When I think of loneliness, I’m reminded of the movie, The Croods. It is an animated movie about an over-protective father whose family lives in a cave because of fear of the outside world. However, they are eventually forced out of the safety of their cave and soon realize the beauty of the world in which they live and the life they had been missing by hiding in the cave.
Loneliness is often our cave of safety. As long as we are in this cave we need not fear the dangers that lurk outside it. Relationships are risky, messy, and unpredictable, and though loneliness is dark and depressing, it is safe (in a sense) and predictable. However, outside the cave of loneliness we find beauties beyond our wildest dreams. So, what keeps us in the cave?
There are a host of reasons we stay in the “cave of loneliness”, but I want to give you just a few. My hope is that seeing this small list will prompt you to probe your mind to identify your reason for staying in this cave.
Danger rarely keeps us from taking risks. I know what you’re thinking, “That’s preposterous!!! That is the primary reason for not taking risks!!!” In reality, it isn’t. Why will some people not risk flying? Because it’s dangerous? No. It isn’t danger but fear of potential danger.
Why do we lock our doors and set our alarms at home? Because it’s dangerous not to? No. Because of our fear of potential danger.
Why do we have insurance? Fear of potential disaster.
Why do we avoid the risk of relationships? Because they’re dangerous? No. It’s because of our fear of potential danger. It’s the fear of all the what ifs…
What if I reach out to this person and he/ she rejects me?
What if I talk too much?
What if he/ she thinks I’m needy?
What if I say the wrong thing?
What if he/ she doesn’t want to be my friend?
What if he/ she makes fun of me after I walk away?
There are so many fears we encounter when risking relationships but very few dangers. Fear (not danger) keeps us from pursuing relationships and staying in the “cave of loneliness.”
Our irrational fears often come from our distorted thinking. (I understand that our fears can also come from our past relationships. Perhaps you had a very difficult childhood or a very dangerous relationship. This would certainly give validity to your fears. If that is you, I would strongly urge you to reach out to a good counselor who can help you begin to heal from that traumatic time in your life.) Loneliness is the breeding ground for distorted thinking. We are able to conceive some outlandish ideas and feed those mutant ideas because we have lost any voice of reason that comes from someone else’s being our sounding board. We begin to believe that we know what other people think of us, though we are not around them and do not give them the opportunity to tell us or show us how they feel.
We find several examples of this is Scripture:
- In 1 Kings 19 Elijah has a great victory then flees to a cave and asks God to take his life because he is “the only one” who is standing for God. Everyone else is corrupt; he’s the only one who is right. After Elijah has thrown himself several pity parties, God informs him there are 7,000 other people just like him. Elijah had a distorted view of others in the midst of his loneliness
- In Psalm 88 we find a similar example. The Psalmist believes that God has caused all of his problems and even his closest friends have all abandoned him. Let’s be reasonable here; did all of his friends conspire together to abandon him during his darkest hours? Probably not. But his loneliness led him to have distorted views of others.
- Psalm 73 is another example of distorted thinking in the midst of loneliness. I was blown away when I read Psalm 73 for the first time because I always thought I was the only one who thought the way he did -evil people prosper while good people suffer. He said he believed this and almost completely walked away from the faith until he went into the congregation. He found that being around others helped him put life back into the proper perspective.
Though loneliness is a very rough path to trudge, it is still easier than blazing a trail toward relationships. We hate being lonely, but we hate being inconvenienced too. Let’s be honest, relationships require work, and it is easier to marinade in loneliness than to get out and pursue relationships. That’s why social media is so popular -it offers faux relationships without forcing us to be inconvenienced or face our fears. (We’ll discuss social media in a later post.)
Dr. Henry Cloud said in his book Changes that Heal, “People who struggle with isolation say no to relationship in many ways. When you hide behind defense mechanisms, you are saying no. When you avoid intimacy, you are saying no. When you make excuses, you are saying no. Connection requires that you begin to say yes to love when it presents itself.”[i]
The last reason I want to discuss is our misconceptions of loneliness, and we’ll talk about those next time.
This list is by no means exhaustive, so please leave some more ideas in the comments section below, but I hope it will help you in beginning the healing process. I look forward to hearing from you. God bless you in your journey of growth.
[i] Dr. Henry Cloud, Changes that Heal (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2018), 104-105.