Revive Our Hearts Podcast

The Plague of Loneliness

Woman: As a teenager, I felt very lonely. My parents both traveled, and I came from a divorced home. I was left to raise myself from the age of twelve, so I had a lot of time to spend alone and by myself.

Leslie Basham: Can you relate? Loneliness plagues so many people today.

You’re listening to Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Monday, May 25, 2015.

In a hyper-connected world, you have the opportunity to gain “friends” at the touch of a button—at least virtual ones. But do you think people genuinely feel more connected today? Loneliness is an age-old problem, one we need to address biblically. Nancy is here to helping a series called "The Power of Relationships."

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: I read not too long ago about a woman who decided to take a lengthy sabbatical from her family. She’d had enough, and she just left. She said, “I’m coming back one day, but I’ve had enough. I’ve had all I can take for right now. I need a break. I need some time without people in my life.”

We kind of laugh, but we’ve all probably felt that way. We’d like, for moments at least, that vacation away from people. And yet God did not intend for us to live in isolation. There’s been a lot written and said in recent years about this whole plague of loneliness—the plague of aloneness.

I read recently about an English doctor named Dr. Smith who built an experimental room where someone could get away from everyone, but his experiment showed that isolation does not produce joy. It produces misery.

He built this roughly 10’ x 8’ sound-proof room that was hoisted up on top of a building and volunteers would go in there. It was totally sound proof. There was just no way of connecting to the outside world. The people who went into the room would be seen through a one-way screen, but they couldn’t see anybody; they couldn’t hear anything. Meals were given to them in this isolation box.

The experiment showed that after an hour the people in the box lost concentration, and then began to come feelings of anxiety, panic, and distress. It said there were a lot of people who tried this experiment who could not stand the aloneness for more than five hours.

Now some of you, if you live alone, maybe you’re thinking, I relate to that. I feel like I live in an isolation box, and you would affirm that aloneness can be terrifying to the soul.

Dr. Leonard Camer is a psychiatrist who specialized for many years in treating depression. He said, "The human being is the only species that can’t survive alone. The human being needs another human being, otherwise he’s dead."

Katherine Barrett wrote in an article on loneliness in the Ladies' Home Journal,

In a society where most people live in impersonal cities or suburbs, where electronic entertainment often replaces one-to-one conversation, [and isn’t that true] where people move from job to job and state to state and marriage to marriage, loneliness has become an epidemic.

Dr. David Jeremiah has written a book called Overcoming Loneliness. He says, “Loneliness may well be the disease of the decade, perhaps of every decade.”

“They are crammed and jammed in buses,” a modern poet wrote, “but each of them’s alone.”

Dr. Jeremiah cited a survey in which a fourth of the people questioned said that they felt very lonely or cut off from other people at some time during the preceding few weeks.

Almost half of the widows over fifty living in one large metropolitan area said that loneliness was their worst problem.

We’ve been looking at Ecclesiastes chapter 4 about issues of relationships. In the first several verses we saw the pain of injustice, the pain of oppression, the pain of sinful, damaged relationships. Now we come in that passage to verse 7 where we see the problem of isolation. First the pain of injustice and oppression, but now the problem of isolation—not just sinful or damaged relationships, but the problem of having no relationships, living our lives isolated from other people.

Let’s read the passage beginning in verse 7: “Again, I saw something meaningless under the sun.” We’ve been reminding ourselves that "under the sun" means life on this fallen planet, life without God. It’s meaningless; it’s vanity; it’s frustration; it’s despair.

I saw something meaningless under the sun: There was a man all alone; he had neither son nor brother. There was no end to his toil, yet his eyes were not content with his wealth. ‘For whom am I toiling,’ he asked, ‘and why am I depriving myself of enjoyment?’ This too is meaningless—a miserable business!” (vv. 7–8).

Now let’s just unpack that paragraph bit by bit. Verse 8: “There was a man all alone; he had neither son nor brother.”

As I meditated on this passage and on the whole subject of aloneness in relationships, it occurred to me that there are a number of possible reasons for aloneness. We won’t address all of them, but obviously sometimes people feel alone because they are alone. There really is no one in their immediate life, no one who really cares, no one who is plugged into their life.

