Lydia Brownback offers biblical encouragement for women to help them see how God can redeem seasons of loneliness and draw them to the only true and lasting remedy: union with Jesus.
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About the Author
Lydia Brownback(MAR, Westminster Theological Seminary) is the author of several books and a speaker at women’s conferences around the world. Her books include the On-the-Go Devotionals for women;Finding God in My Loneliness;andSing a New Song.
Read an Excerpt
Finding God in My Loneliness
By Lydia Brownback
Good News PublishersCopyright © 2017 Lydia Brownback
All rights reserved.
Treasuring the Wrong Treasure
"I can't seem to make my life work," Lanie complained to her friend. "I've spent years trying, but I can't find what I'm looking for."
And it's true. Over the past decade Lanie has started her life over three separate times in three different states — new job, new church, new friends, new home. Well-meaning loved ones tell her what's missing is a husband. All she needs, they say, is a man to love and settle down with. But Lanie has had opportunities for marriage, so in her case that just isn't it.
Lanie can't explain what exactly isn't working in her life, although a pattern is clear. After a few years in a particular place, she gets a sense that something is missing, and a restlessness sets in; so in an attempt to obtain that missing something, she starts everything over again. The pattern has become a cycle — a vicious cycle — because wherever she goes, inevitably there is something missing. Lanie doesn't connect that missing thing with loneliness, but it is there, and it adds to the viciousness of the cycle. Every time she uproots, she intensifies her loneliness.
So what is Lanie's chief problem, and what is her real need?
The Loneliness of Freedom
A major contributor to Lanie's loneliness is, surprisingly, freedom. Never before has it been easier for women to pick up and go. Women today are well equipped; we've got financial investments, cutting-edge modes of transportation, and sophisticated street smarts. But the reality is that so much freedom can actually increase our loneliness. Today, because we no longer have to stay in one place and do life with the people also staying in this place, we don't make commitments. After all, why commit if we don't have to? Why risk getting stuck in undesirable circumstances, perhaps missing the fulfillment that lies right around the next bend in the road? But this view of freedom — the one thrown at us from everywhere today — actually robs us of the very thing it promises. In earlier eras, when there was less freedom, people made commitments — t o a marriage, a job, a place — because they had no other options. And if you do some digging, you'll likely discover across the societal board that loneliness was less pronounced then, when people committed just because their choices were so limited.
Today we can all too easily follow what Barry Cooper calls the "god of open options." He writes:
The god of open options is a cruel and vindictive god. He will break your heart. He will not let anyone get too close. But at the same time, because he is so spiteful, he will not let anyone get too far away because that would mean they are no longer an option. On and on it continues, exhausting and frustrating and confusing and endless, pulling towards and then pushing away, like the tide on a beach, never finally committing one way or the other. We have been like the starving man sitting in front of an all-you-can-eat buffet, dying simply because he would not choose between the chicken and the shrimp. The god of open options is also a liar. He promises you that by keeping your options open, you can have everything and everyone. But in the end, you get nothing and no one.
Finding Our Life
This sort of thing has definitely contributed to Lanie's loneliness. But the root of it is even simpler than that. Take a closer look at Lanie's dominant refrain: "I can't seem to make my life work." Who is she focused on? Who is she living for? It's all there to see: Lanie has been living for Lanie. But are we — you and I — really that much different? Chronic loneliness and a sense of ongoing restlessness can be tipoffs that we're more like Lanie than we've realized. We, along with Lanie, need to see that whenever our primary pursuit is self-fulfillment, we're sure to miss it. Conversely, if we pursue Christ above all, we'll find what we've been restless for all along. Self-seeking breeds loneliness; self-forgetfulness breeds fullness. It's what Jesus was getting at when he said, "Whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it" (Matt. 10:38-39).
Self-seeking leads to the loss of real life, and our experience of this loss is often what we define as "something missing." It's what sends us on a perpetual search for that one next thing. For many of us, that one next thing seems to lie in the relational area of life. Single women want to be married. Married women want a better marriage. Childless women want babies. Mothers want happier children. Empty-nesters want grandchildren. For others, that one next thing is more about accomplishing something important or having more meaningful work. There's nothing wrong with these desires — we're hard-wired to want them. But at the same time, if we live to get them, we're sure to find them hollow when we do.
