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David Jeremiah - Slaying the Giant of Loneliness


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In his book, "Six Hours One Friday," Max Lucado writes of an experience that paints the picture of loneliness in indelible terms. He said:

I had driven by the place countless times. Daily, I passed the small plot of land on the way to my office and daily I told myself, 'Someday, I need to stop there.' Today, that someday came. I convinced a tight-fisted schedule to give me another 30 minutes and I drove in. Now, the intersection appears no different from any other in San Antonio. There was a Burger King, a Rodeway Inn, a restaurant, but turn northwest and go under the cast iron sign and you will find yourself on an island of history, an island history that is holding its own against the river of progress. The name of the sign: Lockehill Cemetery.

As I parked, a darkened sky threatened rain. A lonely path invited me to walk through the 200-plus tombstones in the cemetery. The fatherly oak trees arched above me, providing a ceiling for the solemn chambers. Tall grass, still wet from the morning dew, brushed my ankles. The tombstones, though weathered and chipped, were alive with yesterday. Ruth Lacey's buried there, born in the days of Napoleon in 1807, died over a century ago, 1877. I stood on the same spot where a mother wept on a cold day some eight decades ago. The tombstone read simply, 'Baby Baltie, born and died December 10, 1910.' Eighteen-year-old Harry Ferguson was laid to rest in 1883 under these words: 'Sleep sweetly, tired young pilgrim.'

I wondered what had worried him so at such a young age. And then I saw it. I saw what was chiseled into a tombstone on the northern end of the cemetery. The stone marks the destination of the body of Grace Llewellyn Smith. No date of birth is listed, no date of death. Just the names of her two husbands and this epitaph: 'Sleeps but rests not; loved but was loved not; tried to please but pleased not; died as she lived: alone.'

Words of futility, I stared at the marker and wondered about Grace Llewellyn Smith. I wondered about her life. I wondered if she'd written the words or just lived them. I wondered if she deserved the pain. I wondered if she was bitter or beaten. I wondered if she was plain; I wondered if she was beautiful. I wondered why some lives are so fruitful and some are so futile. I caught myself wondering out loud: 'Mrs. Smith, what broke your heart?' Raindrops smudged my ink as I copied the words, 'Loved but loved not,' and I thought of empty beds and silence and no response to messages left and no return to letters that were written, no love exchanged for love given. Died as she lived, alone.

And I wondered how many Grace Llewellyn Smiths there are, how many people will die in the loneliness in which they are living. The homeless in Atlanta, the happy hour hopper in Los Angeles, the bag lady in Miami, the preacher in Nashville or any person who doubts whether the world needs him. Any person who is convinced that no one really cares. Any person who had been given a ring but never given a heart, who had been given criticism but never given a chance, who had a bed but never had any rest. These are the victims of futility and unless someone intervenes and unless something happens, the epitaph of Grace Smith will be theirs as well. 'Died as she lived: alone.'


In his book, "The Devil's Advocate," Morris tells us that we need to understand that loneliness is no new thing. It comes to all of us sooner or later. Friends die, families move, lovers and husbands die. We get old, we get sick. In a society where people live in impersonal cities and suburbs and where electronic entertainment often replaces personal relationships, where people move from job to job, and state to state, and marriage to marriage, loneliness has become an epidemic in our society. And what is it? And how does it feel?

Someone has suggested that loneliness is an empty feeling in the pit of the stomach almost to the point of nausea. Someone else has suggested it's an underlying anxiety, a big black pit. It's a sharp ache in moments of grief or separation. It's a long period of stress that wears you down until you're discouraged and defeated. It's a longing for completeness. One author says it's always characterized by a feeling of emptiness somewhere in the region of the diaphragm. It is a craving to be filled and at various times we seek to fill the vacuum with everything from food to alcohol to endless demands on other people, or we will try to pacify it by using drugs or just going to sleep or perhaps attempting to escape in some other way.

Is there a connection between loneliness and health? That's like asking if there's a connection between breathing and life. Of course there is. And loneliness is something we all have to deal with at one time or another. There are many people who experience loneliness in our culture and I don't have any question about the fact that there are many sitting out here in front of me today who know the pain of that and perhaps know it severely even now. There are, first of all, in the experience of loneliness the single people in our culture. And every single person knows the anguish of going home to cook a meal for one and then watching television alone at night with no one to laugh at your jokes or comment on the things that you see together.