I think of some widows I know who have really had to wrestle with loneliness, aloneness, and having to care for themselves, or having just minimum of human connection. That’s an alone season of life, or can be.

I think of some single women who have written to me and expressed just how they struggle with this sense of aloneness, a desire for companionship, for someone to connect or someone to care.

There are other reasons for our aloneness, and I think one of them has to do with what we have talked about in the last few sessions, and that is the pain of oppression and injustice. The pain of damaged and sinful relationships is what leads many people to withdraw from relationships. “I’ve been hurt. I’m not going to get hurt again.” Like a turtle sticking its head out. It gets stepped on, it’s going to think twice before it sticks its head out again. “I’m not going to stick my head out again.”

I know there are women listening to this program who, as children, were physically, sexually, emotionally abused. Now you’re grown women, and you’ve gone for years just not being willing to connect into the lives of others because it hurts, and you don’t want to get hurt again. There’s that sense of fear and shame in many women’s hearts.

What it does is cause them to put up walls, and we’ve all done this to greater or lesser degrees. If we have a relationship that has been difficult for us, that’s been stressful, where we’ve experienced pain—and it may be with a family member—we’re not going to walk into that relationship.

Some of you dread calling your parents. Some of you dread calling your in-laws. Maybe there’s a son or daughter, and you just dread getting a phone call because you know the conversation is going to be tense, it’s going to be angry, it’s going to be heated, it’s going to be hard.

So that fear, that shame, that sense of oppression or injustice can cause us to put up walls. It can leave us alone.

Then I think this verse, Ecclesiastes 4:8, gives us a hint about another reason for aloneness. It says, “There was a man all alone; he had neither son nor brother. There was no end to his toil, yet his eyes were not content with his wealth.” I think this touches on the matter of selfish greed. Here’s a person who says, “I want to live my life for myself. I want what’s best for me, and if my plans and my goals don’t fit in with anyone else’s, then I’m going to live my life for me. I’m going to look out for my own happiness, for my own benefit, for my own gain.” This is a person who’s selfish and greedy. The problem is, most of us who are selfish and greedy don’t realize that we are. Other people may see it in us, but it’s hard to see it in ourselves.

“There was no end to his toil.” Here’s a person who lived with endless labor, always working, always striving, always trying to achieve, but he’s doing it apart from the context of relationships, apart from the context of community, apart from the context of responsibility to and for others. He’s got endless labor and toil but apart from the context of commitment and committed, loving, caring relationships. “I’ll do this on my own.”

The Scripture says, “His eyes were not content with his wealth.” He’s not satisfied. This is a picture of selfish greed. He’s living for himself. He’s not alone because there is no one in his life, but because he has cut himself off from relationships.

I can think of seasons of my own life where this has been true, to some degree at least, where there were people who God provided to be a part of my life. I was a part of a church; I have a family; there were people around me; I had people in my work place. But for various reasons, mostly because I was just focused on my own goals and objectives, I wasn’t nurturing those relationships, and I ended up cut off, feeling very alone, but of my own doing because I wasn’t functioning and doing my labor and my toil within the context of relationships and community as God has designed that they should be.

You see in this passage that the person who labors for himself, just to fulfill his own objectives, his own goals, can’t enjoy the fruit of his labors. He says, “For whom am I toiling? What am I doing all this for? For me? So I can sit in this big, empty house by myself and enjoy all this by myself?”

Listen, the choices that we make have consequences, and if I choose to live periods of my life for me, for my goals, for my ambitions, for my gain, for my benefit, then I should not be surprised if some day I end up feeling very alone. You lived for yourself; then live by yourself. And this man found out, as we women often find out, we can’t enjoy the toil of our labors if we’ve just been doing it for ourselves.

So ask yourself: “For whom am I toiling?” Think of your role as a wife, as a mother, as a homemaker. Who are you doing it for? Are you doing it just so you can have a beautiful house? Are you doing it so people can think you’re this great, creative Martha Stewart? Or are you doing it to serve God and your family? Who are you doing it for? Is it for selfish or greedy reasons? Or are you doing it as an expression of love? Are you doing it because you care, because you’re connected to the lives of others? Why do you work in your work place? Just so you can have a living for yourself, just so you can pay your own bills?

