Talking again in Part 2 about loneliness, and what a devastating experience it is. Especially for the Apostle Paul who was locked in prison in Rome, a terrible maritime dungeon, in a small underground hole in appalling conditions.
It is estimated Paul had spent seven years altogether in prison in different places. In the spring of AD 68 he was in this Roman jail, alone and without much hope of getting out alive. And he writes his last epistle, 2 Timothy.
Interesting to read that this old man, alone and facing trial and death, was rejected by his friends. In 2 Timothy 4:14 (CEV) we read, “Alexander, the metalworker, has hurt me in many ways.” Bible scholars are not sure what happened, but this man may have even helped trap Paul ensuring he was imprisoned. But all his friends and colleagues had deserted him—he was alone, and rejected. Listen to his heart cry in verse 16 (CEV): “When I was first put on trial, no one helped me. In fact, everyone deserted me. I hope it won’t be held against them”. You can almost hear the pain in his voice.
Isn’t it true that rejection is the most difficult thing to handle? Have you ever been rejected? Some people try to deal with loneliness by becoming workaholics. But that eventually takes its toll. Others try materialism. They buy everything in sight. They think, If I can just improve the quality of my life, I’ll be happy. But things don’t satisfy for long. The fact is you cannot buy happiness. Some people have an extramarital affair. Others turn to alcohol or drugs. Still others lose themselves in a fantasy world by reading novels, playing internet games or watching TV. But these are poor substitutes and take us further and further from God’s will.
What did Paul do to combat his loneliness? He used his time—in 2 Timothy 4:13 (CEV) he says to Timothy: “When you come, bring the coat I left at Troas with Carpus. Don’t forget to bring the scrolls, especially the ones made of leather”. He refused to sit around and mope. Instead he said, If I’m going to be forced to spend some time in prison I can use this time constructively. If I can’t visit the churches I can still write to them. I’m going to make the best of my situation. If I cannot be where the action is, I will create some action right here.
It is quite amazing that God can use loneliness for good. Many of Paul’s important letters might never have been written had he not been in prison.
So it seems to me the first way to combat loneliness is to use your time wisely. Try and make the best of your bad situation. Resist the temptation to do nothing. Loneliness has a tendency to paralyse you if you just sit around and do nothing, and often, lonely people don’t take care of themselves. They don’t eat right, they don’t exercise, and they ignore their personal needs.
Paul resisted that temptation. He was not bitter and angry or resentful. It didn’t do him any good to waste energy like that—he wanted to forgive and be a better person, not a bitter person. How come? He recognised the strength of God. In verse 17 (CEV) he says: “But the Lord stood beside me. He gave me the strength to tell his full message, so that all the Gentiles would hear it”. Paul was physically alone, but God was there in that prison with him.
Do you know that there’s no place on Earth where God is not present? As long as you understand that, you’re never really alone. Prayer is a great comfort in lonely times. Talk to God and let him speak to you. When we are aware of lonely feelings it is a sign that it’s time for us to become better acquainted with God. Paul was lonely and at the end of his life, and yet he never forgot his life’s goal: to win people to Christ, build them in the faith and send them to do the same—to win, build, send.
In the last months his constant thoughts and prayers were with the young churches he had helped to plant. In the last few verses of this beautiful letter, Paul’s concerns are with the needs of others, especially the sick. He concludes his letter with the words, “The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you all.” (2 Timothy 4:22 – NIV). If you are feeling lonely this morning, instead of focusing inward on yourself, focus outward on other people. Look outward to the needs of other people and God’s grace will indeed be with you.
Instead of building walls we need to build bridges. We need to stop complaining, God I’m so lonely, and start saying, God, help me be a friend to somebody today. Because love is the antidote to loneliness.