The end of month four of unemployment brought something I wasn’t expecting.
I was lonely.
You see, as an introvert, I like to recharge alone … but one of my strengths is “relator,” so I like to be in relationship too. What’s surprising is that I wasn’t lonely sooner than month four!
At that point, I was working at my church one day a week and consulting with one client. I’d been busy with some work trips and visiting family back in Chicago, so I was still constantly on the go.
Very few people who are close to me saw the loneliness. When I was with people I wasn’t lonely, so how could anyone see it? But one day I confided in a pastor at my church. I made two fists and said, “I feel like I’m just holding it all together.” It was like the pressure behind the dam was about to force it open. I didn’t know what was there or what could happen if I let go, and I didn’t want anyone to be aware of or negatively affected by my current emotional condition.
I knew something was up when I found myself waking up and crying. I went to bed crying. I cried when I saw commercials of people having a neighborhood BBQ! I didn’t have deep thoughts attached to the tears; I knew I was loved by God and people. I had been enjoying walks with God and extended quiet times. But all of a sudden, I was sad all the time and felt as if I had to hide it. I didn’t tell anyone because I didn’t know what to say. Nothing was wrong. I blamed it on hormones. I blamed it on transition. I blamed it on spiritual warfare.
Before I proceed, let me tell you what this post is not about. I am not addressing depression or self-inflicted isolation. This is about a season when I was reaching out and yet found myself alone. I believe there is divine purpose in it.
If you are in a season like that, I encourage you to give yourself permission to do a few things. I wish someone had said these things to me.
Reach out: Let someone who has the ability to help know you are in need.
I met with that pastor and shared how I was feeling. She listened. We spent hours seeking God and praying together. I needed to find freedom from past hurts and wounds. I needed to be heard by someone who wouldn’t judge me. I needed to be validated. I needed to be encouraged. It may be different for you, but I had stopped seeing my gifts and what I had to offer another employer. Completely unaware, I had started the slow decline toward giving up—not only in applying for jobs, but also in relationships. I needed someone safe to go on that journey with me—someone who could see what God sees in me. God wanted to go deep, and He gave me someone to hold my hand on the way to revealing my heart and hearing His.
Scripture says we are to have fellowship with one another. There is no shame in needing other people. In a season of uncertainty, it’s easy to put on a happy face and pretend everything is great because you need a job and everything is about networking. It’s hard to allow yourself to be real. I mean, who wants to hire someone who’s near the edge or off her rocker, right? But the more you push down your feelings and don’t process what is going on, the more your spirit gets out of touch with the Holy Spirit. Don’t quench Him. Find those people who offer trusted, wise, godly counsel and do the ugly cry if you have to. By reaching out you may find out that you need to wait it out with God. But it needs to get out.
Find out: Stop letting activity mask the area that God is trying to heal.
Month 1-4, I kept busy. I was still learning to say no, but I hadn’t mastered it yet. I needed to stop doing and start being, but the minute I started being, I felt things I didn’t want to feel … like loneliness. I think God allowed me to feel that so I’d sense Him calling me to the deep places of Himself. My desire was to be known, and God wanted to show me how He knew me. No other love matches the awareness of how well God knows you! In His pursuit of me, I learned more of who He is. To know and be known—it’s awesome!
You can go about life as if you are driving a familiar route. You pass many things on your way but never stop to look. Imagine the city putting in a new stoplight. You’ve sped by that spot every day, and then all of a sudden you have nothing to do but look around and see what has always been there. In that same way, let God show you things at this stopping point. Let Him address the loneliness and show you the root of it. Be willing to hurt a bit. God’s not intimidated by it. He’s not disappointed in you because of it. But because of the pain that draws you to God, He will show you great and mysterious things you do not know! Just remember activity is just a Band-Aid and is not meant for deep wounds that need God’s healing touch.
Wait it out: New relationships are shallow; deep relationships take time to build.
In that season, I started a lot of new relationships and lost a lot of old relationships. I didn’t have built-in local community because I had worked and traveled so much before. I reached out to new people and found I wasn’t on their radar for speedy follow-up. Those I had worked with went on with their lives, and I wasn’t a part of their circle of life anymore. I didn’t have any family in the area and I’m not married. So I had to change my thinking. It was as if I’d just moved to town, and it was going to take time.
If you find yourself in this type of transition, be kind to yourself. You are not alone. You are not forgotten. Be forgiving of others; they don’t know you are alone most of the time. There is one relationship that has been waiting to go deeper with you. God has been waiting for you to slow down and hang out with Him. He told me, “Jill, I’m at your house whenever you are ready to sit and chat.” The bridegroom is in your house! Why are you running around ignoring him?
Get it out: Crying out to God is not admission of defeat.
On more than one occasion, I cried out to God, saying, “I’m just alone all the time, but I don’t want to be a burden to anyone.” (This is hard for me to write because it’s deeply personal. I’m not an overly private person, but I do keep certain cries of my heart to myself.) I didn’t consider myself a needy person, but I was starting to feel like one, and I didn’t want to turn people off.
Here’s what God revealed to me. First, the idea that I’d be a burden to anyone is a lie from the enemy. Second, God made me for fellowship (but I was alone). When I cried out to God, lies and truth were revealed. Crying out to God uncovers what’s in your heart. It needs to be exposed so God can shed his light on the problem, and it brought me into intimacy with Him. I was comforted; I knew His mercy and kindness like never before. By saying “I need people,” I declared who God made me to be. I agreed with God. I prayed for the fulfillment of His promises. He loves that.
At times of loneliness, the temptation is to isolate yourself and not bother anyone. First, it’s okay to be in a season where God draws you to Himself. Take advantage of it! Second, the enemy wants to isolate you to make you vulnerable to temptation and sin. Don’t let him take advantage of you! Find the balance. But cry out to God like David in Psalm 25:16: “Lord, turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted. The troubles of my heart are multiplied; bring me out of my distresses.”
It’s important to share with people who are going through a transition or a time of loneliness that your circumstances (or your bad response to circumstances) does not define you. One bad moment (or several) doesn’t label you; it won’t be on your resume. You are not less than you were before your circumstances changed. You are not less loved or valued. You are not less talented or smart. You are not lacking. You are not alone.
Because of that season of loneliness, I found greater strength and joy. I’m walking with a fuller presence of God. If you hang with me … prepare to be blessed (okay, a shameless plug for new friends).
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