When she was single, Ann Kiemel wrote about an experience she had on a New Year's Eve when she was all alone. In her free verse, she describes what I am sure is the experience of many more who could have written these words. This is what she wrote. She said:

God, it's New Year's Eve and I took a hot bath and poured powder and lotion and perfume recklessly and I donned my newest long dainty nightgown. I guess I was hoping all that would erase the agony of being alone in such a gallant, celebrating moment when everyone so likes to be with someone to watch a new year in. To watch a new year in alone. It hasn't helped too much. I've tried to sleep hoping that would beat away the endless hours, but after all afternoon and two hours tonight, I'm worn out from sleep. I've stumbled from one room to the next, wanting to cry. O God, the walls are so silent and there is no one around to laugh and change the subject. I so wish for a friend's lap, to bury my head and let my tears spill unabashedly and free.


And if you think that's just a woman feeling sorry for herself, but it is not. It is someone expressing what many have felt and some of you who nod your heads in my presence today remind me that she was pretty close to the mark in her description of what it can be like. Then there's the lonely spouse. It is an amazement to me that the institution that God created to provide the greatest sense of intimacy often becomes the place of great loneliness. I remember speaking about this on another occasion and, after I got done, I got a letter in the mail the next week from a woman who wrote to me in these words. She said:

Today, you really struck a spot that is sensitive in my heart. I try not to dwell on it, the loneliness in marriage, but the truth is I am lonely. My husband and I are both Christians. We live relatively well. We're educated and my husband is a good man. He works hard and is a good provider. He isn't abusive and he's a fairly good father. But my emotional needs are very rarely met because he works all the time. It's the case of two people living parallel lives but never really meeting at all. He has heard and read a little about how a husband can create a good relationship with his wife but it must all pass over him without making an impression. I'm not going to nag. I try not to think about it. But the hurt is deep. I am a very lonely person.


Isn't that something? In marriage, the most intimate relationship on the face of God's earth and yet there are many who find it to be a very lonely place. And then there are the lonely survivors, the people who live on after the loved one has died. Lonely survivors experience a kind of pain which I am told is so intense that there is nothing in life to which you can compare it. What the widow and the widower go through is not describable in terms that you and I would understand. But if you've been through it, you know what I'm talking about. Often, it is divorce that causes the survivor to be left alone and, in many ways, divorce can be more painful than death for there is no finality to it and there is no closure to it.

There is no way to fully and finally recover and sometimes there is the awful sense of rejection that goes along with the loneliness. And then, of course, there's the lonely senior citizen that we see and the population is graying, as you know, and there are more and more senior people than there ever have been. They often find themselves very lonely, no longer in a relationship, no longer feeling needed. Maybe they came out of a place where they had a position of authority and a position of respect and now they wonder if anybody needs them and if there's any purpose for them being around at all.

For so many, the golden years turn out to be years where the glow has gone and they're left wondering if there's anything for which to live. And the loneliness can be very acute. And there's the lonely sufferer who experiences the pain that he cannot describe to anyone else. One man wrote to me on occasion to describe this in a letter I received. He said, "It's when the lights go out and the room is suddenly plunged into darkness, that the awful awareness comes. And the traffic of the hospital goes on like an uncontrolled fever outside my door but inside, the room is so still and it's awful and it's lonely". And there's the lonely servant of God.

What can I say about the person who leaves this culture and goes to the mission field, leaving behind everybody that he knows, everybody that he has a connectedness with, family and friends, and church. And he goes into a culture where he doesn't have any affinity for the culture at all and just for the purpose of being God's servant, he goes there and he determines that he's going to be God's servant but we get letters from our missionaries and they tell us how difficult it can be when you're so disconnected from everything that you've always known. It can be a very lonely experience.

I remember reading about Moses in the Old Testament, in the book of Numbers, when he felt the loneliness of leadership. He said in Numbers 11:14: "I can't carry all these people by myself. The burden is too heavy for me". And anyone who's ever been in a position of leadership knows that there's a kind of loneliness that comes when you're the leader. By the very fact that you're out front, you have turned your back on the rest of the people. Did you ever think about that? And there's no way to relate at the same level. There's no one that you can interact with who understands the experience that you have and, believe it or not, you can be a leader of a large church and a large ministry and still experience momentary loneliness that comes with the territory of leadership.

