The little girl sat by herself In the school yard. The other children, grouped in giggles and line-ups at swing and slide, ignored her. She once tried to play with them, even twice, but something was missing. She felt better alone, drawing pictures in the dirt with a stick.
I’ve been in groups and felt like that. Nice people and good conversation, but something that for a long time was without name of definition, called me away to a corner. When I got there, this elusive something seemed partially satisfied but never quite fulfilled.
Most people call this hunger pang of the soul “loneliness.” It is a strange affliction. No one is immune. It strikes first like a bothersome insect, stinging and annoying. It can grip anyone, anywhere, anytime, even during the Christmas holidays, even in a room full of family and friends, even at a banquet table, or in a crowded mall, or by the fireplace when its victim is cuddled with the one they love the most.
Some can shake it off. They grab another fork full of stuffing, or a handful of peanuts, or hug a few loved ones, or even slip into a store, impulsively buying some trinket that catches their eye. For them, loneliness is a little pest easily dealt with, swatted like a mosquito and pushed aside as an ordinary nuisance.
For others, loneliness is more like a ball and chain that clings and clanks and drags, a dead weight that refuses all invitations to leave. Anything from a new suit of clothes, or a new car, a phone call to a friend, a walk with a buddy in the park, or maybe even a trip to Hawaii, or artificial gaiety found in a bottle, nothing really fixes this recurring, haunting kind of empty-inside feeling.
Granted, sometimes loneliness has a cause. Loved ones leave us. Children hurt us. Friends forsake us. But even if they don’t, it still hovers near, maybe just for a perplexing moment, maybe dragging longer and longer until it seems there is no cure.
The famous evangelist, Billy Graham spoke of this kind of aching, longing loneliness. He said it is the heart of man lonely for the One who created Him; it is a deep inner aching for God.
The Psalmist said, “My heart thirsts after Thee...” Another saint of old said that no man’s soul can ever be at rest until it finds its rest in Christ.
One of my friends told me how God arrested her attention by this statement: We were created with a God-shaped void. We foolishly try to fill it with all sorts of things but nothing fits. She told me no matter what she had, or how much, there never seemed to be total satisfaction. Something was missing. Shortly after, she received Jesus Christ she joyfully proclaimed, “He fits those empty spaces!”
The song-writer says, “Hallelujah” I have found him, Whom my soul so long has craved! Jesus satisfies my longings; through His blood I now am saved.”
Jesus takes away the longing ache of loneliness. But what does it mean to be saved? Can there be enjoyment of His presence, filling the lonely void, without this experience too? Salvation is God’s gift to whoever believes in Jesus Christ, that He died for our sins, was buried, and rose from the dead. Salvation is God’ s powerful work to keep sinners safe from eternal destruction.
Salvation is the removal of sin — its penalty and its power. Salvation deals with our sin. Although sin seems unrelated to loneliness, sin is the barrier that prevents God from coming into that aching place in our hearts. Without salvation, without faith in Jesus Christ, our sin keeps the Lord of glory from filling the void. But when He is given our faith and our hearts, He comes into our lives, filling that empty ache with His presence.
Now I know what loneliness really is, and it can never again be a pest or a ball and chain. Instead it is a personal invitation from Him to draw aside, to commune with Him, and to let Him be whatever I need.