When Loneliness Is More Than Being Alone

by | Nov 7, 2012 | Uncategorized

We were both wearing sweaters, hopeful in the shift of Fall apparent in summer’s bounty left strewn and withered on the lawn. The sun radiates overhead, I pull my sleeves up and look down at her tawny boots, void of scuff marks as we walk on the narrow sidewalk. I didn’t realize she was freezing on the inside until we walked into the church.

We stop in the foyer like being sprung from the end of a rubber band and stuck on the floor, unaware of the crowds gathering for Sunday worship filtering like ants around us. She tells me she had a hard time coming back from a trip. How she couldn’t find reasons to return to an empty house, a job she didn’t like, no family nearby. She went on to describe the loneliness. Friday nights at the gym, eating dinner and watching a movie alone, week after week. A rare invitation for dinner with a friend, cancelled at the last minute.

I ask what is keeping her here in our small seaside community. “I know I’m supposed to be here,” she says nodding her head. “Maybe I’m trying too hard to make it work.”

And even though I’m married with two kids to share life, she describes how I’ve felt many times since moving away from long-term friendships and family nine years ago. A silent phone, empty calendar, leaving church lonelier than you came; there is a difference between knowing people and being known by them.

God created us to be known.

Sometimes He takes us through a season of isolation to understand that.

Loneliness Has Purpose

Like wallpaper stripped away after years of use, He reveals who we are underneath, during seasons of isolation.  Reveals the scars still open, the glue that we counted on to hold everything together, the cracks in the foundation we couldn’t see with that façade in the way, the one we got used to looking at and barely noticed anymore.

Most of what we find there, it’s way beyond our capability. And that’s the point. Instead of hanging new paper on the old wall, He wants to do something different. And the only way to know what that is, is to trust Him for the outcome. Because He wants to know you will be trustworthy to do the work.

While loneliness lies in the hollow whispers of inadequacy and needing to know why, Jesus invites you to scoot in close to Him, partake of the view on the veranda. He’s pointing out the future. And when you see it, it won’t matter that it doesn’t match the color you picked out for the wall.

(For biblical examples on the way God uses isolation in order to learn the deep lessons of life look at the lives of Job, Paul, Habakkuk, Elijah, Moses, Jesus, Joseph, and Jonah.)

Over the next six weeks we’ll explore answering the question, “How do you walk out your faith in the midst of pain, loneliness, disappointment, and suffering.” We’ll sit around the community table of this blog and hear stories from Tara Pohlkotte, Deidra Riggs, Danelle Landry Townsend, Darrell Vesterfelt, Kelli Woodford and others that help us see Him more clearly through our struggles.  And we’re inviting you to join us on Thursday for Redemptions Beauty Book Club, a community discussion on the book Leaving Church by Barbara Brown Taylor.

How can you be part of the fun?

Linking with Jennifer, Duane, Emily, Joy, WLWW

Subscribe for Shelly’s stories and free resources here: https://shellymillerwriter.com/free-resources/


  1. Lynn Morrissey

    Of course, loneliness is different from being alone, which you point out in your title, Shelly. I emathize with your friend. I don’t do well in new people situations and often feel lonely. When God directed me to leave a full-time and most fascinating career, I feared isolation in my home and that loneliness would ensue. But after I settled into Him, the opposite was true. Solitude was saturated with His presence, and the quiet moments away from the crowds were pregnant with the presence of the Lord. For many years now, I have spent many more years in solitude than I did in sorority. And I am satisfied. I have had women tell me they feel lonely at church (and I have felt that way at times too), and it is a hollow feeling, because we expect fullest fellowship amongst believers. That’s how it should be. There’s nothing lonelier than to be lonely in the midst of people. I really look forward to this series! ~Lynn

    • Redemption's Beauty

      I enjoy the solitude too Lynn, but I miss the ease of community I found in friendships I established early in our marriage. There were common things that brought us together without thinking or planning. As life goes on, I have to be more intentional about building community. And I live in a small town of pretension, where conversation doesn’t often go deeper than the kiddie pool.