And some of you may say, "Well, those are all just cultural problems, problems that we have today because of the disconnectedness in our culture". But I want to take that thought away from you if I can this morning, and remind you that one of the reasons I wanted to preach on all of these subjects is to tell you that it is not a sin to be lonely. It is not something you should say, "Oh, it's a terrible thing. I must not be trusting God. I'm lonely and so I must not have enough faith". The Bible tells us very clearly that throughout the Scriptures there were many who experienced periods of loneliness. David was a man who felt loneliness in his heart.

I remember reading in the Psalms on one occasion where he talked about how he felt in the aloneness of his life. In Psalm 102, verses 3 and verse 6 and 7, he says this: "For my days are consumed like smoke, and my bones are burned like a hearth". Now, watch this: "I am like a pelican of the wilderness: I am like an owl of the desert. I lie awake, and am like a sparrow alone on the housetop". Those are vivid descriptions of the way he felt when he experienced the loneliness of his soul. Psalm 142, verse 4, he says, "Look on my right hand and see, for there is no one who acknowledges me; refuge has failed me; no one cares for my soul".

And you can almost feel the edge of the loneliness in those words as David describes feeling alone. We don't have to read much of the story of David's life to know why he would feel that way. Chased as he was by Saul, he was a fugitive for much of his life before he ultimately came to the kingdom and David knew many moments of aloneness. Aren't you glad he wrote them down so that we could identify with him? When I read his words I don't then feel so badly that once in a while I experience that. David, the king, experienced loneliness.

And then there's Jeremiah the prophet. Not Jeremiah the preacher, but Jeremiah the prophet. In the Old Testament, we read about Jeremiah. It is one of the most agonizing stories you will ever read. In fact, if you are not aware of it, the book of Lamentations is connected to the book of Jeremiah and it used to be one book before they separated them out. And you know, the book of Lamentations is a book of funeral poems, collected together to describe the anguish of Jeremiah's heart as he watched the city of Jerusalem dissipate right in front of his eyes. He saw the culture come unglued. He preached against it and he knew that in preaching against it, they would not listen, they would not hear. And Jeremiah became the weeping prophet as he wept over the destruction of the city of Jerusalem.

It was an agonizing thing for him. It's agonizing even to read about it today. Jeremiah knew something of the loneliness that can come to a person who is following God. Jeremiah was simply doing what God told him to do. He was following the direction of the Almighty and he experienced loneliness in his heart. On one occasion, Jeremiah said these words in Jeremiah 9:2. He said, "Oh, that I had in the wilderness a lodging place for wayfaring men; that I might leave my people, and go from them! For they are all adulterers, and an assembly of treacherous men".

So there is loneliness whether you be a king or whether you be a prophet. Those are Old Testament people. What about New Testament people? I'd like to tell you just a little bit about Paul the apostle. The greatest man who ever lived outside of Jesus Christ. The human author of much of the New Testament Scriptures. The founder of all of the missionary churches. The writer of the book of Romans, the greatest treatise on theology ever conceived. Paul the apostle was a lonely man on occasion. When he wrote his little letter to Timothy which we call 2 Timothy, it's the last letter he ever wrote before he died, he described the loneliness of his heart in the last chapter of the Epistle and he wrote his letter in these words.

Listen carefully. "Be diligent to come to me quickly," he writes to Timothy. "For Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world, and has departed for Thessalonica, and Crescens has gone to Galatia, and Titus is in Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me. And Tychicus I have sent to Ephesus. Alexander the coppersmith did me much harm. At my first defense no one stood with me, but all forsook me. May it not be charged against them". Do you feel that? Here's the great apostle and he stands alone. No one is with him. You would think, "That's the kind of thing that happens to other, it doesn't happen to the great apostle".

But the point of all of this is to help us all understand that when we feel the loneliness sweep in and begin to take control of us, we aren't the first person ever to visit that place. It is known by many in our culture and it has been known by many who walk before us in Bible days. And it is not a sin to be alone. And it's not sin to experience loneliness. It only becomes a sin when we start to indulge it and when we fail to obey the instruction of the Word of God which is given to us to help us dispel the loneliness in our life. It is not wrong to visit loneliness. It is wrong to move in and let loneliness take over your life. So what do we do with it? How do we handle it? Where do we go when we feel alone?

Let me suggest some things that will help us learn how to escape from loneliness when it begins to take over our life. First of all, we need to acknowledge the reality of it. I hope you're not among the people here today who are given to pious platitudes about personal problems. We as Christians have made an indoor sport out of saying the things that we think people would expect us to say when, in reality, they're not reality at all.

