Sunday, October 27, 2013

Postscript to the Church from the Lonely

So, for those of you who read my recent post, “A Letter To the Church from the Lonely,” this is a follow-up.

It turns out that the church I described is actually a great place full of nice people. I’ve met some of them now. As it also turns out, a number of them meant to meet me that first week, but their child spit up on them or they really had to go to the bathroom or they got sidetracked by the worship leader. (I know this because they told me this when they introduced themselves the next week.)

Guess I was supposed to experience a really lonely Sunday. God works in mysterious ways, including baby vomit.

Anyway, I went to a singles event that this church hosted. Interestingly enough, one of the points that the pastor addressed in his message to us that night was loneliness. He said that singles—and married people—need to find the answer to their loneliness in a deeper relationship with God. Then he quoted something he remembered John Piper saying about singles asking why God hadn’t provided them with a husband/wife: “That’s like asking for a glass of water when you’ve been given an entire ocean.”

This is God's love. There are lots of songs comparing it to an ocean, so that's cool I guess.

For the most part, I agree with all of that. But one question kept going through my head over and over:

“What if the reason we ask for a glass of water in addition to the sea because God made us thirsty?”

Not for marriage necessarily. Just for relationship with other people.

It’s interesting to me that when Adam was alone in the Garden, God didn’t say, “Hey, you have a relationship with me. That should be enough for you.” He said, “It is not good for man to be alone.”

Did you catch that? Alone. Even with God—even in a relationship with God that was unbroken by sin—it was possible to be alone, and thus lonely. The ocean wasn’t enough.

That wasn’t all of the message that night. But it was the part that I latched onto, because apparently I’m becoming obsessed with developing a theology of loneliness. And one common theme that I got out of the messages that were sent to me after the first post was that we Christians attach an incredible sense of guilt to feeling lonely. We assume that loneliness means that we are not trusting in Christ alone, that the Holy Spirit’s presence in our life is insufficient, that maybe, just maybe, we are implicitly accusing God of failing us. And we don’t want to do that. But I don’t think we are.

This is community/relationships. Also water, just like the also God's love, just in a different form.  So...God's love is more like the water cycle than the ocean. (No, I don't know how the splash fits into the analogy.)

God is enough. But one of the ways we experience God is through community, and through loving and being loved by others. When we overemphasize the self-sufficiency of God in only the traditional “spiritual” ways that he makes himself known—prayer, Bible reading, worship, etc.—we deny the way God made us.

We go back to the Garden and say, “Hey, God, you’re wrong. Adam doesn’t need other people. He just needs you.”

I know what you’re all wondering: “Did you say that to the pastor?” (Or maybe you’re not wondering that. Whatever. Ask more questions.)

And the answer is no. No I did not. Guys, I just moved to this place. I cannot become “that person” so quickly. (Is there a stereotype for the recent grad whose spiritual gift is asking heretical questions? I don’t even know.) Also, it is incredibly dangerous to disagree with John Piper while living in the Twin Cities. I could get mugged. Spiritually. If you’d like to email this post and the last one to him, be my guest.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear your thoughts. What have you been taught about loneliness from a Christian perspective? What’s the difference between unhealthy dependence on others for happiness and a God-given need for relationship?


  1. Good thoughts Amy. Wayne Watson has a song that came out in the late 80's/early 90's called "It's good to be lonely" (I think). You have a point about Adam and God and not being alone. But remember that apart from God, Adam was really alone--no one else on the whole earth--just slightly different from our predicament.

    Anyway, don't stop struggling with these issues, and thanks for sharing the process. May the comfort of the Holy Spirit be yours. Blessings.

    1. Good point, Pete. Mostly, I used the Adam-extreme to say that even in a perfect God-person relationship, people need other people. However, to your point about there being others around, I do think there's a part of loneliness that we're responsible for, since there are other people (and almost always other Christians) around who we could reach out to.

  2. Amy,

    Love this. Definitely will be reading more and sharing your blog with more people. Good thoughts to wrestle through!

  3. I wish I had something to add, Amy, but I think all the same things as you regarding the God need vs. community need. I just keep praying God will bring us friends. I'm not afraid of doing the hard work of relationship, I'd just like it to reciprocated. Long distance hugs to you! Love, Leah