It feels strange to say this. But I think the church can be one of the loneliest places of all.
Now I believe, to be human, is to feel to some extent, alone at times. We all experience change, loss, feelings of misplacement. Somewhere along the way, we will be intentionally or unintentionally left out, misunderstood, looked over. This is just life, unfortunately.
But I can’t help but think, when we walk into church, into the body of Christ, we hope to find something more and something different. I think in a way, we want to commune with God as well as be in real community with others.
But this isn’t always easy.
How is it that we can feel especially lonely in our churches, right there in the midst of other believers, shoulder to shoulder with our brothers and sisters in Christ? In a place that is supposed to be the closest glimpse of heaven this side of eternity? Why is it that some of us, even after signing up for countless Bible studies and fellowship outings and serving alongside each other in a plethora of ministries, can still feel pretty much alone?
It’s true that some of our churches suffer from unhealthy cliques (and this is completely sad), but it’s also true that many do try their best to be inclusive and unified.
Yet, loneliness is still a problem affecting more people than we realize, from the newcomer to the pastor, the introverted to the extroverted, the young, the empty nester, sick or well, whether we are married or single.
I am starting to see that loneliness in the church is much more than feeling left out on occasion… or a lot. Ironically, we can actually be very much included, but still feel disconnected.
Something is silently and deeply afflicting us, our relationships, our fellowship.
Maybe you feel it too?
We all have this intrinsic God-given desire to be loved, yet we are battling, more than ever, this ever increasing fear of being known.
I think it’s immensely hard to be transparent these days. Never before have we been so connected yet so disconnected, so visible yet so able to hide. Communicating has never been so instant, convenient, but filtered. We can have our 895 “friends” on Facebook with whom we share snippets of our lives, but have a hard time letting down our walls to even one person. Honestly, I think our generation is becoming one of growing anonymity, contrived “Pinterest” personas, and isolation. We can edit ourselves all we want – we can choose what we want people to see of us. This is handy, but it can cause us to be more distracted, self-conscious, and possibly more alone than ever before.
And I think all of this has quietly seeped its way right into our churches.
It’s true that some people really do live with genuine transparency. They live with this humility that is hard to find. But I have not yet mastered the secret. It is still so unnatural to be vulnerable! In fact, I often find myself settling for being liked and accepted over being known and truly loved.
I often find myself settling for being liked and accepted over being known and truly loved.
Because letting people in, means we could be totally rejected.
But I realize, when we are obsessed with how we think we “should” look in order to be accepted, we can never have real community. We can never be the body of Christ that encourages and builds each other up (1 Thessolonians 5:11).
And when we let fear of man, insecurity, or even bitterness take over us, we will always feel alone, even if we never miss a single Sunday service or take part in every outreach ministry event until we collapse.
We will do church just fine, but we can never be the church.
I mentioned in my last post, that my family is part of a new church plant in a new state with a new community of friends … and while I feel out of my element some days, I can honestly say, I wouldn’t want to be on any other road. We have been stretched some but blessed greatly. I am learning that meaningful friendships do not fall from the sky and magically into my life. We have to do the hard, humbling work of letting people in, not just on our “good days,” but into our less than Pinterest perfect lives. This is the only sure way to foster real connection.
I aptly read somewhere that this means “we have to go first,” meaning sometimes, we have to be first to share our hearts. We have to be first to break the polite silence and initiate deeper conversation and be ready to really listen. In appropriate spaces with appropriate people, we have to be first to confess our (eek) deeper sins and inner wars. But I know it’s not easy to risk what we fear the most – rejection.
Of course, the goal isn’t to become the queen of TMI (too much information). Honesty is of utmost importance – yes – but so is edification, speaking with grace (Ephesians 4:29), and being mindful of gossip. When I am not prayerful, I tend to say things I regret and totally lose perspective. A thing I must remember too is that it doesn’t mean everyone will love me just because I was so bravely honest. I may get blank looks and zero reciprocity. I may feel lame. There may be judgment and a sinking feeling of even more loneliness. Or at the least, very, very awkward silence. I have to accept, not everyone is ready or interested in a deeper relationship with me (ouch). But be still my heart… we move on and we don’t give up.
Because it’s worth it, and the kind of fellowship we have when we are transparent is priceless.
When it comes down to it, without vulnerability in our relationships, we cannot possibly love each other as Christ loves us. It’s in the risking, in the giving, in taking time to love others more than ourselves, in being bravely real about what we struggle with and willing to walk the messy road with others… that we can ever have real community.
I often think… Jesus, He hung there on the cross, naked, bleeding, mocked – for what purpose?
To remind us how much the Father wants to be reconciled with the broken, with us. To remind us that love is transparent and oh so sacrificial.
Isaiah 41:10 says, “Fear not, for I am with you.”
This might just be the ultimate assurance to the lonely heart.
I think this is key – when we trust that God’s love is with us always, when we seek to be fulfilled by Him alone, we suddenly know how to love and be loved deeply.
This is community.
Loneliness may never go away completely – and maybe it’s not supposed to this side of forever. We are flawed humans, and we will never connect perfectly.
But I can’t help but think, we can take small but brave steps towards letting each other in, so we can learn to do the beautiful work of truly building each other up towards love and good deeds.