Look again at Jesus's words: "Whoever loses his life for my sake will find it." He is telling disciples that following him is costly, but what we gain is far greater than what we lose.
Choosing Our Treasure
So we have a choice. We can do all we can to hang on to our dreams and hopes and personal goals for life, love, and success in this world, or we can let go of those things as our primary reason to get out of bed every morning. But we will never make this choice unless our hearts grasp what it is we are meant to find instead. This finding comes out more fully in Jesus's parables: The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it. (Matt. 13:44-46)
Is that how we see the kingdom of heaven? Do we value it as our greatest treasure? Simply realizing that it is our greatest treasure indicates that we're on the way to finding true fullness of life.
Theologians rightly teach that the best way to get at the true meaning of Jesus's parables is to find the main point and not get lost in the details, but it's still beneficial to consider the details too. All of God's Word is inspired, not just the main point. So, with that in mind, let's look a bit more closely at Jesus's words.
First, notice that the treasure is something that was hidden. On another occasion, Jesus was praying, and he said, "I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things [kingdom things] from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children (Matt. 11:25). Jesus was talking about the heart attitude necessary to understand and know God and to know that he is the greatest treasure we'll ever have. So treasuring the right treasure begins with humility. It is revealed only to the humble.
Second, finding the treasure brought joy. We find joy in getting what we treasure. On the other hand, we do not find joy if we don't treasure what we get.
Third, the treasure was worth letting go of everything else. The only way we are going to know Christ as our supreme treasure is if we diminish the value of competing treasure. Anything — even good things — must go if they hinder Christ's lordship in our lives and hearts. If we cherish and cling to competing treasures, our affection for God will grow sluggish and our loneliness will only increase.
Notice also that everything owned by the treasure finders was sold in order to purchase the treasure; in other words, his possessions weren't merely given away. A truth we can glean from this detail is that the things we give up to follow Christ aren't without value in their own right. Sometimes laying hold of kingdom treasure will prove costly, but coming to know Christ as our greatest treasure is worth the cost.
When loneliness covers us like a blanket, our instinct is to look for a way out. When we don't know Christ as our treasure, we seek escape in whatever we can see in front of us — certain habits or indulgences, places we go, and even certain relationships. Not only are such things more ready at hand, it seems, but also, at some level, we tend to blame God for our loneliness. We won't know him as our greatest treasure if our view of him is skewed, and the more we seek escape from our pain in worldly things, the more warped our view of God becomes. Instead of looking for a way out of loneliness, we need to look at Jesus. Only then will we discover that he is what we've been looking for all along. And only then will we really be willing to "sell" our earthly possessions and acquisitions for the sake of God and his kingdom.
Jesus said: "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost?" And he concludes all this by saying, "Any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple" (Luke 14:26-28, 33). A great deal of loneliness comes from either a reluctance or an outright unwillingness to follow Jesus if doing so means letting go of how we want our life to work out.
We cling to our life in a variety of ways, one of which is a devotion to laying up treasures on earth. Jesus said, "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Matt. 6:19-21). In other words, devoting ourselves to acquiring material treasures isn't a good use of our lives because earthly treasures never last. They fall apart, or get stolen, and they certainly don't fill up our emptiness.
Attempting to juggle competing treasure is another way we cling to life on our own terms. But competing treasures are never equal — one will always dominate the other. That's why Jesus says we just can't do it, and because this world and what it offers often feel more real — and certainly more immediate in terms of the payoff — the self-centered, worldly competition can all too easily win.
Finally, we will remain entrenched in loneliness if we seek a Savior without a cross. Jesus said, "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple" (Luke 14:26–27). There is no discipleship without the cross, and in taking it up, we find the fullness of life that Christ promised.
We nod in agreement about the value of God's kingdom until it hits our personal brick wall. Do we have a nonnegotiable — something we aren't willing to part with in order to follow Christ? If so, it's no wonder we are lonely. Think about David Powlison's wise words:
Fear and desire are two sides of a single coin. A sinful fear is a craving for something not to happen. If I want money, I fear poverty with its deprivations and humiliations. If I long to be loved, I'm terrified of rejection. If I fear pain or hardship, I crave comfort or pleasure. If I crave preeminence, I fear being subordinate to others.
