Lonely people live in all kinds of situations. Some are married. Many are not. Some are very young children, many are middle-aged and older. Loneliness can affect any person. It can feel like you are bearing the weight of the world alone with no help in sight. And it hurts.
I am well acquainted with loneliness. I have learned some helpful tactics to overcome it. Not that I have figured it all out, of course. I still find myself lugging around a big ole imaginary boulder on my shoulder from time-to-time. Yet, certain habits have helped me.
For example, I practice a specific type of hospitality. I don’t usually invite people to my home. I am very careful about that given that I am single. But I do invite individuals or couples out to dinner, paying their way when possible.
Although I naturally prefer hobbies which are solitary in nature, I am developing a discipline of community, intentionally spending time with people in social contexts. For some folks this is easy. If you are like me, you know that this takes effort, sacrificing the comfort of solitude for the blessings and challenges of community.
It seems there is a stigma about loneliness and depression. Some well-meaning people feel put off about candid discussions of this nature, feeling that an adult in ministry should “pull himself up by the bootstraps,” “get over his bad-self,” and “grow up.” Pastors are supposed to have it all together, right? To be sure, the inner world (and outer expression) of pastors and leaders should have biblical characteristics as outlined in the Apostle’s letters dealing with such matters. Yet, even the Apostle (I am speaking of Paul, of course) dealt with difficult matters in his own heart. See Romans 7. But we do not like to consider that much, do we? Too untidy. Too messy, frankly. Kind of like our hearts, if we are honest with ourselves.
The reality is that sometimes life hurts. Sometimes that boulder rests on your shoulders while people snap photos, glad that YOU are carrying the burden, but hesitant to pitch in themselves, citing scheduling difficulties, or noting the fact that God has called them to a ministry of eating donuts and coffee with their like-minded, able-bodied friends during key ministry seasons. Loneliness would tempt you to get bitter. Grace invites you to forgive and to set limits.
It is an important lesson about grace, this setting of limits. We forgive, even when forgiveness may not be deserved or sought. But we also set limits, understanding our need for boundaries in life which protect our physical and emotional well-being as leaders. As I have revisited and applied this principle to my life in the past year, it has afforded me liberty to look at ministry with a more balanced perspective.
Church ministry is very important to me, but it does not define the whole of who I am. Neither does work. Or play. Or other people’s opinions of me. There is more to me than meet the eye. The same is true for you. Are you depressed and/or lonely? To echo the lyrics of the Whiteheart song Desert Rose: Don’t get off the Father’s way. Take intentional steps to do life with people in God-honoring ways. Set boundaries which invite people in appropriately, and which curtail life-sucking distractions, as well.
A new day will dawn. In time, a new attitude may join it. You are not in this journey alone. A great cloud of witnesses is cheering you on, not least the Lord Jesus Christ, who loves you.