Listen, if you’re just doing it for yourself, that’s selfish greed, and you’ll end up having to enjoy it by yourself, and that’s not very enjoyable, Solomon is saying here.

We need to be working for others, for the glory of God, for the benefit and the blessing of others.

Ask yourself: What’s the purpose of my labors? Sacrifice with no others-centered purpose is meaningless; it’s vanity; it’s emptiness. If you’re serving, laboring just for yourself and not for the sake or the benefit of others, if you’re living life for yourself, if you’re self-absorbed, you’ll find that it’s vanity and meaningless.

Now, God has a solution. He has a prescription for both the pain of oppression and injustice and for the problem of isolation and aloneness. God’s prescription is the word relationship. God’s prescription is not painful and broken relationships, but whole and healthy relationships, relationships characterized by—if I can use another “I” word here—intimacy. Not injustice or isolation, but intimacy, oneness of heart, oneness of spirit.

So let me read in Ecclesiastes chapter 4, the paragraph that begins at verse 9, where we see God’s prescription for intimate relationships:

Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls down and has no one to help him up! Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken (vv. 9–12).

So we see in Ecclesiastes chapter 4 the power of intimacy, the power of godly, healthy relationships. This is God’s alternative to oppression and isolation. And can I say that the kinds of relationships we long for, and the kinds of relationships for which we were created are only possible within the framework of the Christian faith? They are only possible within the context of the gospel because it’s the gospel that reconciles; it’s the gospel that brings warring factions together. It’s the gospel that calls us to relationship, and it’s the gospel that enables us to experience relationship at its best.

Verse 9, Ecclesiastes chapter 4, “Two are better than one.” Let’s just think about that phrase for a few moments. “Two are better than one.” We have a God who calls us to relationship. One is not a relationship. Two can be a relationship. God calls us to relationships. He calls us to relationship with Himself, and He calls us to relationship, community and fellowship with each other.

He’s a God of relationship. God models relationship for us. He’s a God who has horizontal relationships with Himself. Within the Trinity, God is three in one. So we read in Genesis chapter 1, “Let us make man in our image,” God says (v. 27). Here is God having fellowship, common mission, shared goals, working together within the Trinity.

Then Proverbs 8:27, "I was there when he set the heavens into place." I think in the immediate context, this is a personification of wisdom. But it is a powerful description of the ministry of the Lord Jesus in creation. He says, "I was there when he [that is the Creator] set the heavens in place. I was the craftsman at his side. I was filled with delight day after day, rejoicing always in his presence, rejoicing in his whole world, and delighting in mankind."

What is it saying? Jesus was there when God created the world. They were working together. They were laboring together. They were enjoying each other's company. They were related to each other. They were in fellowship with each other.

God has horizontal relationships within the Trinity. He said, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:17). He affirmed that relationship He had as Father with His Son. And Jesus said, “I and my Father are one. We have relationship. We stick together—if I can say it without being irreverent. We have fellowship with each other.”

But not only is God a God of horizontal relationships within the Trinity, He’s a God who has established a vertical relationship with us, with His creatures, and He pursues relationship with us.

I was just thinking this morning about some of the words that describe God’s attitude and God’s approach to His creatures. He’s a lover. “God so loved the world” (John 3:16). That’s a relational word. He’s a Father. That a relational word. He’s a friend. That’s a relational word.

So God is a God of relationship, and God made us for relationship. He made us to have a vertical relationship with God. Our lives can never be fully connected with those around us until they are first connected vertically to God.

Then God made us for a relationship that is horizontal, a relationship with each other. Genesis chapter 2, “It’s not good for man to be alone.” Now man had God at that point, but God said there’s something that’s not complete—not that God was not sufficient, but God had designed man to have horizontal relationship. So God made a helper suitable for Adam. By the way, if you’re a wife, that’s why God made you—to be a helper, a companion, a completer suitable to your husband.

So God made us to need Him—we couldn’t breathe without Him. I mean, we are dependent on our relationship with God—and God made us to need each other. We can’t make it alone. We weren’t designed to be able to make it without that vertical and that horizontal relationship.

