We were playing board games when it happened. My brother, who co-owns a local small business, came over with his wife. We let my nine-year old daughter stay up a bit late to join us. My wife sat next to me reading through the news on her phone when she broke it to us: we were on lockdown. The initial struggle to overcome empty grocery shelves and work-from-home issues would soon give way to a struggle with loneliness.
My brother stood up from the table to call his partner after we shook off the disbelief. He came back fretting what came next for his employees. My wife and I had to figure out what this meant for the church we helped lead. We’d have to figure out how to stream church, work, and even school.
But as a new routine settled in, my emotional well-being became more unsettled. I’m used to going out, seeing friends, running errands, and working at Perked Up Cafe with a laptop and a steady hum of chatter rattling around the room. Loneliness has loomed as a constant battle in this time of social distancing and self-quarantining. I have found solace in another story about isolation involving Jesus himself. Here’s what I’ve learned from him on what you need to know to be alone but not lonely.
Know What Gives You Life and What’s Just Clutter
The devil said to Jesus, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.”
Jesus answered, “It is written, ‘Man must not live only on bread.’”
Before Jesus embarked on the busiest time of his life, the part where he did all that teaching and performing miracles, he stopped to declutter and focus. He went on a 40 day retreat into the desert. He went to the extreme of even pushing out regular meal times (hence no bread) so he could center on God his Father.
As an extrovert, I have a naturally cluttered schedule. I have more people to keep up with, more events to attend, and more social obligations than could possibly fit into 24 hours. But social busyness doesn’t guarantee genuine friendship, love, or fulfillment. Busyness, after all, is itself a very lonely practice. It can hide the symptoms for a while, but sooner or later you realize you haven’t actually sat down and had a real conversation with anyone.
While I still can’t wait to be able to go to the grocery store without a mask, attend a friend’s party, or go to the movies, right now I’m focusing more time on God. I’ve found more time to walk and pray, read my Bible, and talk with people from my church. And when I do these things, I am reminded that I am never truly alone when I have God.
Know what’s important, not just urgent
Then the devil led Jesus up to a high place. In an instant, he showed Jesus all the kingdoms of the world. He said to Jesus, “I will give you all their authority and glory...if you worship me.”
Jesus answered, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God. He is the only one you should serve.’”
Here Jesus battles the beast of urgency. “Just do this one thing, and you can have what you want NOW.” That was the temptation that Jesus fended off here and the temptation I’m learning that this lockdown is actually giving me a chance to battle too.
Life is full of the urgent but ultimately unimportant. You have to hurry to run the errands, hurry to get to the party, and hurry to respond to that email / text / call / tweet / post / DM / etc. With directives from our government to stay at home except for essential activities, I’ve been challenged to reassess what really is essential and what is just shouting the loudest. How many of my errands and activities are really just me letting my priorities slip?
Now that you can’t do anything you used to do, what really is essential? What is really important in life? For me, I’ve found fresh opportunities to help people. I’ve spent more time helping run errands for my wife’s elderly parents. A team of us are even now running errands for their elderly friends and neighbors. I’ve found it’s actually impossible to feel lonely while helping someone in need. Serving others is way more essential than our busy lives usually lets us believe.
Know what’s a tempting opportunity, and what’s an essential
Then the devil said, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here.”
Jesus answered, “Scripture says, ‘Do not test the Lord your God.’ ”
Finally, Jesus wrestles down the tempting (but non-essential) opportunity. Here Jesus has the chance to prove his greatness to the world: jump off a building and see God perform miracles! But is this really an opportunity or a temptation to destruction?
Yesterday, I called my aunt. I haven’t talked with her in years. I’m sorry to admit that. But I’ve had so many other “opportunities” that I just never have time to call her. Just as I was battling those lonely thoughts again, I realized that I finally had time to call her. So I did. What an emotional uplift it was to make that call.
Ordinarily, I would have been carting my kids to an activity on that night of the week. But with everything canceled, I had all the kids on the phone with my aunt instead. Perhaps, I have allowed a lot of tempting opportunities to crowd out some of the real essentials in life.
So if you are feeling the pains of loneliness or the stuck-at-home blues, you are not alone. But you also have an opportunity to recenter and refocus your life. Maybe you don’t have to go into a desert for forty days, you can do it right there at home.
Looking for some help fighting the loneliness and living Second right now? Talk to one of our Live Second Coaches about joining a Live Second Group.