wanted to spend time with me. He wanted these early morning hours together as much as I did. He wanted the quiet moments as midnight approached and papers still had to be graded. He wanted the moments walking to widows’ houses with no one to accompany me. He wanted the lonely moments to Himself—because He loved me.
We all attempt to avoid loneliness. Even God said it wasn’t good for a man to be alone. That’s why He created Eve and established the institution of marriage—the supposed loneliness fix-all. Then sin came into the world, and that perfect union was no longer perfect. Loneliness found its way back in.
For some loneliness is rare, for others it may be almost constant. We try to push it away, but is it holding a gift we’ve been missing?
We each want someone who will love us enough to seek out opportunities to be alone with us. In those alone moments, we come to know one another. We don’t just learn one another’s habits or preferences—we come to know each other by heart.
That cold morning I realized that, even though loneliness was hard, God had given me a gift. He was setting aside time to be with me—because He loved me.
In Psalm 73:25,26 the psalmist says,
“Whom have I in heaven but thee? And there is none upon the earth that I desire beside thee. My flesh and my heart faileth, but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever.”
He had learned the beauty of walking with the Lord. He had realized that only God fills the empty space in our hearts. He knew that God was the only inheritance (portion) he needed.
Jesus frequently went out into the mountains or wilderness to be alone and to pray. His alone time was spent in the presence of God.
“And when he had sent the multitudes away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, he was there alone.” Matthew 14:23
We live in a world of constant activity. Sometimes our society makes us feel guilty if we aren’t perpetually on the go, performing great feats, conquering worlds, and establishing kingdoms. But God said, “Be still, and know that I am God…” [Psalm 46:10]
The book of Hosea tells the story of Israel and her idolatry, but it does it through the story of Hosea and his wife Gomer. Gomer was constantly running around seeking satisfaction in the arms of men other than her husband. Hosea was constantly taking her back. Their story pictured the relational situation between God and Israel at that time. Israel was constantly running off to other gods, forgetting that it was their God who, as a husband, had cared and provided for them for so many years. All the while, God was pleading with them to come back.
In Hosea 2:14 God sets out a beautiful, tender plan to draw Israel back. He said, “Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak comfortably unto her.” He tells of the hope and the song that He is going to restore to her. And that instead of calling Him lord she will begin to call Him husband. But to get her to that point, He plans to draw her to a place with no distractions where no one will pull her attention away from Him. He is going to take her to a place where they can be alone.
Does loneliness indicate that we have been pursuing false gods? Sometimes, but it is also part of our design. God allows us to experience the emotion of loneliness, so that we will realize how much we need both Him and those around us. Sometimes that aching in our hearts is just a goad. It is God’s way of pressing us closer to Himself. The wildernesses are the places in which He wants to speak comfortably, tenderly, to us. The lonely path is where God speaks to our hearts.
We don’t generally relish the lonely moments. We don’t usually pine for them or pray, “Oh, Lord, I would just really like to be lonely today, to have that deep aching feeling of being absolutely and completely alone, to hurt with the desire for just one friend.” We just don’t do that. But the lonely moments are places of learning if we allow God to turn them into such places.
Back in Psalm 73, the psalmist went on to say, “But it is good for me to draw near to God: I have put my trust in the Lord God, that I may declare all thy works.” (vs. 28) So often the lonely moments produce amazing fruit when we allow God to work through them. Have you ever thought of the grain of wheat Jesus spoke of, the one that must die to produce fruit? How dark and lonely in those moments before death! How quiet and still in those moments before new life and abundant fruit springs forth!
What of the loneliness for Moses or Elijah as they waited for God to pass by, to speak? Elijah had been so lonely and discouraged that he told God to just let him die. (I Kings 19:4) But then God fed him with a meal that lasted forty days and led him to an isolated cave. A wind so strong it broke the rocks came, then an earthquake, and then a fire; but God did not come in these. Instead, He came in a still small voice. It was then that Elijah wrapped his mantle about his face and went to the mouth of the cave. In that quiet solitude, he drew near to God. Just as God promised He would do with Israel in the book of Hosea, God came tenderly to Elijah. There God told him what he was to do next and revealed He had 7,000 other men in Israel who had not bowed their knees to false gods. Elijah wasn’t as alone as he thought. From that point, he went out and finished his ministry.
James 4:8 promises “draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you.” What better time to draw close to Him, than in those lonely moments, but how do we do it? From this passage we see the first step is repentance and submission to God. If we have never come to Him seeking salvation we cannot draw nigh to Him. Our sin separates us. Only the blood of Jesus Christ can cover that sin. And only calling on Him in faith and repentance will bring the salvation that will restore our relationship with Him for all eternity.
If we have already come to Him for salvation, then we must ask ourselves a very serious question:
Have I been resisting the loneliness God has given me?
Loneliness is a hard gift to accept. As I have written this over the last few days, God has shown me struggles in my life and ministry that were a form of loneliness I had never seen before. Frustrations were shadows and rejections faint reminders. Decisions were burdens. The void of companionless ministry became obvious when I spent a few wonderful moments with a friend whose joyful spirit used to be a daily encouragement. I had to ask myself, “Has God been offering me a loneliness that I have been rejecting at the expense of quiet, wonder-revealing moments with Him? Have I rushed around looking for answers and solutions, not realizing that He just wanted me to sit down and rest in Him?” While I can’t answer that fully, I know there have been moments of filling the gap with effort instead of quiet prayer. God’s desire is for us, like the psalmist, to find our portion in Him. How grateful I am that James 4:10 says, “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up.”
Loneliness isn’t a one-time test that we pass or fail. It walks a step or two behind us most of our lives, rushing forward at the most inconvenient and undesirable moments. If we let it drag us into self-pity, it will destroy us. If we let it press us closer to Christ, it is a gift.
Has God allowed lonely times in your life to show you His special love for you? What has He taught you in those lonely places?
ABOUT RACHEL MILLER
I am the author of three books, including the The King’s Daughter: A Story of Redemption. You can check them all out here. I also run a Christian editing and writing service. Check it out and let me know how I can help you.