      • Lynn Morrissey

        You know, Shelly, it’s really important that I read your response here. I can see where my first comment could imply that I don’t seek community. I am basically introverted, and God used a job to pull me out of myself to be around people, when I truly feared that years ago. Concurrently, He also gave me the privilege of leading Bible studies. I began to thrive in His will for me and so enjoyed being with people. THen, when I loved where I was, He had me give it all up, and I feared true depression in the isolation of my home. I think that is why I was stressing above how God graced me with comfort in His presence in solitude. He didn’t allow me to sink, and it was miraculous. I can’t tell you how much I feared isolation, thinking I would become suicidally deprssed again. I assumed I would re-enter the workforce when Sheridan was five. She’s twenty, so that never happened. To me it has been so incredible to see how God could meet my needs and draw me deeper into Him, when I thought I needed to be out in the world to avoid depression. But all that said, I know I need Christian fellowship, and what I wrote earlier here might imply that I don’t think I do. I have joined women’s ministries again this year, and I love the viritual fellowship I have begun to receive here at your place and others’ on the Net. I realize this post sounds really convoluted. I’m sorry. ( My thoughts are very fuzzy having been up late watching the election). I guess Im just trying to say that what you said really pricked my heart, underscoring for me both the importance of quiet with the Lord and community with fellow believers. Absolutely both are VITAL. I thnk though that many women I meet are afraid of solitude and equate it w/ loneliness. I try to encourage women not to fear it. It’s where we meet the Lord in a deep and abiding way, enabling us to meet others in community in His strength. I am so glad you said what you did, because I realize how much I do need community! I’m so thankful for your friendship, Shelly God bless you!

  2. simplystriving

    THIS: While loneliness lies in the hollow whispers of inadequacy and needing to know why…encapsulates every moment of loneliness I’ve ever felt.
    So thankful I know my way around getting closer to His embrace now…

    still can never believe it when you succeed at writing a post more beautiful than your photography! exquisite…

    • Redemption's Beauty

      I think it’s our first response when we find ourselves in a lonely place. Why and is it me? But I’ve learned recently, that it’s something God does with us for greater influence. He needs to know we are trustworthy for the way He wants to use us.

  3. Emma

    “Most of what we find there, it’s way beyond our capability. And that’s the point. Instead of hanging new paper on the old wall, He wants to do something different. And the only way to know what that is, is to trust Him for the outcome. Because He wants to know you will be trustworthy to do the work.” Oh I knew this series would speak to me, this is excatly where I am; trusting and trying to do the work. Am excited to follow along with you again. Emma

    • Redemption's Beauty

      Emma, it’s a privilege and a pleasure to have you along for this journey. Thanks for joining in. Hope you’ll engage in the Book Club page on Facebook too.

  4. Lori

    I have felt it….yes. Jesus fills all those lonely spots but you are so right…..we need each other. We need to be known! It is painful when God strips away all that old wallpaper….

    • Redemption's Beauty

      I think that is why I often feel lonely in small groups where conversation stays on the surface and people aren’t willing to reveal themselves. That need to be known is innate in all of us. But only truly filled up in Jesus.

  5. Jillie

    What a great post to begin your new series, Shelly. I really related to the part about coming away from church and feeling lonelier than when you came. There is a big difference between knowing people, and “being known”. Sometimes, ‘some of us’ also make the grave mistake of trying to go deeper with someone we feel a connection to, and having them back away slowly. I won’t do ‘that’ again. 🙁 People just seem to be too wrapped up in their own busy lives to take much notice of the person on the fringe, and that’s sad. Especially in ‘The Church’.
    But I did, eventually, find a kindred spirit. She was also looking for just one friend there. She and I are doing coffee together today, as a matter of fact.
    I spend most of my days alone, until 3:30 when my Millwright arrives home. I manage to fill my days, and I don’t mind the solitude…unless it goes on for too long. I’ve found myself wishing that phone would ring. When it gets really bad, I pick it up and call someone, and I’ve not ever been rejected yet. It’s a give-and-take thing. Usually I find another lonely soul on the other end of the line who “doesn’t want to bother anyone” either.
    Thanks for the good word today, and the gorgeous photos.

