Dark Side of Christmas Only the Lonely Understand

Amidst the joy of Christmas, the lights, the music, the presents, the family events, I want to pause and consider part of the dark side of Christmas…  which only the lonely understand (as Roy Orbison said).

Now Christmas is a time of hope and a time for families, but that in itself can drive people into loneliness. Factors like family breakdown can drive many into loneliness, and dealing with extended family members can also ramp up the pressure at this time of year, but Christmas itself is not the cause for loneliness.

 

You can become lonely for many reasons… the loss of a relationship through death or separation, loss of friends, sickness, hard times and many other reasons. Often when we face difficult times we pull away, we isolate ourselves and add loneliness to our list of burdens.

 

Whatever the cause, Christmas is just an amplifier that causes feelings of loneliness that are there all the time to seem greater and more powerful for only the lonely.

 

And strangely you can be lonely even in a crowd. One of the great paradoxes of modern life is that you can have 700 Facebook friends and be the loneliest guy in the world. You see social media, as social as it might be, is no substitute for social interaction and close friends.

 

And Christmas just makes feelings of loneliness stronger.

 

Psalms 102:3-7

For my days pass away like smoke,

and my bones burn like a furnace.

My heart is struck down like grass and has withered;

I forget to eat my bread.

Because of my loud groaning

my bones cling to my flesh.

I am like a desert owl of the wilderness,

like an owl of the waste places;

I lie awake;

I am like a lonely sparrow on the housetop.

 

The KJV translates desert owl in its literal sense, meaning a pelican. So what the Psalmist is saying here is that he feels like a pelican, a coastal bird, in the desert… we might say a fish out of water.

 

And loneliness is like that… you feel like you just don’t belong, and especially at Christmas, where everyone else seems to be having such a great time, right?

 

Les Carter said, “Loneliness is a feeling of separation, isolation or distance in human relations. It implies emotional pain, an empty feeling and a yearning to feel understood and accepted by someone.”

 

Tim Hansel observed, “Loneliness is not the same as being alone. It’s feeling alone, no matter how many people are around you. It’s feeling disconnected, unplugged, left out, isolated.”

 

Today I want to consider only the lonely, how you should respond to it and how you should respond to others who are struggling with loneliness.

 

MODERNISM MAGNIFIES THE MISERY

 

Loneliness has always been with us.

 

Genesis 2:18

Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.”

 

However, our modern society escalates loneliness on a scale never seen before.

 

Albert Schweitzer said, “We are all so much together, but we are all dying of loneliness.”

 

The fact of the matter is, and if you have experienced loneliness you will understand this well, lonely people often feel left out. They feel unwanted or rejected, even when they are surrounded by others – whether it be friends, family, or a congregation of a church. With loneliness, not only can there come this feeling of being left out, but a sense of worthlessness – in other words, people reason within themselves: ‘Well, since nobody wants to be with me, I guess I’m not worth being with’.

 

It is important that we realise that loneliness is one of the greatest problems that 21st century society faces. And Christmas is one of the most common times to feel lonely, even in a crowded service or a family gathering.

 

 

Contrast this with developing countries, where they may not have much in the way of money, possessions or even food… but they have each other! They have extended families, they have friends, they often leave doors open and share meals together, and loneliness, while still present, is not as extreme as here in our country. We’ve got big screen TVs, cars that work, the NBN, Centrelink and huge malls, but our society tends to isolate us.

 

So again, loneliness is not worse at Christmas, it’s there all the time, but only the lonely know it is simply amplified at this time of year, when others seem to have what we do not.

 

Doesn’t matter who you are, how successful you are, how famous you are, everybody experiences loneliness…

 

Jack Nicholson, after years of philandering and womanising, described himself recently as single, lonely and likely to die alone. After the death of her husband Albert, Queen Victoria said these words: ‘There was no one left to call me Victoria’.

 

There was once an advertisement in a Kansas newspaper that read like this: ‘I will listen to you talk for 30 minutes without comment for five dollars’. It sounds like a hoax, doesn’t it? But it wasn’t long before that individual who had placed the advertisement in the newspaper was bombarded by about 10 to 20 calls a day.

