I was lonely at church

ERASINGI know what it’s like to feel lonely.

Oh, I didn’t look lonely. Active in a small group, a leader in Vacation Bible School and the youth group, I never missed a church service. And Bob and I were always hosting church parties in my home complete with a legendary baked bean and coleslaw food fight that some poor woman is still probably cleaning out of the corners of that old kitchen. My life looked fun. But I was sad, and my body could not contain it anymore. Research reveals a startling negative impact of loneliness on physical health. Chronic sinus infections, migraines, and stomach problems led me to a breaking point: I found myself in a doctor’s office with a prescription for anti-depressants in hand.

That was fifteen years ago. I found my way out, and it wasn’t those pills. (Though I am thankful I had them for a short season.) Today I fellowship in a circle of authentic friendship that’s difficult to describe, but when I have someone visit they always say something like, “I really crave what you have here” or “I’ve never been in a group of authentic fellowship like this ever.” There is hope for a life of authentic intimacy and friendship in the body of Christ. Let me show you the way out.

Being lonely is not a state of alone-ness. Rather, it’s what happens in our lives when we don’t have anyone to talk to about real stuff—financial burdens, relationship problems, our failures, our fears, and our unmet dreams. And especially our sins. Oh, how impotent a church family can be when we have a deep dark secret of sin that no one knows about. Sadly, there’s a lot of that going around in the Church. We’re so busy with our successful programs and blockbuster productions, that we’ve forgotten Christ called us to broken people.

Are you lonely and broken? Here are four things you need to know.

1.) You are not alone. According to a study published in the American Sociological Review, an unprecedented number of Americans report loneliness. One out of four. The loneliest people may be in our churches. The Christian Post reports that 20-40% of people in church say they are lonely. Sociological research reveals the human threshold for true, authentic friendship is 150. (Maybe that’s why we are seeing a decline in mega-churches.) One thing is certain: you’re not the only lonely person in your church, small group, or home.

2.) Social media is making it worse. How many “friends” do you have on Facebook? Probably more than the 150 research says we can actually handle. And do the photos and posts reveal who you really are, or the best of who you are? A controlled persona with filtered photos and edited posts. A Vimeo animation called “The Innovation of Loneliness” reveals just how fickle our social media friendships really are, effectively euthanizing authentic friendship. After all, you can’t really measure non-verbals and energy to determine if a person really is having the “Best. Day. Ever.”  A University of Milwaukee-Wisconsin study revealed that as a users time on Facebook increased, so did loneliness. Might be time to push pause. (I’ve removed social media from my iPhone to limit how much time I am exposed.)

3.) There is a way out. After ten years of putting on my mask of Christian perfection, the ache became more than I could handle. I spewed my frustration at God, daring to do what C.S. Lewis and Richard Foster suggest: I brought to God what was in me, not what should be. “I don’t even like church anymore.” “My marriage stinks.” “That Bible study teacher is a fake.” (OK, this is the cleaned up version of what I barfed. I wailed at God in rage and profanity.) He heard me. And he was faithful when I was faithless. Through many hours in prayer and lamenting, he led me to a single Bible verse. “The Secret of the Lord is with them that fear him, and he makes his covenant known to them.” (Psalm 25:14) This verse has turned my world upside down!

The Secret of the Lord is a phrase difficult to translate from Hebrew. It might best be simply stated: “The people who are in friendship with God.” But the Hebrew described these people as so intimate that their friendship was like a tight, small, secret circle. The Hebrew language went on to share that what kinds of secrets they shared: failures, successes, losses, victories, deaths, disease, births, marriages and even…wait for it….their sins! Does your circle of Christian fellowship give you room to talk about your sin? After all, isn’t that the common denominator we all have as Christians?

4.) You may have to “go first.” After discovering this secret, I learned how to implement it. I wanted that circle of authentic friendship so badly that I decided to “go first” in confession my sin. One night in small group I dared to share the deepest secret of my life. It was an awkward and incomplete confession of my teenage sexual sin, which still created guilt, shame and sexual dysfunction in my marriage. Oh, how I needed freedom! That night one of the other women called me: “I had one too.” She went on to pour out a confession about an abortion. Though she’d misunderstood my clumsy confession, I knew one thing: I was not alone. Others needed what I was after and we were going to find it together.

And we did.

Do you want it? Do you want that place of authentic friendship that erases loneliness and brings you into The Secret of the Lord?

Recently, I did a workshop at an event which was small enough for women to open up and express their need for authenticity in church. One asked, “How do we get what you have?” I said, “You go first.”