Now in Genesis chapter 3 when Eve believed the lie of Satan and sinned against God, the chapter we call the Fall of man and woman into sin, one of the immediate results of the Fall was that relationships were broken—man’s relationship with God and man’s relationship with other human beings. The man and woman’s relationship with each other now became characterized by things we read about just in the book of Genesis. We see fear and shame and guilt, bitterness, hostility, insecurity, insensitivity. We see violence, brutality. These relational issues stem from the Fall, broken relationships, shattered relationships.

It’s not until Jesus came to earth and went to the cross for our sins that we had the ability to have those relationships restored. Now through the cross of Christ we can have healthy relationships, vertical and horizontal, healthy relationships with God and with each other. But those relationships are only possible through Christ, through what He has done at Calvary because our sin separates us. It separates us from God, and it puts walls and barriers between us and others. It’s the grace of God in Christ that brings us together, that makes us one, that gives us fellowship, that tears down those walls.

Let me read a passage that was on my heart this morning from Ephesians chapter 2, verse 12. I know I’m jumping into a larger context here, but this passage, beginning in Ephesians 2:12, is a wonderful description of how the grace and the cross of Christ can restore broken relationships. Look at all the relational terms in this passage.

Verse 12—and he’s speaking specifically here to those who were Gentiles, who were not of the Hebrew faith. He says, "Remember that at one time you were separated from Christ [that’s a word with a wall, there’s a barrier there]. You were alienated from the commonwealth of Israel.” So you were separated from Christ—that’s the vertical—you were alienated from the commonwealth of Israel—that means from the Jews, so there was a horizontal barrier there.

And you were strangers [that’s another relational word] to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off [that’s isolation] now you’ve been brought near [that’s an intimate word] by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace [that’s a relational word]. He has made us both one and broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility (vv. 12–14).

How do we deal with broken relationships? Through the blood of Jesus Christ. Verse 15:

He has abolished the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace [intimacy] and that he might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were afar off [no longer isolated; now intimate].

For through him [that is through Christ] we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God. [You belong! You fit! You have a place. You have relationships; you have fellowship.]

You’ve been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus being the cornerstone in whom the whole structure being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit (vv. 15–22 ESV).

Isn’t that incredible that God would take those of us who were alienated, separated from Himself; separated, alienated from each other; broken, damaged, sinful relationships, fellowship broken everywhere. Isn't it incredible that He would send Jesus to be the peacemaker, the reconciler, the one who would bring us together with God and with each other.

It is possible for you and me to have right relationships with God and with each other, within our homes, and within our churches, relationships you thought could never be repaired. There is the possibility for reconciliation because of the blood of Jesus Christ who brings warring parties together.

In the next verses we are going see some of those healthy, wholesome relationships. But remember the starting point, it happens at the cross. Humble yourself. Acknowledge your need for Jesus Christ to be your reconciler. Let Him begin to build you and other believers together into a beautiful building fit for the presence of God Himself.

Let's pray.

Oh Lord, I love what we've heard from Your Word today. It just encourages and strengthens my heart to see what You have done for us through Jesus Christ. Thank you for the promises of Your Word and for the potential there is for oneness, for fellowship, for communion with You and with each other because of what Jesus Christ has done for us.

Lord, may we not just sit back and say, "These relationships can't be helped. They can't be fixed. They can't be changed." We go to the cross and humbly take our place there and find the grace and the power to seek reconciliation, to be built together in a way that will bring glory to you. I pray in Jesus' name, amen.

Leslie: Nancy Leigh DeMoss has been opening the Bible to us, showing the ultimate remedy for isolation and loneliness.

That teaching is part of the series, "The Power of Relationships." If you missed any of it, you can hear it at ReviveOurHearts.com.

Have you been to our website lately? When you visit, you’ll see the title of today’s program. If you click on that, you can read the transcript or listen to the audio.

But there’s also a wealth of additional content there for you. Click on “Past Programs” and you’ll find several years’ worth of archived programs. You can listen, download, or read the transcripts.  Again, the trove of biblical content for women is at ReviveOurHearts.com.

If you have a relationship that isn’t going too well, you may need to add a third party. Nancy will talk about that tomorrow. I hope you can be here for Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture is taken from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

 

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