Loneliness in Ministry, Part 2: Four Things Loneliness Taught Me about Friendship
You can read part one here, if you missed it.
The beauty of life is that every challenge brings a gift, and every trial produces growth.
Well, that is the potential of life, anyway.
How we choose to respond to those challenges and trials determines whether or not we learn and grow.
Honestly, I would always choose ease over struggles. Sunshine over the fog of disappointment, or the emotional darkness of loneliness and fear.
But I wouldn’t trade the fruit of those struggles for all the ease in the world, and that perspective carries me through the trials of today.
Because there are always trials of some sort.
And that, my friends, means there can always be growth and grace. 🙂
Here are four things loneliness (particularly loneliness in ministry) has taught me about friendships, about life, and about the eternal potential of both.
1. Loneliness is not just circumstantial; it is a state of the heart.
I have felt alone in a crowd.
In a family.
In my marriage. As any honest wife will admit, loneliness can exist in a marriage to a good man. Even a pastor (and that’s a topic for another day).
At it’s core, loneliness is a state of the heart.
It is not merely the absence of friends or mutual understanding or someone to share life with. Those are the circumstances of loneliness.
But the power of loneliness to conquer and control our souls, that is a choice we can embrace or reject.
I may not have the power to cultivate close and fulfilling relationships at any given time in my life, but every moment of my life-
including the one I am living right now-
I have the God-given power to cultivate a full and radiant soul.
When I embraced responsibility for the state of my heart and attitudes, giving in to the negativity of loneliness was no longer an option. The Holy Spirit gently reminded me (over and over and over) that God has provided everything- everything- I need to walk in joy.
“Blessed be the Lord, who daily loadeth us with benefits, even the God of our salvation.” Psalm 68:19
For many years, loneliness was a state of heart I carried with me into every new situation, every new circumstance, and every new relationship. Because life is never ideal. And-
2. There is no perfect friend.
I shared in yesterday’s post that I always nurtured this little pet expectation that life would some day bring me “the perfect friend.” A kindred spirit who would be able to take away that persistent ache within that longed for understanding.
I’m not suggesting that these types of friends do not exist! Thank God for honest, loyal, and understanding friends.
I am absolutely suggesting that as long as I nurtured the expectation of “that friend” appearing in my life so that I could finally be happy, I remained unhappy and lonely.
My life has been blessed with many friends over the years; some near, some far away, some very like-minded, some as different and challenging as anyone could be.
Not one of those friends has ever been the perfect friend.
No one has ever never disappointed me. No one has ever always understood me. Not my family. Not my husband. Not my mentors. No one.
And, guess what? I have never been the perfect friend to anyone else, either.
We are all fallible, broken, limited humans with a great capacity to love, but also to misunderstand, to judge, to mess up.
The moment I stopped expecting another human to satisfy every need in my life is the moment I ceased living in a constant state of disappointment.
Let humans be humans.
Only God can be God in your life.
3. Takers are always empty on the inside.
A very dear friend and mentor of mine, Carol Martin, always said, “There are really only two kinds of people in the world: givers and takers. Which are you?”
The first time I heard her ask this, I knew exactly which one I tend to be: I’m a taker. I think most of us, in our honest moments, would have to confess that we tend to be takers.
We are generally very aware of our needs, our trials, our disappointments with life, and it simply stands to reason that surely someone, somewhere, should be responsible for meeting those needs.
Over the years, I’ve come to a few conclusions by observing others’ lives, including this:
People who expect others to meet their needs (takers) are pretty much always dissatisfied and unhappy with life.
Because only God can truly fill all the holes and gaps in any human heart.
Friendship is a beautiful thing. Love and marriage and children and ministry and home and mutual understanding with like-minded people are all beautiful things.
But I noticed that not one of those things ever made me feel truly fulfilled deep in my soul. Never took away “the ache.”
Well, because I was reaching with empty hands, waiting for life to fill me up.
And it never did. Because it can’t.
4. Friendship is a gift I can give without expecting anything in return.
I told you in yesterday’s post that I spent a lot of my early years waiting for others to reach out to me. To befriend me. To break the ice. To sense my need for friendship and invest in my life so I could feel accepted, safe, and appreciated.
I was a taker.
People disappointed me a lot. Sometimes women didn’t reach out when I needed them to, and that hurt. Many times, when I did reach out women failed to reciprocate. And that hurt.
I don’t know how or when it happened- although I do know the seeds were planted in my heart by a godly, older friend (mentor) God graciously sent into my life-
but somehow I learned to reach out to others instead of always waiting for someone to reach out to me.
I learned to give of my time and myself without expecting women to give back.
I’m not talking about anything huge and spiritual and amazing, ladies. Just very real and simple and practical:
- I can offer a warm smile to anyone, even if she seems so perfect she’s way out of my league. Even if she doesn’t smile back (but most of the time, she will!).
- I can push myself way out of my introvert comfort zone and start a conversation with someone I don’t know. This takes a lot of intentional effort on my part, I’ll be honest!
- I can overlook an offense or a friend’s bad hair day. We all have them- bad hair days, I mean. Like I said, when I quit expecting my friends to be perfect I starting liking them a lot more! 🙂
And above all things have fervent love among yourselves: for love shall cover a multitude of sins. I Peter 4:8
- I can take a girl friend out for coffee. Why wait for someone to invite me? I have eyes and ears; I can see a birthday coming, or notice when a friend seems down or discouraged. I can seize the opportunity to offer a listening ear and a treat at a local coffee shop. Such a small investment that brings very rich rewards.
I could devote an entire post to this topic of investing in others without expectations… and maybe we’ll talk about it again soon.
I’ll wrap things up today with this thought:
If you’re struggling with loneliness, seek to be the kind of friend you wish you had. Then leave the results with God.
His love and presence in your life are the only things that will bring lasting fulfillment and joy, anyway.
God is able to enrich your life with more of His goodness and blessings (both spiritual and material) than you ever imagined.
Trust His ways and His timing!
I would never choose the ache of loneliness, and I know you wouldn’t either.
But it has shaped me, pushed me, made me think honest thoughts about myself and about life.
Maybe, in some strange way, loneliness has been an even greater gift in my life than friendship? That’s an interesting thought.
What has loneliness taught you about life? About God? About yourself?
Kristy Howard is a pastor’s wife, second-generation homeschooling mom of five, and a passionate believer in friendship, coffee, and quiet time! Kristy writes about motherhood, ministry and life at KristysCottage.com.