Let me show you how to “go first” in The Secret of the Lord, a book I wrote on how to enter into deep authentic friendship in Christ. Though this is not my best-known book, I think it’s probably one of my best-kept secrets. The powerful truth in it can revive you spiritually and lead you to new energy and purpose. Turn your heart on to the one thing that will really satisfy: The Secret of the Lord. I promise you won’t be sorry.

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  • I am so there…honestly.
    Thank you.
    We moved from the north to the south almost 8 years ago…and well, it has just been a roller coaster ride.
    Pray as my mask is peeling off, daring to take risks…it is the kind of thing, where I know many people yet don’t really have a close friend.
    The Lord led me to read Nicky Cruz” book and I think it was called “Loneliness” 🙂 good read.

    I have taken a step of faith and obedience. Tomorrow night there will be an outdoor prayer time at the cross in our backyard. I trust the Lord will bring only those where we can grow into a tight, authentic group.

    Thanks again for your article.
    p.s. I have been a volunteer at your Crazy Girl Events…love it! And, as a displaced NYer, I love your heart for inner city…awesome!

  • Dannah,
    Just had this conversation with another sister. She’s in her 50’s and children grown. What’s sad is several other women in church are feeling the same way. No real, authentic connection to one another, therefore, lonely.

    We need help. . .

  • I am there. My Husband has been the youth leader (pastor) for over 2 years and when you suddenly find yourself the wife of any pastor or leader in your church there is a certain loneliness that happens. And I don’t think the congregation really knows they do it. But you are almost looked at as the one they have to be like and they can’t so they stay away, they may talk and chat and do surface chats but nothing deeper. It’s like your FB profile might be full of activity but your daily life is stuck at home with nowhere to go. I am there. I need to read this. And I can’t wait. I am moving soon so I am praying that a close friend that I can meet with regularly comes around. One that shares in my faith and who can in some ways relate to me (I am a mom of 3). But that deep friendship is so hard to come by and I honestly don’t know if I have ever had one ( I thought I did). Dannah, Thanks again for your ministry. It has helped in so many ways.

  • Wow, thank you for writing this! I’ve been lonely in church for such a long time. The beginning of this year one of my friends suggested that we start a women’s Bible Study group and so we did (Divine answer to my lonely heart!). There are only 6 of us and we are all from different churches. At that time two of the women were close friends of mine, a third not so close and the other two I met for the first time that first Monday night in February. Needless to say, we are all very close now and share an amazing bond. We challenge each other; we share our sins and our hurts; we edify each other and we shape each other. But that first night we were all out of place and really out of our comfort zones. The third week it was my turn to lead the Bible Study and what God laid on my heart for that night, was that “going first” action. I really experienced God using that to open the door for depth in our Bible Study and it’s really been amazing to be part of such an authentic group of young women.

    I think that we get lonely when we do not experience intimacy with people where we actually expect more than just a platonic “hello” and “goodbye”, like in a church context. It is as if there is a gap between our expectation and the reality of the situation. I believe that we were born with this God-given desire to connect with people and when it does not happen in the relevant contexts, loneliness sets in. But it’s true: God challenges us to “go first”.

    Thanks again, Dannah!

  • Hi Dannah , i know this is unrelated but since you are a mother of daughters ,
    I am 18yrs old female ,and has recently beent told by my mum “you gained weight”.This was in a negative sense . I weigh 52kg . I personally feel i possibly need to loose weight now by what my mum has said .what do you think? I love and respect my mum .But what do you think about what she has said? how do you loose weight in a healthy way? .i want to keep my curveness too . Any time have you encountered physical image issues you or yor daughters or even conflicts with eachother about it ? This is probbably quite personal to ask …

    • Hello. I need to lose a few pounds. Who doesn’t? I think the biggest thing is how do you feel? Do you feel healthy or sickly? Strong or weak? If you feel sickly or weak, start practicing some self-care. Exercise if you like food. Choose food carefully. But if you don’t feel sickly or weak maybe you’re ok just as you are. All of us have a different spot where our body likes to rest in terms of weight. As for your mum, you need to talk to her. Your spirit was impacted by the way she presented this to you and you need to talk it through. It sounds hard, but once it’s begun it will be easier than you think. Tell her how it made you feel. Tell her you want to have an open relationship. Tell her you need to know she approves of you. Just pour your heart out.

  • Hi.
    I’m a fairly new Christian, I was a practicing witch and pagan for 20+ years. The past ten years was a push pull struggle between Satan and God.
    I would feel called to church and id go but quickly feel alone and disillusioned and so slip back to my pagan ways.