 

The pain of loneliness for some is so sharp that they were willing to try anything for half an hour of companionship. The scourge of loneliness is something that hits all of us at some time in our life. It can last from a moment to a lifetime.

 

Loneliness is the painful awareness that we lack meaningful contact with others. It involves within it a feeling of inner emptiness which can be accompanied by sadness, discouragement, a sense of isolation, restlessness and anxiety – and even an intense desire within to be wanted and needed by someone.

 

ONLY THE LONELY KNOW YOU’RE IN GOOD COMPANY!

 

Many people in the Bible faced loneliness.  Joseph alone in prison, Jacob miles from home.  King David often felt all alone…

 

Psalms 25:16-17

Turn to me and be gracious to me,

for I am lonely and afflicted.

The troubles of my heart are enlarged;

bring me out of my distresses.

 

The Apostle Paul was abandoned in prison, 2 Timothy 4:9-11,, and John was alone rotting on the Island of Patmos.

 

Jesus hung alone on a cruel cross for your sin and mine. Even His Father turned His back on Him. Jesus understands what it’s like to be lonely, to feel abandoned and isolated.

 

Loneliness is and always has been common in human experience, and in our 21st century lifestyle, it’s exacerbated. People turn to drugs, alcohol, free sex, workaholism and even suicide to cope with feelings of loneliness.

 

So as we face Christmas 2016, and the possibility that many of you will feel intense loneliness, even in a crowd of relatives, I want to have a look at the voices you will hear in your head when you’re intensely lonely, and contrast that with what God says about you.

 

LONELINESS… THE VOICES IN YOUR HEAD

 

When we feel lonely we become subject to those dreaded voices in our head. You know the ones that show up when you’re trying to sleep. The ones that, if you’re not busy doing something, pervade your consciousness and nag your mind into believing things.

 

These little voices, seemingly so innocent, can kill you… figuratively and literally. So it is in our interest to deal with them before they start affecting us. And remember… they strike and strike hard when we are lonely.

 

So what do these voices say, what are their lies and how does God’s truth counteract them?

 

1. I AM ALL ALONE

 

THE LIE: Loneliness means I am all alone

THE TRUTH: Loneliness can strip away my dependence on others and let me find true fulfilment in Jesus Christ alone.

 

2 Corinthians 1:3-4

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.

 

Being alone should be looked at not as a negative, but as a positive that only the lonely know.

 

Sometimes God allows us to feel alone for a season, and if we choose to we can use this experience to drive us closer to the Lord. We can choose to get into the Word of God, to pray or to get involved in church activities.

 

Jesus  alone is the only true and lasting source of comfort. Seeing us chase after relationships with people rather than Him must break his heart, so sometimes He will lovingly remove these from our lives to drive us into His arms of comfort.

 

So if you are feeling lonely at Christmas time, rather than getting despondent about it, turn things around and say thank you Lord for realigning my priorities and driving me into your arms!

 

2. NO ONE UNDERSTANDS

 

THE LIE: I’m the only one who ever suffered like this, so no one will ever understand my pain and loneliness.

THE TRUTH: Many have gone through similar or harder roads, and Jesus Himself promises He understands because He’s been there and done that.

 

Hebrews 2:18

For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

 

Very often within our circle of friends and acquaintances we are not aware of someone who has gone through what we are struggling with. Even if they have, they would have handled it differently and done things differently. So we often tell ourselves that no one really understands what we face.

 

The danger of this type of thinking is that the devil uses it against us. When he convinces us that no one understands, we tend to shut others out, even those who love us and who God has placed around us for support and encouragement.

 

So if we feel alone, we often isolate ourselves further, moving away from the very ones who could help us, and moving us towards bitterness, depression, hard-heartedness, regret and ultimately, paralysing our life. When we become so alone, so isolated, we are useless to the Kingdom of God, and ripe to be attacked and even used by the enemy!