Getting at what we fear and desire or what makes us anxious is a good way to uncover what vies with Christ for top place in our hearts. If we are willing, we will come to see that we have nothing to fear in letting go of our self-oriented lives in order to follow Jesus. Just consider what he promised:
Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. (Mark 10:29–30)
We are quick to think, "Oh, yes, I'll have treasure in heaven, but right now, I'm here, and this is what I've got to deal with." But Jesus makes clear that enjoying Christ as our true treasure isn't just for heaven; it's for now too. The path out of loneliness begins by letting go of all our attempts to make life work on our own terms. It's about taking up our cross and following Jesus.
If loneliness is weighing us down, and if we find ourselves doubting that God really is our greatest treasure, we can be honest with him, our kind Father and friend. We can tell him that we've been trying so hard to make our life work the way we want that we've lost sight of all he is for us in Christ. We can ask him to show us afresh who he really is and to change our heart. Sometimes change begins with praying, "God, I'm willing to be willing." If that's the best we can do today, God will meet us there. He is more eager than we are that we come to treasure him above all else, and it is only as we seek him that we'll find what we have been looking for all along.
* * *
Questions for Discussion or Reflection from Chapter 1
1. How do today's many freedoms contribute to loneliness? How has this played out in your own life?
2. Discuss or describe what Barry Cooper calls "the god of open options."
3. How do Jesus's words in Matthew 10:38–39 speak to the issue of loneliness?
4. From the parables of the hidden treasure and the pearl of great price (Matt. 13:44–45), list the steps involved in laying hold of Jesus as our greatest treasure.
5. In Luke 14:26-33, Jesus explains the nature of true discipleship. Are you allowing something or someone to hold you back from following Jesus fully? If so, can you identify how your reluctance to let it go contributes to your loneliness?
Why should I feel discouraged, why should the
Why should my heart be lonely, and long for heav'n
When Jesus is my portion? My constant friend is He:
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me....
"Let not your heart be troubled," His tender word I hear,
And resting on His goodness, I lose my doubts and fears;
Though by the path He leadeth, but one step I may see;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me....
Whenever I am tempted, whenever clouds arise,
When songs give place to sighing, when hope within
I draw the closer to Him, from care He sets me free;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.
— Civilla Martin, "His Eye Is on the Sparrow"CHAPTER 2
The Lies of Loneliness
Giving way to panic has proven helpful in a crisis — said no one ever. Yet panic is the natural response of those who fixate on their circumstances rather than on Christ. Didn't Peter prove this when walking on water? So long as he kept his eyes on Jesus, he made forward progress, but the minute he turned his gaze to the wind and the waves, he began to sink. Peter panicked (Matt. 14:22-30).
We often do the same thing when the wind and the waves of loneliness threaten to sink us. If we aren't fixed on Jesus — and if we don't view life through a biblical lens — we're going to try to fight those waves ourselves, and eventually we will go down. Panicked swimmers often drown.
Lie: Loneliness Is Pure Evil
Heightening the waves of loneliness is this myth: "Loneliness is a result of something bad, and therefore no one should have to experience it." If we believe that, we're going to use everything we've got to fight against it. We will have no peace, no joy, and no delight in the Lord. And we will never find our way out of the water.
Let's take a closer look at that myth. Is loneliness really the result of something bad? On one hand, God did say that it's not good for man to be alone (Gen. 2:18). So in that sense, yes, aloneness — and its accompanying loneliness — is not good. Yet we can't escape the fact that it was God himself who made Adam and then put him in the garden all alone. Sin hadn't even entered the world yet. In other words, Adam's aloneness was God's doing, and God did it so that Adam — and all human beings after him — would yearn for companionship. God went on to provide a wife for Adam; however, "he never designed marriage to fulfill the incompleteness or eradicate the aloneness. Rather, it more fully reveals our need for our ultimate destiny — t o be in union with him." So from the beginning man's aloneness wasn't good per se, but that wasn't the end of the story. No, God went on to provide the remedy for it. So there's no need to panic. The emptiness that so often accompanies aloneness — loneliness — is meant to be filled to the full with Christ.