    I attended many different churches including a mega church here in Australia and I just got lost in the crowd. I never managed to make any true friends no one that I could confide in and I still haven’t.
    I was alone and to be honest I still am as when I finally fully let Jesus into my life early this year all my pagan friends cut their ties with me.
    I left the mega church and continued to read my bible alone and pray, my close male friend encouraged to me to try and find another church, but i couldn’t find one i was so alone, so I clung to my good friend putting all my time and energy into him as he had supported and encouraged me to embrace Jesus fully. He found this suffocating and knew it wasn’t healthy.
    When I saw your book online I knew I needed to read it when I read the excerpt, I recognized myself in it and how my good friend was becoming my life and not Jesus, the same friend was pushing me away because he wanted me to be lost in Jesus not him. He kept telling me to spend more time with Jesus and less time with him/thinking of him. I didn’t understand this for the longest time and kept thinking he was pushing me away because he didn’t want to see me, but he was doing it for both of us.

    He did eventually invite me to his church a small uniting church, the majority of the members are elderly, but the preacher is filled with the word. I am not lost there, the preacher knows my name, and he’s even put me on the roster to read the word on Sundays.

    I am still alone, but not so much, I am settling into my new church and starting bible study with them this coming Wednesday night.

    I am nearly finished Get Lost, yes I know it’s written for younger woman but I am a 42 year old single woman who never married, and has lived a life filled with sin, I am woman who never even wanted to marry until this year, a woman who professed to dislike children especially babies but when I met Jesus it all changed, suddenly it was like scaled ripped from eyes and I wanted to marry and have a family.

    Reading get Lost led me here hoping to find some support and encouragement for older woman who needs help to get lost and not be “alone”so I am now going to start looking for a copy of the book mentioned above so I can read it as well.

    Thank you

    God bless.

    ps sorry for the rtamble

    • Your ramble is lovely. Welcome to the family of God. I’m glady ou are reading Get Lost! It is a perfect book for your heart. May you find God’s love to be enough. Press into finding it in face-to-face community not just online community. You need hugs and eye contact and physical touch of a Christian community!

  • Hello Dannah,

    I am 12 years old and in the 7th Grade. I was brought up in a very devout Christian home (and still am). I love the Lord and I know it is His will that we converse with others about our relationship with Him, and our sins like you pointed out. I also know that He wants us to help each other throughout our journey and relationship with Him.

    Well, I’ve been struggling with starting close friendships within my community. I go to a private all-girls school in Manhattan, New York. It’s non-religious, so most girls grow up in a home where religion is hereditary, not a commitment or something you have to believe. Plus, my school is located in the Upper East Side. Sure, I appreciate the multitude of resources, but I’m tired of people obsessing over their designer accessories and rooms fit for celebrities. I have some of that stuff too, but it’s not what’s important.

    The reason why I came to you was because I need help finding a friend, or friends who have the same morals and beliefs as I do. As a result of girls’ ignorance to what it means to have a commitment and strong faith, I don’t reach out a lot about my faith. Of course that doesn’t mean I don’t have friends… I have a lot, and I mean a lot. Just not people that I would imagine keeping in touch with years and years after college. It’s also because boundaries are absent and weren’t put up by their parents; who were grown up with similar privileges and perception on the bubble of a life that they live called luxury. What’s worse is right and wrong are blended together and compromised. To sum it all up, if my life just around and at school were a TV show, I would rate it TV PG (nearly TV-14) DL.

    So, I need help. How would you suggest that I grow a relationship with a group of people–most likely members of my church (The Brooklyn Tabernacle)–that are around my age?

    One more thing, I chose not to go to BT Kids; basically, a smaller branch of Brooklyn Tab directed for kids. I preferred the adult sermons, and still do, but I am starting to regret my decision. Once I’m 13 (in June) I won’t be able to go. I might have shut the door to a chance to make God fearing friends that are my aging going through the same challenges: Budding teens, approaching the last year of junior high, navigating through peer-pressure, self-consciousness, trying to get outstanding grades, and not forgetting God in the midst of it.

    Thanks for hearing me out. I appreciate anyone’s commentary.
    God bless!

    • Ria, you may be one of the most articulate and mature 12 year olds who has ever written to me. That letter is outstanding. You sound like you are mature enough to hear this so let me be honest: friendship can be a lonely lot in life! It seems that much of our need for community is met in church, but some of it is always just not enough. I say that only so you know you are not alone! You and I and so many others struggle with finding depth of friendship.

      Here’s what I advice in your case. Since you go to a school where others don’t share your faith, it is critical to press into rich Christian community at other points in your week. If BT Kids is not the right fit, you might go to the BT Kids director (Amy, who is a friend of mine) and ask her for some advice. She may be able to plug you into youth group where you may find a better maturity and fit for you!

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