The Remedy We Can Extend to Hurting, Lonely Believers
Churches are joyful places of common faith and shared communion, but we still must watch for those in need
My family and I couldn’t wait to move into our new home back in the summer of 2013. We had been living in a small chalet-style house with too few bedrooms, so this purchase of a brick rancher with four bedrooms, expansive square footage, and a spacious backyard was a welcome remedy for our growing family.
But before we could make the move official, Pennsylvania state law mandated that our new home be tested for radon, which is an invisible, cancer-causing gas. Since more than 15 percent of American homes have exposure to radon gas, it was critical that our new residence be tested before we settled in. Among the professionals, radon is often called “the silent killer.”
You may not realize it, but there also is a “silent killer” lurking inside the walls of your local church. It isn’t radon, but it’s something just as destructive to human beings: loneliness.
On any given weekend, churches are typically bursting with human activity and happy spirits. Uplifting music, friendly greetings, and a positive atmosphere are the typical Sunday morning fare. But many believers do not realize that moving in their midst are many people — Christians included — who are tremendously lonely. Even though these individuals are present at church week after week, they are very likely silently suffering. They feel alone and apart, even in a crowd of joyful, Jesus-loving people.
For any number of reasons, these individuals have trouble developing personal connections and meaningful friendships. It might stem from an introverted nature, or a natural tendency to shyness. It could be that they are embarrassed about their hair, teeth, or body shape.
Perhaps they feel insecure about their education, income level, clothing, or manner of speech. It may be that are carrying around shame or guilt from an earlier sin that still assaults their conscience.
For whatever reason, these lonely individuals are dying on the inside. You may see them every Sunday and even shake their hand, yet never realize they are hurting and feeling so alone in their struggle.
How can you spot a lonely person? What are some of the tell-tale signs?
- They consistently sit alone during church services.
- They seem to have few friends at church, if any.
- They bolt for the door after the final "amen," rarely lingering for fellowship.
- They stand just outside the circle of casual conversations.
- If they join the circle, they rarely contribute to the conversation.
- Their vocal tone and body language communicate discouragement or sadness.
- They are typically the first ones to exit the group dynamic.
- They will quietly grumble how "no one in this church cares about me..."
There can be many different factors, both external and internal, that contribute to a person's loneliness. Christians need to become more aware of others around them, especially those believers who tend to linger in the shadows. Do we see them?
The New Testament consistently identifies all Christians as "the body of Christ," with each individual believer contributing a valuable part. If one part of our body is hurting, the Bible instructs us to identify with that pain and lovingly seek the right remedy (1 Corinthians 12:26-27). Part of the remedy we can extend to hurting, lonely believers is revealed in Galatians 6:2: "Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ."
If we discover that a fellow Christian is lonely, disconnected, or discouraged, let's show compassion and sympathy, and take some proactive steps to bear their burden. Invite that person for a cup of coffee, a meal, or an afternoon at the movies. Extend to them a weekly text, email, or phone call — or better yet — an invitation to sit together during that small group, Bible study or Sunday service. Even a small dose of "load-bearing" given in love would make a tremendous difference to that person's soul!
Christian compassion can quickly evaporate other people's loneliness and bring them fresh joy in Jesus. This kind of love is the "law" to which Christ calls us. He knows that this love remedies all kinds of problems (1 Peter 4:8), both seen and unseen.
It has been four summers since the blue-shirted inspector came to my home with his radon detector. After an extensive test, our home was pronounced free and clear of the dangerous ground gas. Within a few days, we joyfully backed the moving truck into our driveway and started turning that brick house into a Christian home.
But while we can move about our homes relatively confident that they are free of danger — we cannot take the same approach with our churches. Since we know that a much different "silent killer" is lurking, we must stay alert and attentive to our fellow believers. Their hearts, minds, and lives are on the line.
Loneliness is a clear and present danger, but by God's grace and the watchful eye of the caring Christians, it doesn't have to be a permanent one.
Pastor Ryan Day is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Hazleton, Pennsylvania, where he has served for 18 years. He is a regular contributor to LifeZette.