 

So we must remind ourselves of this…

2 Corinthians 1:5-6

For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer.

 

Jesus is the only one who fully understands our pain, our heartache and our loneliness. He gets our fears, insecurities, emotions, needs and desires. In short, He understands!

 

John 16:32-33

Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

 

So when you feel alone, fight the temptation to withdraw further by recognising that Jesus understands and cares, and that He offers the only true comfort for the lonely. People, friends, relatives, loved ones, can never fully meet our expectations.

 

Here’s the thing… once we release people from our expectations, once we look to Jesus Christ alone for comfort, then we suddenly see others in a different light. We see them as God’s provision for our lives.

 

If you lower your expectations of others, everything positive they do and say is a bonus… it’s a blessing!

 

And remember that Jesus doesn’t try and comfort us from afar, He is with us closer than a brother. He fills us with the Holy Spirit, He gives us strength, courage and joy. He gives us each other to love and support, to reach out to us in our loneliness.

 

3. GOD JUST DOESN’T LOVE ME

 

THE LIE: A loving God would not let you be alone like this. If He really loves me He’d give me friends who understand me, who support, encourage and care for me.

THE TRUTH: this loving God sent His own Son on the loneliest road of all for you!

 

Hebrews 12:3

Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.

 

Loneliness is not fun, it’s miserable as only the lonely know.  Outside of the grace of God, any suffering here on earth is miserable and makes no sense! Outside of Christ, suffering has no purpose, no value and offers no hope for the believer. But when we consider Christ, when we think of the gospel, suffering suddenly has meaning!

 

One of the darkest periods of our lives was when we lost all our money in the Storm financial crisis. 20 years of work wiped out in one week, and we went from being millionaires to being debt millionaires! It was a horrible, painful, frustrating and very lonely experience. Many people we counted on just went on with their lives, and no one seemed to care. We felt isolated in our misery.

 

Now I look back on that troubled time and realise God had a plan, for our lives, our family, our ministries and our future Pastoring. Out of that pain, and loneliness, I can now care for others in a way I never could.

 

In the middle of it, I saw pain and devastation… looking back, I see the loving hand of the Father working all things for good!

 

I remember praying and saying to God, my life is a frustrated, angry, fear filled mess. But I choose to see this moment as my opportunity to shine for Jesus. Matthew 5:16.

 

So if you’re lonely this Christmas, rather than thinking it’s a curse, start to see it as a privilege, a calling, even a blessing to walk the same lonely road as your Saviour walked for you! The rewards are not for now but for eternity!

 

Feeling lonely? This could be your moment to shine!

 

4. I DON’T HAVE ENOUGH FAITH

 

THE LIE: If I feel alone, I mustn’t have enough faith

THE TRUTH: Your feelings should not and do not represent your faith.

 

This is a modern Pentecostal, hurtful lie that has been propagated far and wide… that if you feel discouraged, alone or sad, your faith is lacking and you need to muster some more faith.

 

As people, we tend to rely on our feelings. If we feel good, if we feel joy, if we feel connected at Christmas, then we must have faith. If we feel lonely, sad or miserable, we mustn’t have enough faith.

 

2 Corinthians 4:7-9

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed;

 

How do you reach this point, when everything seems against you and yet you stay so positive and full of faith? Paul did not get this from watching preachers on the God channel, or by calling a 1800 number with a donation!

 

We’ve talked about this in recent weeks, how even a mustard seed of faith in an infinitely huge and powerful God trumps all the faith you can muster in an idol.

 

I’m sick of hearing people kicking those who are down and saying they lack faith. If you base your faith on how you feel, you’ll have a roller coaster ride of emotions, and always doubt that you have any faith at all. But if you base your faith on the Word of God, on His promises, on His Spirit and His power, then regardless of how you feel, you will discover faith you never knew you had! Faith in an infinite God, faith in the One who loves you and gave Himself for you.

 

The better you get to know God, the more faith you will have!