    • Redemption's Beauty

      I agree about people being too busy and self absorbed and perhaps as we explore this question about how we walk out our faith, we will also be more alert about being the one to break the cycle and pay attention to people around us. We’re all hurting, just too busy to notice it most of the time.

  6. Laura Rath

    Loneliness and being alone can go together, but not always. Loneliness can be felt in a room full of people, even surrounded by family and friends. While being alone can be lonely, it can also be a rejuvenating time of solitude.

    Looking forward to this series Shelly! (and meeting you at the Jumping Tandem Retreat.) 🙂

    • Redemption's Beauty

      Laura, glad you are joining in. And I look forward to meeting you too.
      You bring up a good point about different kinds of loneliness. There is isolation that is sovereign, God ordained, isolation that is because of something we’ve done (sin), and there is self-inflicted isolation for the purpose of rejuvenation you speak of. I think each one yields the same outcome when we see it as a time to learn more about the deeper things of life.

  7. Laura

    Once again Shelly, you speak to my heart – the deepest part of my heart – the part I keep hidden from others and even at times from myself. I am looking forward to the exploring the questions during the next six weeks with you and others.

    • Redemption's Beauty

      And I’m praying Laura, that God will speak to you in the deep places and give you courage to share yourself as He leads you. You have a voice that needs to be heard.

      • Laura

        thank you Shelly…the tears are threatening to spill over…I appreciate how you hear what I as yet do not have words for … or the courage to voice

  8. Tanya Marlow

    “Like wallpaper stripped away after years of use, He reveals who we are underneath, during seasons of isolation.  Reveals the scars still open, the glue that we counted on to hold everything together, the cracks in the foundation we couldn’t see with that façade in the way, the one we got used to looking at and barely noticed anymore.”

    This stopped me in my tracks. Thank you – I think I will need to ponder this a bit more. Excited about this new series!

    • Redemption's Beauty

      I’m glad it resonated Tanya. I thought it was a funny analogy God gave me. But it gave me clarity as I wrote. Hope you are doing well.

  9. Judy

    “How do you walk out your faith in the midst of pain, loneliness, disappointment, and suffering?”

    I’m looking forward to what comes of this discussion. I think so often it is as Eugene Petersen says, ‘a long obedience in the same direction’ – a daily or weekly choice, often difficult, sometimes excruciatingly painful, to obey the admonition ‘not to forsake the gathering of believers.’

    Please know this is not a glibly spoken right Biblical response. Just this past Sunday I did something I rarely do – slipping away before the final hymn was over – I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I had spent more than 500 Sunday morning services without the love of my life in that place. It has been more than ten years since my husband of twenty three years (after a four year courtship) succumbed to addiction and mental illness – the desire to pursue false hopes out-weighing all else. We had been teenage sweet-hearts and best friends – soul mates for so long. The betrayal has left taut scars that are not easy to penetrate, so while I am, by nature, warm and friendly, and genuinely interested in others so that conversations usually flow easily enough, deep down there is often loneliness. Always it is more intense in the presence of others. I appreciate that I am as much to blame for that as others, who do not always take the time to notice, are and I have experienced the faithfulness of God, but also know that He said, even of Adam with whom He had perfect communion, “It is not good for him to be alone.” We are made for human connectedness. So, the choice to be in the often lonely, public place of Christian community is always about choosing obedience – and there is comfort in knowing Jesus understands. Choosing obedience to the Father cost Him the loneliness of the Cross.

