An experience we hardly admit. A thought we often shun. A fear we avoid at all cost. Loneliness.
Few would actually say “I’m lonely”, not jokingly or with tongue in cheek, but in a solemn and sober manner. Outwardly, snickers may be directed to such a person, but there may also be inner, unspoken admiration for the courage to admit such a private state of being.
Why are we lonely? And why are we so afraid of being lonely?
Why Are We Lonely?
There are quite a number of reasons why loneliness occurs. Physical or geographical isolation from preferred companions is one. The absence of a refreshing and vibrant social network can trigger an isolated feeling and awareness.
It must be noted, however, that loneliness differs from being alone, because it can easily occur in the midst of social interactions. Studies show that occurrences of loneliness are rampant in big cities. People can feel alone in a crowd or even in a marriage.
Thus, loneliness lies in realms beyond the physical. The cause and the solution, therefore, cannot be just physical. It is perhaps quite clear that loneliness is not about the lack of company; it is the lack of intimacy. So the discussion must shift to the immaterial realm of human relationships.
Relationships and Intimacy
The lack of intimacy in relationships could further be caused by several reasons. Firstly, it can be caused by the loss of someone or a relationship through social problems or death. The space that was occupied by certain individuals is now permanently vacant, and the void demands something to fill it back in.
Secondly, it may be caused by a quality of friendship or relationship that is too shallow according to one’s estimation, because it doesn’t satisfy one’s need to identify with another or to be understood in the innermost thought and motive. Such a relationship takes time. Moving to a new surrounding or a new place can be a source of this type of loneliness. Time, though, can potentially solve the problem given that efforts to develop relationships are expended.
The latter cause can be generally described as the discrepancy between expected intimacies with actual intimacies. This discrepancy introduces another factor into the equation, which is one’s growth as he goes through life and various life experiences. Growth in life allows the expansion of one’s concept and understanding about relationship and intimacy. Thus, something that may fulfill one’s need today may not do so a few years down the line.
Where Loneliness Comes From
Out of these few sources of loneliness, it can be concluded tentatively, that the solution of loneliness requires: (i) a person(s), since it deals with relationships, (ii) an intimate relationship with that person(s), since mere company does not suffice, (iii) an established understanding of one’s being at a deep level, and finally (iv) something dynamic and expansive that somehow would grow and expand with one’s conception about the world.
These sources, however, are mere circumstances that trigger loneliness. Can any of it actually claim as the source or root of loneliness? Where does loneliness come from?
American Buddhist monk Ajahn Sumedho says,
We suffer a lot in our society from loneliness. So much of our life is an attempt to not be lonely: ‘Let’s talk to each other; let’s do things together so we won’t be lonely’ And yet inevitably, we are really alone in these human forms. We can pretend; we can entertain each other; but that’s about the best we can do. When it comes to the actual experience of life, we’re very much alone; and to expect anyone else to take away our loneliness is asking too much.
Existentialist philosophers explain the phenomenon of loneliness as a part, perhaps an integral part, of being a human. Each person is born as a separate entity from any other person, with consciousness that is distinct from anyone else’s. Each person lives and dies alone. It is a given and a fact of life.
In other words, the root of loneliness lies in the fact that humans are individuals. We don’t share our soul and consciousness with any other person. It is a given. Yet, this fact is not a hopeless end to the problem.
Loneliness: A Christian Perspective
In Christianity, the answer to loneliness is inevitably God. There is no other Being that can satisfy such demands of the soul. Furthermore, this Answer in the Christian worldview does not only fulfill the aforementioned criteria, but explains the root of loneliness as well. In contrast to Buddhism, this ‘human form’ is not a result of endless cycles of reincarnation in which being a human just happens to be the current state of existence, and one better learn and make the most of it. To the Christian, this ‘human form’ has an intentional origin. Unlike realism that stops at “It’s just the way it is”, the Christian knows that the given facts of life have a Life Giver.
If individuality has an origin, namely the Intellect who produces a unique design for each person, and if loneliness is the inevitable consequence of being an individual, the solution to loneliness must therefore be in the origin.
The One who creates individuals is the One who can fulfill men’s loneliness at the deepest level. Expecting anything or anyone else to do so, will inevitably result in disappointment. At the end of the day, loneliness is in the mind. Each person is all alone in his thoughts and motives, and no one else can access that space except the God who can read the minds of men (cf. Psalm 139). This loneliness is the space God creates in each person for Himself, the God-shaped void, the eternity in men’s hearts (cf. Ecc 3:11). It is felt even more by separation. While the Edenic parents could freely enjoy direct communion with God to satisfy their longing, sin has intensified loneliness in the present world (cf. Isa 59:1-2). Regardless, loneliness is an obvious sign that humans need God.
The publishers’ preface to The Desire of Ages write:
In the hearts of all mankind, of whatever race or station in life, there are inexpressible longings for something they do not now possess. This longing is implanted in the very constitution of man by a merciful God, that man may not be satisfied with his present conditions or attainments, whether bad, or good, or better. . . . It is God’s design that this longing of the human heart should lead to the One who alone is able to satisfy it. The desire is of Him that it may lead to Him, the fullness and fulfillment of that desire. That fullness is found in Jesus the Christ, the Son of the Eternal God. . . . Haggai calls Him ‘the Desire of all nations,’ and we may well call Him ‘the Desire of all ages,’ even as He is ‘the King of ages.’ It is the purpose of this book to set forth Jesus Christ as the One in whom every longing may be satisfied.
Ultimately, the Christian should not be afraid of being lonely. It is the space where God can touch a person’s soul in the deepest sense. It is a special time shared between just one Creator and one human being. It should be a joy for any two beings in love.
To conclude with an insightful quote,
The man who fears to be alone will never be anything but lonely, no matter how much he may surround himself with people. But the man who learns, in solitude and recollection, to be at peace with his own loneliness, and to prefer its reality to the illusion of merely natural companionship, comes to know the invisible companionship of God.
Ps 107:9 For he satisfieth the longing soul, and filleth the hungry soul with goodness.
 Preface to The Desire of Ages by Ellen G. White
 Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude (New York: Doubleday, 1968), 40.