We have all been there. At a party surrounded by laughter, conversation, and energy yet feeling like we are in a bubble separate from everyone else, unable to connect with or relate to the interactions around us. I was at a conference by myself this weekend in a new city. Surrounded by thousands of people, I felt nearly invisible. People around me were saving seats for friends, sharing notes, or exchanging smiles of shared knowledge. That feeling of being alone in a crowd can come at almost any time, in any place. Sometimes it is amid complete strangers in a new town, or at a new job or church. Other times, it occurs with those we interact with most. For stay-at-home moms it can come as we are surrounded by little people needing constant attention. For the believer, it can occur in a workplace amid unbelievers who do not understand our worldview or appreciate our values. For someone struggling with infertility, it can come in a conversation with friends talking about pregnancy. For a single parent, it might emerge as colleagues discuss their spouses’ parenting strategies. Sometimes even in a strong marriage or close friendship, loneliness occurs when we feel misunderstood, unappreciated, or neglected.

We talk often of biblical community, relational evangelism, and authentic relationships. While these concepts are truly Scriptural and should be pursued, let’s face it; there are times when we just feel alone (sometimes even in those environments where we are practicing biblical community). Having experienced a number of these moments (or seasons!) over the past several years, I began reflecting on loneliness in the Bible. It quickly became obvious to me that God’s people frequently experienced “alone in the crowd” moments. Think of Caleb returning from the Promised Land, listening to the ten unbelieving spies give their negative report (Numbers 13). Or Esther in the king’s palace, removed from her family, home, and cultural norms, tasked with asking the king to save her people (Esther 2). Or Joseph, betrayed by his family, falsely accused, in prison and forgotten by those he had helped (Genesis 39-40). Given the cultural norms and circumstances, there probably were not any happy baby showers for Mary and baby Jesus (Luke 1). Perhaps the loneliest moment in the history of the world was when Jesus hung on the cross and cried, “My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15).

There are, of course, different types of loneliness. Sometimes we bring it upon ourselves, distancing our hearts from relationships and community because of pain, fear, unforgiveness, insecurity, or bitterness. In these instances, we desperately need God and godly individuals to help us find healing and restoration. In other instances, we are simply alone in a crowd due to circumstances, calling, or location, sometimes despite our best efforts to connect with others. I believe that these moments or seasons of loneliness can be critically important, even essential, to our faith development. They may occur, as in the case of Esther or Mary, as part of the fulfillment of God’s purpose in our lives. In these times, it is important to be faithful, and search out a mentor who can offer some encouragement and perspective the way Mordecai and Elizabeth did for Esther and Mary. In other cases, loneliness can be preparation for a future task, as was the case with Caleb in the desert and Joseph in prison. Loneliness can drive us to rely on and seek God in profound ways. The deepening of our commitment and faith in difficult times may be preparation for future leadership and action.

While seldom enjoyable, moments of loneliness can strengthen us and equip us if we turn to God rather than self-pity, anger, or resentment. And the good news is, they are temporary, so hold on! When you again find yourself in a season of great, godly relationships, enjoy it! Be thankful for it! And don’t forget to share it with those who may be feeling alone in the crowd of your community.