by Mary Somerville
The one thing that I struggle with the most as a pastor's wife is the loneliness. I don't feel I can talk with ladies at the church, though they understand that I hurt and struggle. They expect more from me than I have to give."
This heartfelt expression that was shared with me is not uncommon. Another couple shared that with the husband being the only pastor of a small independent church they believed there couldn't be a more lonely position in the world. They felt that they had no one to whom they could unburden their hearts. They were especially tender having just gone through a sore trial.
Why would we as pastors' wives be lonely? We are in the middle of the action. We are aware of everyone's lives-yet sometimes we experience times of deep loneliness and even feelings of sadness and despair.
I'm sure we would agree that just being alone does not cause loneliness. We all need some of that. So what does cause loneliness? It comes from the feeling of being cut off from the spirit of others, being left out, isolated, or ignored.
We are actually in good company when we experience loneliness. There are numerous examples of loneliness in the Bible. David cried out, "Look on my right hand and see, for there is no one who acknowledges me; refuge has failed me; no one cares for my soul" (Ps. 142:4). Again he says, "I lie awake, and am like a sparrow alone on the housetop" (Ps.102:7).
The prophet Jeremiah lamented, "For these things I weep; my eyes run down with water; because far from me is a comforter, one who restores my soul; my children are desolate; because the enemy has prevailed" (Lam. 1:16).
Isn't it amazing to think about the ways that we handle our loneliness that can become so destructive? We try to assuage our loneliness by just getting busier in a frenzy of activity. We put up our defenses to keep from being hurt. We may get involved in a hobby or sport. Some people turn to food. Some go out and splurge on a new outfit, drown themselves in chocolate, or have a pity party. The use of psychotropic drugs is at an all-time high. Many of these actions are not inherently bad, but they become destructive when we look to them to be our comfort or source of peace. As we've seen in earlier chapters, true comfort and peace are only found in Jesus Christ-and are revealed in His Word. Let's discover the antidote to loneliness through the truth of Scripture.
What path do we take to keep loneliness from overtaking us? We must make God our joy. We have a choice when we are feeling down and lonely-go out and splurge on a new outfit, drown ourselves in chocolate, have a pity party-or be radical: turn to the true source of joy-God Himself!
The Lord invites you to fellowship with Himself. You were made and redeemed for fellowship with God and your delight needs to be in Him first and foremost-to have no other gods before Him. Jesus summed it all up when He said, "The first of all the commandments is: Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these" (Mark 12:29-31; cf. Deut. 6:4-5).
Although King David experienced loneliness, he sought to love the Lord his God with all his heart and found his source of comfort and delight in Him. He affirmed, "Whom have I in heaven but You and there is none upon earth that I desire besides You. My flesh and my heart fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever" (Ps. 73:25-26).
When you are lonely, ask yourself, "Am I expecting others to meet my needs as only God can?" David knew where to go in his loneliness. He wrote, "My soul, wait silently for God alone, for my expectation is from Him" (Ps. 62:5). Loneliness can drive our hearts to the heart of God; it can be used as a spiritual alarm clock to turn us to God and in that way is used for good in our lives.
The Psalms are a comforting place to turn to get our focus where it needs to be. Open up the Psalms in your loneliness and pray that God will comfort your heart as you let them fill your heart with praises to God by faith. Set your heart on His grace and magnificence. Think on all that He is for you and has done for you. Confess the sin of putting your comfort and pleasure above everything else, including God Himself-making it the idol of your heart. He will cleanse you and give you His peace and joy in exchange for your sin and turmoil.
As we wait upon God, His Word is our solace and comfort. We must cling to those promises, meditate on them, and trust in them. He tells us that He will always be with us (Isa. 41:10; Matt. 28:19). He is in us (John 14:17). In Him we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28). His thoughts of us are like the sand on the seashore and we are never out of His presence (Ps. 139). I can have His peace in this world because Christ has overcome the world (John 16:33). I can have His joy no matter what the circumstances (John 15:11).
As a new pastor's wife in an area of the country that was totally new to me and foreign to my background (we both grew up in small towns and we found ourselves in the shadow of New York City)-I often experienced feelings of loneliness and not fitting in. My husband was busy finding his way in a new career and I was doing the same. My new career was being a pastor's wife. For the three years before God blessed us with our first child, there were times of loneliness. What to do? Turn to God's promises. I remember putting them on index cards around the house. It's a battle to keep our minds on God and not to lament our circumstances. As we rely on Him and remember His goodness we are enabled to put off the feelings of self-pity and replace them with trust and satisfaction.
Jesus understands. All His closest friends rejected Him. He was alone when He bore our sins on the cross so that we should never be totally alone. He prayed, "My God, My God why have You forsaken me?" (Matt. 27:46). Jesus must have gone to the far reaches of loneliness. He carried all of the sins of every man, woman and child, chosen in Christ, across the span of time from Adam and Eve to the end, upon Himself. Consequently, God had to turn His back upon Him and He died alone-forsaken even of the Father.
We can go to Him and pour out our hearts. "Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need" (Heb. 5:14-16). Our prayer may sound something like this:
"Dear Lord, You know how lonely I am. I thank You that You understand. Please take this away and replace it with Your peace and joy. I want to know You better, and be conscious of Your presence with me at all times, and dwell on Your promises. Give me wisdom to know how to reach out and initiate friendships. I'm your humble servant. I love You and thank You. In Your Son's precious name. Amen."
"Coping With Loneliness" to be continued.
Excerpted from Mary's book, One with a Shepherd: the Tears and Triumphs of a Ministry Marriage, available at www.KressChristianPublications.com or call 1-8MOREBOOKS.
Mary Somerville, a graduate of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, has more than 35 years of experience as a pastor's wife. She has been her husband Bob's chief encourager as he has pastored two Evangelical Free Churches-one in New Jersey and one in California where they now reside.