Let Not Your Walk Be Lonely

As Webster defines it: "the quality or state of being without company."
As you or I might define it: "the feeling of isolation and emptiness when faced with a task or situation."

Believe me, I know that feeling. Some of the loneliest times during my 31 years of pastoral ministry occurred when the heaviness of the moment seemed to rest on my shoulders, when it seemed I was the only one who could make the decision. And, sometimes, I didn't know what to do either.

I am sure, for example, that most of you who read this have felt loneliness when, for some reason, a parishioner rejected your love and decided to walk away. Most of us have stood beside the bed of a terminally ill child or young adult and felt the burden of their mortality. We wanted to do something — anything — to change the outcome, but could only stand helplessly and watch and pray.

Then there are the times when loneliness occurs because of personal failure. We say the wrong thing. We do not fully count the cost of our decisions or actions. We attempt to mend a wound, but find out too late we can't.

And, of course, we often experience loneliness as we travel our own spiritual pilgrimages, frequently feeling estranged from the God we love so much. Our prayers seem hollow, the Word does not radiate and our message to those around us is tepid at best.

The issue is not so much whether we will become lonely. That is a given. It happens to us all. The real question is what we do when we are lonely?

The issue is not so much whether we will become lonely. That is a given. It happens to us all. The real question is what we do when we are lonely?

Here are some guidelines that I have used during my ministry and continue to use. They have helped me clarify the cause of my loneliness and have often led me out of it.

  • Examine the events, motives and attitudes that have led to loneliness. Have you considered all aspects of your circumstances? Is there any selfishness on your part?
  • Determine whether you should share your condition with a significant spiritual brother or sister. There are times when we find solace in our own pain. We take an odd comfort in believing things are more difficult than we can be expected to handle. Often, by sharing our need with a trusted friend, a whole new perspective emerges.
  • Get away for a while. Perhaps you need to put everything aside and take a walk, hit a golf ball or go for a ride — anything that will cause a diversion and take your mind off of yourself and the issue at hand.
  • Rest. We all know fatigue can cause us to see life through windows that are cloudy and frightening. Are you getting enough rest? What if you could just sleep for one whole day? I know it's not very easy, but an occasional "sick day" does work wonders.
  • Allow the Lord to provide the comfort He desires to shower upon you. Use devotional readings or inspirational music to facilitate His soothing to your soul. In some of my darkest times, a song or a beautiful chorus has proven to be just the tonic I needed to keep on keeping on.
  • Review and modify your spiritual habits. Have you neglected your time alone with Him? One of the great fears I have as a pastor to pastors is that I will see myself or any one of my colleagues walk into the battlefield of spiritual warfare without the necessary protection to stand firm when the enemy attacks.

There will be times of loneliness and isolation in your life, but they need not cause you damage that cannot be altered. The psalmist has written, "Hear my cry, O God; listen to my prayer. From the ends of the earth I call to you, I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I. For you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the foe" (Psalm 61:1-3, NIV). May that be your prayer as well.

Taken from Pastor to Pastor newsletter, May/Jun 1999.
Article copyright © 1999, Focus on the Family.
All rights reserved. International copyright secured.

Dr. H.B. London is the vice president of Pastoral Ministries for Focus on the Family and the author of numerous books on and for pastors. He served as a Nazarene pastor for over 30 years in several churches in Oregon and California. He and his wife, Beverley, live primarily in Colorado Springs, Colo., and have two sons and four grandchildren.