The Ache of Loneliness
by Robby Higginbottom
August 30, 2012
I started writing songs in college. I didn’t want to share them with anyone, but I couldn’t stop writing them. The songs felt a little too personal, a little too risky, and I really didn’t want other people to hear them. Still, songwriting was an irresistible outlet for me to explore what was going on in my life. When I couldn’t articulate what I was thinking or feeling, music provided the medium to express the inexpressible. Fears, longings, joys, heartaches, faith, doubt—they all seemed to find their way into a song. I wrote these lyrics in July of 2001, the summer before my senior year at Duke University.
Alone in the universe, alone in my bed
And even if I had someone
I couldn’t shake these thoughts that shake my head
Millions all around me, and I’m unique like all the rest
Grappling for something to fill the hole in my chest
Loneliness. Whether you’re a freshman just starting out or a senior finishing up or somewhere in between, you know loneliness. It comes when you’re alone in the dorm and when you’re standing in a crowded room. It creeps in when you go home at the end of the night or in the middle of hanging out with friends. We feel alone in our best and our worst moments, whether we’re rich or poor, carefree or stressed, popular or not. Loneliness doesn’t discriminate! Feeling lonely is part of being human.
What does God have to do with loneliness? The ache of loneliness seems so pervasive that sometimes we wonder if the Lord even cares. But have you noticed that loneliness was part of creation before sin ever entered the world? The first thing the Lord calls “not good” is the fact that Adam is alone (Gen 2:18). Before our sin separated us from God, each other, and even ourselves, the Lord was aware of our loneliness…and determined to do something about it.
What did I learn about loneliness in college? I started to learn that the Lord made me for community, for deep and fulfilling relationships with him and with other people. I learned that I put too much pressure on people to be for me what only the Lord can be for me. I learned that the places I usually turn when I’m lonely only make things worse. I learned that only the Lord can ultimately satisfy my deepest longings for relationship, but I also learned that I can’t make it without other people. I remember nights in the freshman dorm when I felt like no one in the world knew me or cared about me, and I learned to be thankful for those lonely moments that led me to Jesus.
What the Lord was teaching me finally came together in the song I mentioned earlier. It’s called “Ache” and it’s on the Empty Handful album entitled Make Yourself At Home. It’s a song about loneliness and how that ache drives us to find life in the Lord. Here’s the chorus:
Cause you know I’ve looked in the rocks and in the trees
Swam the seas, climbed a mountain
Tried to quench my thirst choking on dry dirt
When in you there’s a fountain
Lord, change my mind, prove me wrong
Though I’m alone, I’m not alone
Jesus inspired the last line. Before he was arrested and crucified, he tried to prepare his disciples for what was about to happen. He told them wonderfully encouraging things, but he also predicted that they would all scatter in the end. “You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me” (John 16:32). As you grapple with your own loneliness, consider the loneliness of the Son of God. Staring down the cross, facing the reality of being abandoned by all of his friends, Jesus clung to the fellowship of his Father.
Jesus knew that he was not alone, but he also knew that a moment was coming when he would have to be alone. On the cross, Jesus experienced the reality of complete rejection, total loneliness, as he faced the wrath of God that we deserved as sinners. The Father cut him off so that Christians could be brought in. Jesus was rejected so that believers never would be. He was alone so that his people would never know loneliness in an ultimate sense.
Where do you go with your loneliness? Does it lead you inward as you get lost in the spiral of introspection and depression? Does it lead you outward as you search the world to fill the emptiness with fleeting pleasures? Or does it lead you upward? Does it lead you to say with the psalmist, “I lift my eyes to the hills—where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth” (Psalm 121:1-2)? As you feel the ache of loneliness, I pray that the Lord would use it to lead you to a deeper experience of his love and grace in Christ. Though we may feel alone, in Christ we are not alone.