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Back in 2017, my wife and I spent the year apart. I was helping a church in Regina, and Miriam’s family obligations held her here. So, we took a deep breath, trusted God’s leading and agreed to a commuting arrangement where I was home 3 days each month. I spent the rest of my time 1,700 km away. The year felt long, but God was kind to us in both provinces. It was the first time in my living that I was away from loved ones for an extended season. It became my laboratory of what loneliness is and does. Here’s what I found:

Loneliness is not simply the state of being alone. It is a sense of loss – a state of longing for who or what you do not have. At first, it’s an itch, bothersome but tolerable. It can grow into an ache, a displacement that feels like the weight of being lost. Beyond recognizing the feelings of loneliness, I’ve gleaned help to address it. I learned that there are no substitutes that satisfy. No one and no thing can take the place of what you are missing. I found that distractions are no remedy. Keeping busy or occupied may help in the moment, but they do not relieve. I also discovered that solitariness is not terminal. Loneliness may be uncomfortable, but it need not be crippling. In fact, there is wisdom and goodness in it. In fact, God uses it.

I am struck by the number of times God walks His saints through lonely territory. For Moses, there was a 40-year gap between his Egyptian upbringing and a return home as Israel’s leader. Joseph must have cried out repeatedly from his dungeon for home and family faces. David was chased from his familiar by the anger of Saul. Jesus spent at least 40 days alone and tasted the depth of isolation through Gethsemane and Calvary. If God nudges us into lonely spaces, there must be a reason. What good can loneliness do for us?

Loneliness squeezes our deep desires to the surface. All of life’s lint gets brushed away in loneliness. You will know what matters after a season of it. That’s true for our homes and relationships. It’s true for our spiritual path as well. We walk this earth with a perpetual longing, a restlessness for an eternal home. We love God, but at times, He seems elusive. God is never absent, but He remains just beyond our grasp. He is always one step in front of us, calling, inviting. The space between creates desire, having but wanting more – a state of spiritual longing. When we experience it, we may feel like something is wrong. But it is not a fault to correct, it is a state to endure. It’s good to remember how to respond to it. There are no substitutes. No one or no thing can replace Him. Distractions are no answer. Entertainment, work, leisure, parties, not even church can fill the void. Spiritual loneliness is not to be solved, but has to be experienced. It pulls us in His direction. And while it may feel uncomfortable, it is not terminal. The hungers of heart lead us to life.

“O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you.
My soul thirsts for you, my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.” – Ps.63:1, ESV

Scott Tolhurst

Scott Tolhurst

Scott and his wife have spent almost 50 years following God together through life, marriage and ministry. They’ve hop scotched across Canada and landed at the water’s edge on Vancouver Island. They’ve harvested the riches of family (5 grandkids!) and the delights of God’s people. Life has not always been clear but the fog has been pierced with these truths. The heart matters. Kingdom work is God’s. Nothing can replace faith. It never ceases to amaze Scott that, if his life is a gift, how great the Giver must be!

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