A.W. Tozer was writing about this on one occasion and he said, "Some say brightly, 'Oh, I never am lonely. Christ said, "I will never leave you nor forsake you and, lo, I am with you always," so how can I ever be lonely when Jesus is with me?'" And then Tozer went on to write: "Now, I do not want to reflect on the sincerity of any Christian soul but this stock testimony is too neat to be real. It is obviously what the speaker thinks should be true rather than what he has proved to be true by the test of his own experience".

Have you ever heard an answer like that from someone? You go to them with your problem and before you can even get the sentence out of your mouth, out comes the stock-in-trade answer and that you've heard it all before. For instance, somebody says, "Well, you know, I was watching so-and-so and they did such-and-such and it was such a disappointment to me and I don't know whether or not I'm gonna be able to go on following the Lord because I'm so disappointed in that person". And what is the stock-in-trade answer? "My friend, don't watch people. Keep your eyes on the Lord. He will never disappoint you". All of that is true but it is also true that we have been called upon to be examples of the faith. And that the only Jesus you see is the Jesus you see in people.

And there is something about the fact that when we don't live for God and we disappoint others, we bear responsibility for it. Yes, we're to keep our eyes on Jesus but the Jesus that we see is the Jesus we see being lived out in others. And so that stock-in-trade answer sometimes just leaves us cold. And it's not good enough to say when you feel alone, "Well, I'm not gonna admit that I'm alone. I'm just gonna accept the fact that I'm a Christian and because I'm a Christian Jesus is always with me so while I may feel alone, I know I'm not alone. And so I will just deny the feeling". That's craziness. I'll tell you, I'm your pastor. I've felt lonely on occasion. Not because of anything anyone has done or because of anything that maybe shouldn't have happened, but because I'm a human being and we walk through the places of loneliness on occasion. And all of us have known it.

So don't deny it. Accept it. It's part of life. It's part of the human experience. And after you've accepted it, then recognize that as you acknowledge the reality of your loneliness you need to accept God's provision for it. What is the provision of Almighty God for a lonely heart, for a lonely person? Let me just remind you that he's the only one who can really solve that problem. He's the only one. Because God has created us in such a way that we have an emptiness in us that can only be filled by an intimate relationship with Almighty God. It is not possible for us to stuff anything else into that vacant space. Until God is at home within our hearts, we will always feel incomplete and we will always feel a sense of aloneness, especially when we face difficult times.

I have been watching people go through crisis now for over 30 years and I can tell you that it is possible to tell whether a person is a Christian or not just by watching their response to the difficulties of life. If we do not have the inner strength that comes through a personal relationship with Almighty God, we are left alone to handle the stresses and crises of life. But I'm here to tell you that God sent his Son into the world as an ambassador and his Son came not only to give us the message of the gospel but to be the gospel. And he hung on a cross between heaven and earth and he himself experienced the most awful aloneness you could ever know.

As he was rejected by his Father, he cried out in the words of Matthew 27: "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me"? What was he saying? He bore the sin of the whole world on the cross and because Almighty God is a holy God he could not look upon even the representation of sin associated with his Son on the cross and he turned his back upon him and Jesus was left alone with the anguish and pain and sin of the world. And I'm reminded that he was left alone so that we might not ever have to be alone. He was left alone so that the sin debt would be paid in full and that we could come to him and in faith we could accept what he did for us on the cross and, by doing that, he would come to live within us and he would fill the empty space in our hearts.

God created us with a place where Jesus belongs and, until he's there, we will always be alone in the real sense of the word. So you have to accept the provision that God has made for you. If you're not a Christian I can't really tell you anything except what I'm telling you right now, that will help you pull out of the loneliness of your life. When you find Jesus Christ, you find someone who knows what you're experiencing. You don't come to the Lord Jesus to say, "Lord, I know you can't know what I'm feeling". He knows what you're feeling a hundred times over. And he can identify with you but, most of all, he's paid the penalty for your sin so that you can be connected to Almighty God in personal faith.

Are you connected to God? Do you have a connectedness with the Almighty? if you do not have, you can only solve that problem through the person of Jesus Christ, God's Son. Then you need to allow God's Word to fill your mind and heart. If you're a Christian and you're experiencing loneliness, you need to hear the Lord's voice speak to you. You need to hear the Lord speak to your problem and he will do that if you will read the Word of God. This is not just a pious platitude that I am telling you. This is the only thing I can tell you. God has spoken and if you will read his Word, you will hear his voice. And what does he say?

