“How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts, and have sorrow in my heart all day long?” – Psalms 13:1-2
Spiritual loneliness is an experience we’d like to avoid because we feel excluded, punished, and abandoned by God. Still, there are times when we all experience that strange inner gnawing or hunger, that unsettling unrest that makes us say, O God, where are you? Few struggles are as acute as our soul’s search for God. We so desperately want His attention as we grope for answers, support, and relief.
You might have felt it when your prayers went unanswered, making God seem remote and uncaring. You may have felt it when you heard a friend’s experience of God’s presence in ways you’ve longed for, but never had. You might have felt it when your attempt to hold on to a word or promise from the Lord was not enough to keep you from acting out. You likely felt it when your sin separated you from God and the experience of His grace.
So what can we do? Spiritual loneliness is maintained by passivity, so it’s important that you get up and do something about it. Here are some things to consider.
Connect with others. Spiritual loneliness is a problem of relationships. People who feel like God is distant usually disconnect with others because a part of their soul is hidden, isolated, and lost. So the commands to love God and others as ourselves are not being realized. 1 John 4:20 says we can’t love God whom we haven’t seen if we don’t love others whom we have seen. So begin with the deficiencies in your relationship with others. Find out where you’re hiding from relationships and seek to connect with others. In the process God will find you and restore the connections.
Draw near to God. Though God may at times remove His presence to develop our faith, it is usually us that has moved, not God. Richard Foster says that ‘God aches over our distance and mourns that we do not draw near to him. He grieves that we have forgotten him. He longs for our presence’ (Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home, p. 1). So, draw near to God and he will draw near to you. (James 4:4)
Listen to what God is saying. Embrace this time as an opportunity for listening prayer. Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed. (Luke 5:16) Be intentional. Like Jacob, seek the blessing that comes from a spiritual battle fought alone. (Gen. 32:26) Turn off the radio, TV, cell phone, pager, PDA, fax machine, computer, and take time to listen. Reflect on what is happening to you. God will meet you and speak to your heart.
Focus on who God is. He is with you. God has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Heb. 13:5) He knows what you’re going through because He has been there too. Jesus experienced a painful spiritual loneliness at Calvary when God forsook him for a time. So, “we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathized with our weakness, but one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are ‘ yet without sin.” (Heb. 4:15) God cares about you. Knowing would be empty if God did not also care with His concrete love. “He will deliver the needy who cry out, the afflicted who have no one to help.” (Ps. 72:12) “Cast all your cares upon Him, because He cares for you.” (1 Pet. 5:7)
Tell God how you feel. Our honest, candid complaint to God leads to a more authentic relationship with Him. Prayer is not about “theological correctness,” but about a real relationship in real life with a real God who really wants to know the real you. Pious words will not fool the One who knows the attitude of our hearts. Thus, Job cried out: I can’t be quiet! I am angry and bitter: I have to speak!’ (Job 7:11)
Take control of your mind. It takes an inner determination and discipline of spirit to take the reins of your mind, speak to your situation, and choose to praise God. The psalmist repetitively did this: “Why are you so downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God.” (Psalm 42:4, 11; 43:5)