“I’m so lonely. I don’t have any friends who understand what I am doing.”
I don’t know how many times I have heard variations of this statement from young church planters who feel isolated and overwhelmed struggling alone in a hostile environment.
Some leave their fledgling churches feeling they have failed in their vocation. Others struggle constantly with depression, anxiety and inadequacy. Why am I feeling this way? Is it because nobody loves me? Because I am a loser? Because I am not being faithful to God?
We Are Not Alone in Loneliness
Loneliness besets all of us at times, and makes us feel we are less than we should be.
Even the great prophet Elijah suffered from it. In 1 Kings 19:10 we see him out in the desert saying to God “I have zealously served the Lord. I am the only one left.”
Sound familiar? He had just defeated the prophets of Baal in a spectacular display of God’s power and then suddenly we see him running away, exhausted depressed and lonely. I love the way God responds and I think we have much to learn from this about what we all need in times of loneliness.
The Need for Self Care
God does not admonish Elijah for his I have had enough Lord, take my life reaction. (1 Kings 19:4) God sits Elijah down under a broom tree, gives him something to eat, makes sure he gets some rest, and gets him ready for the next stage of the journey.
Taking time for ourselves may seem like a strange way to overcome our loneliness as it often means more not less time alone. Yet it needs to be our initial priority. Overwork, stress and exhaustion breed feelings of loneliness, and loneliness is just that–feelings, not facts.
Getting away for a few days into a quiet place where we get good sleep, good food and a chance to relax often goes a long way to overcoming our negative feelings.
The Need to Listen to God.
God doesn’t get Elijah well rested so that he can go back into the busyness of work however.
God rests Elijah so that he can make a 40 day journey to Mt Sinai, the place of holy encounter. One of the biggest mistakes many of us make is that we see rest and refreshment as a refueling for ministry rather than a refueling for a fresh encounter with God.
Often we assume we already know what God wants us to do and don’t take the time to listen again. Rest, refresh, listen is I think a great mantra for all of us to consider when we feel lonely and inadequate.
The need to change perspective. As Elijah listens to God he finds he must change his perspective. God assures him that there are 7,000 others who have not bowed to Baal. We are seldom as alone and isolated as we feel but need to get out and find friends.
One of the biggest mistakes I see church planters make is that they fail to identify others in their community with whom they should collaborate. Visiting churches, synagogues and other houses of worship, connecting to shop owners and community groups who may have very different theological perspectives but share some of the same concerns for the neighborhood are great ways to expand our networks and dispel our loneliness.
Kindness Goes a Long Way
This is something I have learned that I think Elijah might have benefitted from. We all have the power to offer loving kindness and generosity of spirit to everyone we come in contact with. Being kind to strangers is a choice that Jesus used very intentionally and in the process he made friends.
Friendships matter. When we think about it, the desire for friendship is at the root of much of our loneliness. Yet many church planters don’t allow themselves to form friendships. It is easy for church planters to learn to sense what others want them to be and take on that role. That is not a true connection. It is exhausting and isolating. When we try to be who we think others want us to be we may be even lonelier than when we are by ourselves.
To make friends and break out of our loneliness, we must be willing to come out from behind our masks and be authentic. We must allow people to know who we really are and stop trying to fit into a mold that others have created for us. That can be scary, yet it is the only way to truly connect.
My challenge to all of us today is to rest, refresh and listen.
Take time to figure out what type of person you are, what you like and what you don’t like. Don’t be afraid to let others see the real you. It will help you break out of your loneliness. It may even help you plant an authentic church.
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