 

So if you are feeling alone and sad this Christmas, then turn things around and see your loneliness not as a curse sent from God, but as an opportunity to grow in maturity. This growth doesn’t happen by accident, but by a deliberate decision to see joy in your pain, and Gods loving hand upon you rather than His affliction, judgement or curse.

 

5. I’M JUST NOT IMPORTANT TO ANYONE

 

THE LIE:If you were important enough, famous, successful, attractive, rich enough you wouldn’t be lonely like this.

THE TRUTH: Everybody experiences loneliness, important or not.

 

This is a ridiculous lie from the devil, and I only have to mention names like Amy Winehouse, Kurt Cobain, Whitney Houston, Heath Ledger, Phillip Seymour-Hoffman and Marilyn Monroe to shoot it down.

 

Being famous or important does not make you not lonely, it actually often makes you more lonely and isolated. Don’t believe the lie that successful people have lots of friends and aren’t lonely. Behind the money, the fame, the big cars and houses in Beverley Hills, they’re often the most lonely of all!

 

Things, fame or money doesn’t buy happiness. I’ve seen beggars in the gutters of Kolkata laugh, eat together and have fellowship. Some of them are rich in ways we don’t understand.

 

Listen, I know many poor, mistreated and less than attractive people here who have friends and are not lonely.

 

Doesn’t matter who you are, there are people who love you, if you let them near! This church has people who will love you if you let them, so stop trying to be someone you’re not and just let genuine people start to love and accept you.

 

Amos 3:3

“Do two walk together,

unless they have agreed to meet?

 

If you are lonely, at least make yourself agreeable! If you’re nice to others, someone will be nice to you. If they reach out to you and you behave like a pig in return, don’t be surprised if you’re lonely! Be agreeable, be open, and no matter who you are, what your situation is, God will bring someone into your life to care.

 

So if you are feeling lonely this Christmas, open yourself to someone. Yes there’s a risk, they might reject you, but nothing ventured is nothing gained. They might accept you, you never know. You don’t need to be successful, rich or famous, you just need to be agreeable!

 

CLOSER THAN A BROTHER

 

Loneliness hurts, and especially at Christmas when everybody is talking about their families and friends. If you have poor relationships in your family, or no friends, it hurts even more.

 

Proverbs 18:24

A man of many companions may come to ruin,

but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.

 

Loneliness is painful, but today I challenge you to turn your perception around. Loneliness is not hopelessness if you don’t let it become that, instead it can empower you to know Christ more, and to make Him known. He is the friend who sticks!

 

The choice it yours… all of these voices in your head require you to choose between the lie and the truth. You can choose to believe the lies, or you can choose the truth. At this time of year the devil uses loneliness to entrap you, to ruin you, to get into your head and depress you. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

 

Take your eyes off your circumstances, off the family mishaps, off the lack of friends, and open your eyes to see things Gods way.

 

Habakkuk 3:17-19

Habakkuk Rejoices in the Lord

Though the fig tree should not blossom,

nor fruit be on the vines,

the produce of the olive fail

and the fields yield no food,

the flock be cut off from the fold

and there be no herd in the stalls,

yet I will rejoice in the Lord;

I will take joy in the God of my salvation.

God, the Lord, is my strength;

he makes my feet like the deer’s;

he makes me tread on my high places.

 

Today in the loneliness that many of us face at Christmas time, Jesus is calling you to tread in high places. You can feel lonely, all of us do at times, but there is a friend who calls to you right now in your loneliness. His arms are open to you, His heart is reaching out to you. This Christmas you may be alone, alone by yourself, or alone maybe in a crowd of relatives, but none of us is exempt from loneliness.

 

In our church I am thrilled to say I’m seeing people reaching out to each other in genuine love. You might be alone, but don’t be lonely. There are people here who would love to reach out to you. There are people who care, and there a Saviour who wants to wrap His arms around you right now.

 

Psalms 139:5

I look behind me and you’re there,

then up ahead and you’re there, too—

your reassuring presence, coming and going.

 

Hebrews 13:5

Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

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