Oh, there are so many Scriptures, I wish I could just scroll them on the screen and we could read 'em out loud together. We could spend the rest of this day reading the Scriptures from the heart of Almighty God to people who are hurting. But listen to Psalm 27:10: "When my father and my mother forsake me, then the Lord will take care of me". Isn't that a precious promise? Hebrews 13:5-6 says: "For He Himself has said, 'I will never leave you nor forsake you.' So that we may boldly say: 'The Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?'"

These are just representative Scriptures that remind us that in the pages of this book are all the promises we need when we feel the pain of loneliness beginning to inch into our lives. Finally, let me encourage you to activate your network of Christian friends. I wanna make a statement as we close this message today that I hope won't be offensive but I have to say it because it's true. Loneliness is a choice, it really is. Now, moments of being alone may not be a choice but lingering in the house of loneliness is your decision and it's the decision you make. For God has first of all given us his Son and then he's given us his Word and then he's given us his people, all of which are for us so that we don't have to be alone.

The Lord didn't leave us here to experience life all by ourselves. He's put us into the community of believers called the church. I remind you on occasion that every time the word "saint" appears in the Bible, it always appears in the plural because saints are not left in isolation. We are the saints of God. And we come together for mutual encouragement and for help. And someone says, "But Pastor Jeremiah, I don't know anybody". Well, then, the Bible's answer to you is that he who is going to have a friend has to show himself friendly. The Bible says in Ecclesiastes that "two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labor. For if they fall, one will lift up his companion. But woe to him who is alone when he falls, for he has no one to help him up. Again, if two lie down together, they will keep warm; but how can one be warm alone? Though one may be overpowered by another, two can withstand him. And a threefold cord is not quickly broken".

I love that Scripture. When you come together with other people, when you build relationships with other people, you provide a strength that you cannot have by yourself. Oh, I believe in the all-sufficiency of Almighty God but I also believe that God does his best work through people. Have you noticed that? Every ministry I've ever had in my life, I've had in my body, and in my body I have reached out to others through my voice and my hands and my writing. And God wants to do that through all of us, to bring us together into a network of Christians that can dispel the loneliness that we feel.

Like many of the problems we're examining during these days, loneliness in the end is a choice. We may not like the circumstances of life, we may not feel like we've been dealt a very fair hand but in the end, it is our response to these circumstances that determines our spiritual and our emotional health. And that's where God puts the responsibility squarely upon us.

That principle is clearly demonstrated in this closing story. Anne Frank was a very famous person and we've read the diary and seen the movie. We may not agree with all that's in there but there are some tremendous lessons. Perhaps you recall that she and her family were prisoners in their home during the Second World War. They suffered greatly with unimaginable hardship and difficulty. Anne kept a diary of their experience, recording the fear of discovery they lived with every day. That's the diary that we've read and we've seen the plays and the movies. But along with the descriptions of the danger and the despair, she recorded her feelings, the feelings that she had in her heart. And somehow, despite all of the suffering she experienced, Anne found joy.

In fact, in 1944 when she was a young girl, she wrote these words, and I quote: "Nearly every evening I go up to the attic and from my favorite spot on the floor I look up at the blue sky. As long as this exists, I think, and I may be able to live to see it, as long as I can see this sunshine and the cloudless skies, while this lasts I cannot be unhappy. Riches can all be lost but that happiness in your heart can only be veiled," she wrote.

And I wanna say with authority today that we have something far better than blue sky and clouds. We have Jesus Christ living in us. Though the world may crumble around us, he is the blue sky. He is the light from on high that thrills and encourages our hearts. I can look beyond my circumstances into the face of the one who loves me more than I know and the one who would never allow anything to happen to me that was not for my own good and I can know with a certainty that he cares. And that if I will trust him, he will help me through the experience of life and he will never leave me alone.

If you know him, you know that is true. If you do not know him, then you are left alone with your own resources to fight through the problems. So more than anything else, let me tell you, loneliness for you is a choice. You can accept Jesus Christ and the resources of his person and know those resources for the rest of your time on this earth or you can go on alone, try to figure it out yourself and feeling the pain that comes from time to time. My recommendation is this. Jesus Christ has come to give you life and life everlasting. And he's just waiting for you to make the decision to accept his free gift.
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