Each of us is faced with thousands of choices every day that define our thoughts, our behavior, and who we are to the world. This fall’s Thrive Conference explores the idea that the choices we make hold power and provide opportunities that influence ourselves, others, and how we see God. Each Tuesday from now until October, we’ll feature one story of someone whose life was changed by the conference or who was faced with a choice and held firmly to the belief that “I Choose.” Today’s story is courtesy of Sue Donaldson, one of the writers featured in the new I Choose devotional, who writes about choosing not to be lonely.

I watched as the cars and vans pulled out of the church parking lot. I felt like the last woman standing while couples gathered their little ones in need of a nap into their fold and off they went.

While watching, I wondered, “Why didn’t anyone ask me home for Sunday lunch? Do they think I live some fascinating single life, or that I wouldn’t like coming to their home, standing at their sink, peeling potatoes? If they only knew.”

As one of the most extroverted people I know, I’ve been lonely at times. I don’t like it. It’s a killing feeling. It’s different than solitude because it’s not by choice. And it sucks the joy out of life.

Language has created the word loneliness to express the pain of being alone. And it has created the word solitude to express the glory of being alone. —Paul Tillich

We need solitude—that’s the good side of being alone. We need solitude to make our lists, pray for our families, read a good book, get re-energized, and be still with God.

But solitude is not the same kind of aloneness as loneliness.

Loneliness carries a secret shame: to admit we need help in finding friends, that no one’s called or texted in the last little while, or that we feel like an outsider in the church we’ve attended for twenty years. This secret shame is one of Satan’s little footholds that undermines our confidence and keeps us from going where God wants us to go.

Loneliness is the root of all need—we need to feel loved, at least by one (or maybe ten) special people, depending on if you are an introvert or an extrovert.

God designed us to need each other.—Randy Alcorn

And loneliness is the reason social media exists.

Funny how we have four hundred friends on Facebook but can’t remember the names of the neighbors down the street.

People long to connect, but stop short of making the effort because people let us down.

Any given day—any given lonely day—we make a choice to either live a protective life, keeping others at arm’s length, or to live transparent, inviting lives.

That choice predicts our path and often makes a difference for how God uses us.

Will we live connected to the body of Christ in reality, or in name only? Singing We Are One in the Spirit, then racing to our car, hoping no one recognizes us or stops to chat?

If God wanted us to be by ourselves, he would have given us each our own planet. Some days we would like our own planet. But God wants us together.

Loneliness calls for help but it’s a silent call: we want people to reach out to us so that we don’t have to. We want to be rescued from our loneliness.

The fact that we have to be rescued makes us feel worse.

The church is to be a sanctuary, not just have one. —Kathy Vick

Loneliness can hit you in a crowded courtyard after church or surrounded by family or in a marriage.

Or in a church parking lot waiting for a lunch invite.

I got tired of waiting.

I invited several women for brunch one Saturday morning. It surprised them that I could cook. I couldn’t, but I could read a recipe, which began my lifelong love of all-things-brunch. (Who can resist a pan of fresh Blueberry Coffee Cake or a Mozzarella and Bacon Egg Strata accompanied by Apple Stuffed French Toast with homemade syrup?) Brunches help make friends. It’s true.

I invited others because I needed friends.

By the time I left the area, I had seven older, wiser women who loved me and poured their lives into mine—willing to meet me for lunch or coffee (or brunch!) on any given day. Mrs. Kienel, Jan Mustin, Jeannette Gray, Geneva Brown, Trish Larsen, and others; in fact, the hardest part about leaving for the mission field was leaving my friendships. I had to start the whole brunch and the egg strata thing all over again when I got to Brazil.

Sometimes you might feel like you are alone even when you are surrounded by tons of people. Like no one really knows us or really cares.

But I choose not to be lonely.

When you feel lonely, know you’re not alone. Make that call, send that text. I’ll give you my recipe for Apple Stuffed French Toast.  It’s a killer—for loneliness.

 Be strong and brave. The Lord your God will go with you. He will never leave you. He’ll never desert you. Deuteronomy 31:6 (NIRV)

Sue Donaldson speaks and writes to connect women to one another and to God. She and her husband Mark live on the Central Coast of California and have raised three semi-adult daughters (which means she’s always at the bank or on her knees.) Sue blogs at www.welcomeheart.com and is a frequent speaker for women’s events.