5 Myths and Truths in Loneliness

I'm amazed at how significant human loneliness is to the triune God

Aloneness isn’t just important to our triune God; it’s central to his design for our dealings with each other and with him. Nor is loneliness simply a result of personal choices or the world’s groaning under sin. Before the fall in Genesis 3, God proclaims, “It is not good for man to be alone” even as he evaluates his sin-free world.

 

Having been an ordained minister for 32 years and licensed psychologist for 18, I (Gary Barnes) have had the privilege of being entrusted with many personal stories of loneliness. As individuals from all walks of life have opened up with their struggles, I’ve been deeply affected from two different directions. From a psychological perspective, I’ve been struck by the depth of pain humans encounter in their experience of loneliness. And from a theological perspective, I’ve been amazed at how significant human loneliness is to the triune God.

This dilemma has taken on fresh importance as it’s become intertwined in the debate over same-sex marriage. Difficulties in interaction are especially pronounced with the exchange of religious and theological arguments. My aim here is not to “win” an argument over same-sex marriage. My hope is to move us all from debate to dialogue, particularly as it relates to the vital issue of loneliness.

Here are five popular myths that heighten loneliness for us all.

Myth #1: Loneliness is a result of something bad, and therefore no one should have to experience it.

Truth #1: Even before sin entered human experience, God described loneliness as “not good,” yet he used it to bring about a greater good. 

Aloneness isn’t just important to our triune God; it’s central to his design for our dealings with each other and with him. Nor is loneliness simply a result of personal choices or the world’s groaning under sin. Before the fall in Genesis 3, God proclaims, “It is not good for man to be alone” even as he evaluates his sin-free world. In infinite wisdom, then, God created a perfect human being incomplete on purpose.

In his book Fill These HeartsChristopher West refers to this as a “burning yearning” desire meant to drive us to God’s design so we’d experience our eternal destiny with him: “The yearning of eros reveals that we are incomplete, and that we are in search of another to make ‘sense’ of ourselves.” In Genesis 2 God ordains the marriage of male and female as another aspect of his design for our aloneness. Yet he never designed marriage to fulfill the incompleteness or eradicate the aloneness. Rather, it more fully reveals our need for our ultimate destiny—to be in union with him.

Myth #2: Loneliness is a result of singleness, a second-class transitional stage of life on the way to the first-class state of marriage.

Truth #2: Loneliness isn’t a result of singleness. Single and married are equal and necessary image bearers of God. Blessings of fullness and contentment (though not full completeness) are to be experienced in both states.

Neither marriage nor singleness should be deified or deprecated. Marriage and singleness reflect the love of God in different and necessary ways. While spouses reflect the exclusive nature of God’s love, singles in community reflect its inclusive nature. We don’t exist as isolated inviduals. Sexuality and bonding are part of relationships. As Stanley Grenz explains in Sexual Ethics:

This relationship between sexuality and bonding is present in single existence as well, even though the sex act as the “sacrament” of the bond is absent. . . . Single Christians, therefore, who because of their abstinence from genital sexual expression are often in touch with their affective sexuality, have a unique ministry of love to offer in service to the Lord within the fellowship of the community of Christ.

Myth #3: We can avoid loneliness by getting married. 

Truth #3: Loneliness can be equally experienced in singleness or marriage. In fact, many can feel more alone in their marriage than they did in their singleness. 

Even a great sense of satisfaction in marriage or singleness will reveal remaining unsatisfaction. As Augustine reminds us in his famous prayer, “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find rest in you.” We have a God-wired incompleteness only he can fill. Yet sin causes us to exacerbate our loneliness and dissatisfaction by trying to fill this God-shaped vacuum with substitutes.

Psychological research yields “discovered truths” confirming this “revealed truth.” In Evidence Based Practices for Christian Counseling and Psychotherapy, which examines the outcomes in individuals and relationships, Scott Stanley and I (Gary Barnes) report on more than 30 years of scholarship in the field of marital health and success. The two primary variables considered are stability and satisfaction. Those in the stable and satisfied group are aiming to help each other grow and to protect “differentiated unity” or “oneness not based in sameness.” In other words, outcomes aren’t so much about finding the right person as they are about being the right person who makes right choices over time.

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