God's Presence When Ministry is Lonely
Mother Teresa, one of the most famous missionaries in modern times, said “The most terrible poverty is loneliness and the feeling of being unloved.” She was no stranger to loneliness, often expressing so in her letters.
Last year, I surveyed a group of lay and professional ministers about their greatest needs and struggles. It was no surprise to me that loneliness topped the list. An overwhelming majority said they were lacking a safe place to be themselves outside of their ministry world.
Ministry is often lonely for a myriad of reasons. Sometimes others do not share in our excitement or understand our lifestyle. Often we fear judgment from others if we express our own struggles and doubts. We may feel we have no support and are in it alone. Often others create unrealistic expectations of our spiritual maturity or assume that, because we are ministers, we are OK.
The pain of loneliness is real and excruciating. Its sting lingers and its emptiness taunts us. I agree with Mother Theresa- loneliness is emotional poverty. While I’m writing this to encourage you, please do not hear me say that you should just move on from your loneliness and forget it. You have permission to be honest about your loneliness, to ponder on it, and feel the sting. However, as you ponder, please consider these words of encouragement.
Loneliness Reminds us that God is present and fully understands our struggles.
No one understands the pain of loneliness better than Jesus. No one really understood what it meant to be the Messiah. He was alone when he was tempted to give it all away in the desert. When he tried to explain his death and resurrection, his disciples lashed out in confusion. In his darkest hour, his closest friends abandoned him.
Our great God, the King of empathy, not only understands, but he remains present with us in our loneliness. Sometimes we don’t feel him near and we may even not believe his is present, but the Bible tells us he most certainly is.
Psalm 139 tells us,
“Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me. If I say,“Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night,” even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you.”
We can rest in the knowledge that we serve a God who not only understands loneliness, but has experienced it himself. We can take comfort in the fact that he sits with us in our pain. This doesn’t mean we pretend that everything is ok. It means that we acknowledge our pain before the presence and empathy of the Lord. We can feel the sting of pain and the comfort of the Lord at the same time-that is the beauty of our humanness, the beauty of how God created us to feel.
In a few weeks, I will post about things we can do in our loneliness. You may feel tempted to jump into a quick-fix. Ministry often attracts go-getters and we are easily motivated to do rather than just be. I encourage you to just be for a while. Slow down, wait on the Lord, and sit with him in your loneliness before seeking action.
God’s presence is a gift and there is no better community than the one within the Trinity who is always with us.
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