Recently, I was told of a story of a missionary woman, who eventually packed up and went home after years of serving the Lord on the field. In those moments when things quieted down and she’d be given ample time to breathe and recover from the daily demands of ministry, she would find herself sitting on a bench at the community park outside her apartment building. As twilight fades into the night, in a secluded spot where dog-walkers, children and passersby wouldn’t see her, tears would quietly rush down her eyes as she stares up into the starlit skies. No words are spoken. There’s no way to verbalize the gnawing emptiness within. Questions rush through her mind, until one final thought settles—one word to summarize it all: Why?

She was just one among many who have answered God’s call to the nations, only to be faced by one of the most glaring indications of our human condition: loneliness.

Loneliness is not a phenomenon exclusive to people on the mission field, but I believe that it’s one of the reasons why we can find such disheartening statistics regarding missionary attrition.

Loneliness is not a phenomenon exclusive to people on the mission field, but I believe that it’s one of the reasons why we can find such disheartening statistics regarding missionary attrition.

Loneliness is magnified on the mission field, especially when involved in cross-cultural missions. We are in a foreign country, away from family, away from little luxuries and comforts that we are used to. Most likely, we are surrounded by people speaking a language that is not our own. We don’t have the same strong support structure that we would have back home.

Some face culture shock. Others face racial discrimination.

It’s not easy.

I’ve personally struggled with loneliness many times since I stepped foot on the mission field. Like a deep hollowness carved into my soul, loneliness has gotten me desperate and scrambling for something—anything—to fill the gap. In my mind, I knew that Jesus was more than enough to fill that emptiness, but the knowledge alone did not satisfy.

I ran to television or games or people. I ran to things that distracted me enough to forget that I was lonely. And there were times when I ran to God, only to be like that woman sitting on a park bench, surrounded by people, but hopelessly alone, looking up into the heavens, asking, Why?

Can God not satisfy this deep longing for connection?

He does. We know He does. I know He does.

But there were certain things about loneliness that I needed to learn before I could overcome the negative effects it had on me. The following is what I’ve learned so far:

1. Loneliness is not a sin

This may be obvious to some, but it wasn’t for me. The reason is that my loneliness often morphed into depression, and then into self-pity, which is, I believe, an affront to a God who has blessed me with so many things; who has given me so many reasons to be grateful.

Loneliness can cause us to sin. We may be tempted to run to sin in order to try and “cure” our loneliness, but in and of itself, it is not a sin. Rather, it’s a symptom of our humanness, a symptom of our broken connection to God. It is an indication of our need for Him.

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2. Loneliness is a call to intimacy

In her book, The Path of Loneliness, Elisabeth Elliot writes:

“Pain, as C.S. Lewis said, is God’s megaphone (“He whispers to us in our joys, speaks to us in our conscience, and shouts to us in our pain”). The pain of loneliness is one way in which He wants to get our attention.”

The mission field is a place that pushes you to draw straight from the Source, to be able to find spiritual feeding through your relationship with God rather than your relationship with others. I hope you don’t mistake that statement as me saying that you won’t be able to draw strength from fellow Christians on the field, but as I’ve mentioned above, lacking the support system that may be accessible to you back home, oftentimes, that aching loneliness is a sign that you need more time in His presence.

 

3. Loneliness can be turned into incense

Loneliness is something that you lay at His feet. Elliot calls it “material for sacrifice”. I sometimes wonder if it’s the thorn in my flesh, something that I would have to live with all my life, and just proclaim God’s sufficiency for me. Whether that is true or not, if loneliness brings me to His feet, if it attunes me to His heart and allows me to see things from his perspective, then I will embrace this loneliness, simply because it allows Him to make beauty out of the sacrifice’s ashes.

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4. I Can Never be as Lonely as Jesus was on the Cross

I don’t think I will ever be able to fully understand what it was like when Jesus hung on that cross, and the severing of His connection with the Father. In that moment, He carried all the pain, all the shame, all the sin of the world, and He lost the one connection He needed to carry that immense weight. The Father forsook Him. If that isn’t loneliness, I don’t know what is.

Meanwhile, you and I were promised that we would never be left nor forsaken. Never. He watches us, holds us, embraces us. He is weaving together an eternal, intricate, beautiful pattern of which you and I are important threads interwoven with other souls, forming the fabric of earth’s history.

We hold promise after promise that God makes all things beautiful in His time, and that loneliness won’t always be the standard; that every winter has its spring and every night has its dawn.

 

4-Truths-To-Help-Overcome-Loneliness-On-The-Mission-Field

“God makes a home for the lonely…” — Psalm 68:6

Loneliness is rampant on the mission field, and while human connection provides balm to the ache, loneliness is really just a signpost pointing to God, how much we need Him, and how all-sufficient He is. I don’t know where you are right now, and what your battle with loneliness is like, but know that He is more than enough.
Always.

 

See this post at withinreachglobal.org

David Joannes
Founder/President at Within Reach Global
David Joannes is the co-founder and president of Within Reach Global, Inc, which serves the advance of the Gospel in some of Southeast Asia’s most difficult places. He is the author of The Space Between Memories: Recollections from a 21st Century Missionary. David has a love for language, culture, and creative writing, and for the last 20 years, he has witnessed God’s Kingdom established in forgotten parts of the globe. David lives in Chiang Mai, Thailand, with his wife, Lorna, and their daughter, Cara.
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