Does managing loneliness seem impossible to you? If you think you can't take charge of your emotions, you'll be tempted to read no further.
But think a moment. You're already controlling your emotions, aren't you?
None of us gives free rein to all our feelings. If you do, you're reading this from inside a prison or a psychiatric hospital.
The truth is that we have to put the brakes on our emotions all the time. We have to suppress our anger. We can't act out our lust. If we value our job, we have to keep from laughing when the boss says something stupid.
Here's the part that's hard to believe: You can do the same thing with your loneliness.
One of the reasons you manage your other emotions so well is that you understand the consequences if you don't. You could get fired. You could end up in prison. You could lose your friends or alienate your relatives.
You're an adult. You know your actions have consequences. But what about loneliness? Have you ever considered what happens when you entertain lonely thoughts?
Think about where they lead. It doesn't take long before you feel hopeless. You dredge up a lot of other negative emotions, like sadness, shame, anger, and frustration. What began as a simple lonely thought ends up as a torture session--with you as the victim.
The understanding you need is twofold. First, you should understand that loneliness is an emotion, generated inside your mind. Second, you should understand that you do have the power to manage your emotions.
Part of being a happy, productive person is listening to your common sense rather than your emotions. It's worth repeating that feelings are not facts. They may be untrustworthy. Emotions, more often than not, are a reaction to some event or an interpretation of a situation. We err when we think emotions are 100 percent reliable.
Managing loneliness takes some objectivity, and that's hard where emotions are concerned. Think of it as a constant battle between your emotional self and your rational self. Experience has taught you by now that giving in to your emotions isn't always the best course of action.
But wait. Let's be clear on the difference between managing your emotions and denying them. I'm not suggesting you become an emotionless being, like Mr. Spock on the old "Star Trek" TV series. Emotions are good--within limits.
Your goal should be managing those negative emotions that spoil your joy. It's all right to have an occasional bowl of ice cream, but to sit down with a spoon and eat an entire half gallon in one sitting is overindulging. We can overindulge with our emotions, too.
I'm a big believer in cognitive therapy. If you haven't read Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy, by Dr. David D. Burns, you should. Check it out from your local library, get it through interlibrary loan, or buy a copy. Burns explains how you can recognize wrong thinking and take steps to correct it.
Believe me, we all do a lot of wrong thinking, me included. If you catch a negative thought early enough (Burns shows how to do that), you can reroute that little engine to a siding rather than let it become a runaway train on your main tracks.
When I hear a pastor say "Jesus can meet all your needs," it makes me very upset. Ninety-nine times out of 100, it's a married pastor saying that.
As human beings, we need human interaction. It's true that as Christians we have the Holy Spirit within us. Jesus is ever present. But God created us as social beings, not hermits. What a sad world it would be if we all lived in our own little dwelling and never spoke with anyone else.
The power of loneliness can be appreciated when you see Jesus experiencing it. He was misunderstood even by his disciples. He was man, yet he was God too. He didn't neatly fit in. Like us, he felt human emotions he couldn't act on. He had a job to do--dying on the cross to save humanity from its sins--and no one on earth could help him do it. He was all alone.
Jesus empathizes with the single person's loneliness. He is your source of strength and wisdom. He can redirect you when you're tempted to walk that path to pity. He can help you discern who would make a good friend and who would be a user.
I continue to struggle with this, and I know you do too. At the end of the day, managing loneliness requires wisdom. I believe God is eager to give us singles the wisdom we need to make good choices. When lonely thoughts sneak in, we shouldn't hesitate to ask God to show us what to do with them.