Excerpted from Finding God in My Loneliness by Lydia Brownback. Copyright © 2017 Lydia Brownback. Excerpted by permission of Good News Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Introduction: Why Are We Lonely? 13
Part 1 Loneliness Reinforced
1 Treasuring the Wrong Treasure 19
2 The lies of Loneliness 29
Part 2 Loneliness Realized
3 The Loneliness of Leaving 39
4 The Loneliness of Night 49
5 The Loneliness of Obedience 61
6 The Loneliness of Running Away 71
7 The Loneliness of Grief 83
8 The Loneliness of Being Different 91
9 The Loneliness of Being Unclean 101
10 The Loneliness of Misplaced Love 111
11 The Loneliness of Marriage 121
12 The Loneliness of Being Unmarried 133
Part 3 Loneliness Redeemed
13 In the Family of God's People 149
Conclusion: The Man of Sorrows 159
General Index 167
Scripture Index 171
What People are Saying About This
“I have a great marriage and lots of good friends and a great church family, and yet I often feel lonely. I don’t think I’ve ever read anything on loneliness that seemed to get to the heart of it, or applied any real wisdom to it until Finding God in My Loneliness. Instead of presenting a merely psychological, social, or practical answer, Lydia Brownback provides a profoundly biblical answer to the loneliness we all feel at times, walking readers through the biblical story and ably demonstrating how God works in and through loneliness in the lives of those he calls his own.”
Nancy Guthrie, author, Even Better than Eden: Nine Ways the Bible’s Story Changes Everything about Your Story
"We used to know who the lonely people wereyoung singles living solo in small apartments, aging shut-ins, or those sequestered away by illness. It's not that way anymore. In a world of frenetic activity, loneliness is an epidemic that is impacting everyone. It's why Lydia Brownback's new book is urgently neededtoo many people, especially women, are suffocating for lack of real and meaningful friendships. Christians can make the difference, though, and Finding God in My Loneliness speaks not only to the solitary heart, but also to those who desire to reach out, embrace, and fill the space. A remarkable book with a culturally timely message!"
Joni Eareckson Tada,Founder and CEO, Joni and Friends International Disability Center
"At some levelever since Genesis 3every human being experiences the pain of isolation and alienation. Lydia grapples honestly with various loneliness-inducing life seasons and circumstances. And she helps us understand how our loneliness can be redeemed by the Friend who endured the ultimate loneliness for our sakes, and who anoints us with the oil of joy as we walk in union and communion with him."
Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author, Lies Women Believe and Adorned; Founder and Teacher, Revive Our Hearts
“Brownback illuminates sources of loneliness and encourages Christian readers to lean on God when they feel lonely. She contends that readers cannot fix their loneliness, a statement that might disappoint those expecting self-help advice. Brownback gives relatable examples of the various causes of loneliness, including grief, losing a sense of home, and being different. She uses her own experience of single life, and observations of others’ marriages, to craft a particularly effective pair of chapters on the loneliness of marriage versus the loneliness of being unmarried. Brownback maintains, women must learn to trust in God’s plan and goodness. Brownback’s encouraging book is a sharp, thoroughly readable entreaty to readers looking for grace in loneliness.”
“I love this book. It is full of truth. Regardless of whether you're married or single, eighty years old or eighteen, man or woman, rich or poor, Western or Eastern, everyone will face loneliness at one time or another. Brownback tells us that the main reason we get lonely is because we're not home yet. She helps us to see that only when we find our significance, security, and comfort in Christ will we realize that we are never alone. Reading this book set off a gospel bomb of joy and hope in my heart. I urge everyone to read it immediately and meditate on these truths for a lifetime.”
Dave Furman, Senior Pastor, Redeemer Church of Dubai; author, Kiss the Wave and Being There
“At one time or another, all of us experience lonelinessnot just solitude, but loneliness. In this unique and valuable study, Lydia Brownback draws from Scripture and experience to uncover the heart issues and responses that lead lonely Christians in healthy or unhealthy directions. Without downplaying the inescapable loneliness of living in a fallen world, Finding God in My Loneliness nonetheless finds abiding hope in the friendship of Jesus Christ.”
Philip Graham Ryken, President, Wheaton College
“Young or old, wealthy or poor, married or single, loneliness can dishearten and discourage. Lydia Brownback writes with compassion and insight into the causes of our loneliness, as well as helps us understand God’s redemptive work in the midst of it. If you’re struggling with feeling like you’re the only one, Finding God in My Loneliness is the book for you.”
Melissa Kruger, author, In All Things and The Envy of Eve