    • Redemption's Beauty

      Ah yes, a long obedience in the same direction. Love Peterson’s words and often think about this phrase. I’m so very sorry for what you’ve had to walk through, the pain and disappointment must be hard to bare at times. And you’ve given me something to think about when you say, Christian community is always about choosing obedience. Thank you, you have expressed what i often feel.

  10. Kati Woronka

    I love the idea of redemption! It goes so nicely with my personal current theme of hope. That to each pain or tragedy, there is something to come out of it. It’s hard to see it, a lot of the time, though, isn’t it. Great idea 🙂

    • Redemption's Beauty

      All things working together for good – yes. We just need the ability to see.

  11. Jareth Caelum

    Loneliness and I are old friends. See I spent ten years in prison. The first couple of years you get lots of mail and support, but after five years all that dries up. Soon no one remembers you and you feel completely abandoned. Sure it was my own fault, there are no shortage of people reminding you of that. It was in the depths of that darkness that I found real peace. In that loneliness I found the great love of my life. Strange that in prison I found true freedom.

    • Redemption's Beauty

      Jareth, your comment really touches me. It gives hope. That God can find us anywhere, anytime. We just need eyes to see him. So glad you have found freedom and know true love. Bless you.

  12. Jennifer@GDWJ

    Mmmm… yes, scooting in close to the Lord in times of loneliness. And when I’m not lonely, I hope I don’t forget how good it is to be sitting right next to the Lord.

    So happy you’re doing this series, Shelly. I wish I could participate, but due to deadlines, I can’t. However, I will be eagerly following you Jesus-sisters as you share your stories! Love you.

    • Redemption's Beauty

      Me too Jennifer, I never want to forget what that feels like so I can be compassion for someone else. And I understand about the deadlines. I’m excited to read that book. Hope you are enjoying your time away at Laity.

  13. Morninglory

    Today’s lesson is beautiful. How difficult it is to be completely vulnerable and transparent before God and other Christians. Losing my mother recently left me feeling like an orphan, alone and depressed. Leaving my well loved career brought compounded grief that sunk my soul into despair. My daughter took me to a women’s christian conference where I met many women experiencing suffering from many wounds and torments. Praise God that even in our darkest moments, He is always with us, never leaving His children truly orphaned.

    • Redemption's Beauty

      It is difficult to be transparent, but we need to, for the sake of others. Our stories inspire redemption in others. It’s good to know we are not alone in our suffering.

  14. Lori McClure (@lorimcspeaks)

    Hmmm, I’m going to need to remember to come back for this series for sure. Thank you!

    • Redemption's Beauty

      Lori, I hope you will come by and join the conversation. It would be great to have your perspective around the table.

  15. elizabethfstewart

    I think loneliness has been my biggest struggle as a ministry wife. I look forward to reading more…

    • Redemption's Beauty

      Me too Elizabeth, definitely my biggest. I don’t even think I realized you are a ministry wife. Great to know I am in good company.

  16. aljung72

    Loneliness and and isolation…two places I don’t long to be. Even though married with two children…these are still places I visit. I so need to be thinking of how I respond to the Lord in times of loneliness. Thanks for the reminder!

    • Redemption's Beauty

      I visit them too. Especially after so many moves. Nice to meet you.

  17. suzannah | the smitten word

    i’m coming out of a lonnnnng season of this. God does use it, but i would never pick it! thanks for showing the hope.

    • Redemption's Beauty

      You are giving me hope knowing you are coming out of it. It’s been lonnnngg for me too.

  18. Kathleen Jaeger

    During a lonely season of my life, I found a verse that talked about Jesus seeking out the lonely places to pray. And so, I began to view my seasons of loneliness as a call to prayer

  19. chasingsilhouettes

    i love that you’re doing this friend. bless you.

    • Redemption's Beauty

      It’s been good Emily. Rich conversation over on the book club page.

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