I know what it's like to feel lonely.
Oh, I didn't look lonely. Active in a small group, a leader in Vacation Bible School and the youth group, I never missed a church service. And Bob and I were always hosting church parties in my home complete with a legendary baked bean and coleslaw food fight that some poor woman is still probably cleaning out of the corners of that old kitchen. My life looked fun. But I was sad, and my body could not contain it anymore. Research reveals a startling negative impact of loneliness on physical health. Chronic sinus infections, migraines, and stomach problems led me to a breaking point: I found myself in a doctor's office with a prescription for anti-depressants in hand.
That was fifteen years ago. I found my way out, and it wasn't those pills. (Though I am thankful I had them for a short season.) Today I fellowship in a circle of authentic friendship that's difficult to describe, but when I have someone visit they always say something like, "I really crave what you have here" or "I've never been in a group of authentic fellowship like this ever." There is hope for a life of authentic intimacy and friendship in the body of Christ. Let me show you the way out.
Being lonely is not a state of alone-ness. Rather, it's what happens in our lives when we don't have anyone to talk to about real stuff—financial burdens, relationship problems, our failures, our fears, and our unmet dreams. And especially our sins. Oh, how impotent a church family can be when we have a deep dark secret of sin that no one knows about. Sadly, there's a lot of that going around in the Church. We're so busy with our successful programs and blockbuster productions, that we've forgotten Christ called us to broken people.
Are you lonely and broken? Here are four things you need to know.
1.) You are not alone. According to a study published in the American Sociological Review, an unprecedented number of Americans report loneliness. One out of four. The loneliest people may be in our churches. The Christian Post reports that 20-40% of people in church say they are lonely. Sociological research reveals the the human threshold for true, authentic friendship is 150. (Maybe that's why we are seeing a decline in mega-churches.) One thing is certain: you're not the only lonely person in your church, small group, or home.
2.) Social media is making it worse. How many "friends" do you have on Facebook? Probably more than the 150 research says we can actually handle. And do the photos and posts reveal who you really are, or the best of who you are? A controlled persona with filtered photos and edited posts. A Vimeo animation called "The Innovation of Loneliness" reveals just how fickle our social media friendships really are, effectively euthanizing authentic friendship. After all, you can't really measure non-verbals and energy to determine if a person really is having the "Best. Day. Ever." A University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee study revealed that as a users time on Facebook increased, so did loneliness. Might be time to push pause. (I've removed social media from my iPhone to limit how much time I am exposed.)
3.) There is a way out. After ten years of putting on my mask of Christian perfection, the ache became more than I could handle. I spewed my frustration at God, daring to do what C.S. Lewis and Richard Foster suggest: I brought to God what was in me, not what should be. "I don't even like church anymore." "My marriage stinks." "That Bible study teacher is a fake." (OK, this is the cleaned up version of what I barfed. I wailed at God in rage and profanity.) He heard me. And he was faithful when I was faithless. Through many hours in prayer and lamenting, he led me to a single Bible verse. "The Secret of the Lord is with them that fear him, and he makes his covenant known to them." (Psalm 25:14) This verse has turned my world upside down!
The Secret of the Lord is a phrase difficult to translate from Hebrew. It might best be simply stated: "The people who are in friendship with God." But the Hebrew described these people as so intimate that their friendship was like a tight, small, secret circle. The Hebrew language went on to share that what kinds of secrets they shared: failures, successes, losses, victories, deaths, disease, births, marriages and even...wait for it....their sins! Does your circle of Christian fellowship give you room to talk about your sin? After all, isn't that the common denominator we all have as Christians?
4.) You may have to "go first." After discovering this secret, I learned how to implement it. I wanted that circle of authentic friendship so badly that I decided to "go first" in confession my sin. One night in small group I dared to share the deepest secret of my life. It was an awkward and incomplete confession of my teenage sexual sin, which still created guilt, shame and sexual dysfunction in my marriage. Oh, how I needed freedom! That night one of the other women called me: "I had one too." She went on to pour out a confession about an abortion. Though she'd misunderstood my clumsy confession, I knew one thing: I was not alone. Others needed what I was after and we were going to find it together.
And we did.
Do you want it? Do you want that place of authentic friendship that erases loneliness and brings you into The Secret of the Lord?
Recently, I did a workshop at an event which was small enough for women to open up and express their need for authenticity in church. One asked, "How do we get what you have?" I said, "You go first."
Let me show you how to "go first" in The Secret of the Lord, a book I wrote on how to enter into deep authentic friendship in Christ. Though this is not my best-known book, I think it's probably one of my best-kept secrets. The powerful truth in it can revive you spiritually and lead you to new energy and purpose. Turn your heart on to the one thing that will really satisfy: The Secret of the Lord. I promise you won't be sorry.