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My Loneliness Drew Me Closer to Christ

Written By River T, Malaysia

I’ve been mediocre my entire life. Coming from a family of high achievers, my achievements have always paled in comparison. And as an introverted middle child in a rather huge family, I have always struggled to voice out my feelings or opinions. Being invisible is what best describes me.

After graduating from secondary school, I came to Christ when my eldest sister brought me to church. However, the church that I attended was not able to provide me with the support I needed to grow as a new believer.

However, things changed when I went to Brisbane to study. Over there, I found a supportive community of leaders and fellow believers who helped me grow deeper in my walk with God. Their passion and commitment to the Lord and for the lost was so evident in their actions that it really inspired me to pursue God more.

While I may have been neglected or even forgotten by my community back home, the people I met in Brisbane cared for and loved me. Under their mentorship, I gradually learned to open up to and love the people around me. That was when I experienced the joy of belonging to a community of believers.

My time in Brisbane was so impactful that when I returned to Malaysia after graduation, it was difficult to adjust back to the life I had left behind. For one, I struggled to reconnect with my old friends upon returning home. While I was in Brisbane, I seldom contacted my friends back home. Furthermore, we share different interests and religious beliefs. As a result, we had drifted apart and I found it difficult to connect and share with them my struggles, especially those related to my spiritual walk.

I also felt out of place in my home church in Malaysia as I was now used to a different kind of church community and worship style—one that was warm, supportive, and passionate about discipleship. As a result, I retreated further into my shell and began to feel even lonelier.

Life back home became even more difficult when I started my first job. During my first rotation, the team that I was assigned to work in was extremely stressful. My superior was a perfectionist and had very high expectations of me. Whenever I failed to meet them, she would chastise me harshly in the presence of many. My self-confidence plummeted and I often felt incompetent at work. I would also have nightmares about my work when I realized that I had made mistakes.

I became very unhappy with my life, and my anxieties and frustrations paved the way to depression. I would experience breathing difficulties and had to frequent the toilet many times to calm myself down. Each day was agonizing and I began developing suicidal thoughts.

I couldn’t share my condition with my family because I have not been close to them since young. Neither could I seek help from my friends, colleagues, or church leaders. I resented that I had to leave behind the supportive community I had in Brisbane and yet not been able to find such support back home.

Being adrift from any form of community and support meant I had no choice but to turn to God. So I poured out my heart to God every night, spending more time with Him in prayer and in His Word. As it says in Psalm 119:92, “If your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction.”

While my circumstances did not turn around immediately, I experienced God’s comfort through His Word in my distress. His Word gave me the courage and strength to live on when I wanted to end my life—and I learned to rely only on Him.

When no one was there for me, God held me close. He was my source of strength and comfort during the most difficult and painful season of my life.

I recall having lunch alone one day and I was swarmed with endless self-deprecating thoughts.

Why did I not excel in my studies or make a name for myself in society as my family members have? As an overseas graduate, I should be excelling at my workplace but why am I failing to perform at work? Why is it so difficult for me to make friends?

I felt utterly useless and worthless but in that moment, God spoke to me through Romans 8:38-39:

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

I had nothing to be proud of at that time. But God assured me that I am still loved by Him, and nothing can separate me from His love.

After some time, God turned things around when I was assigned to a different team at work.

My new superior is nurturing and patient, and I have benefited greatly under her leadership. My self-confidence grew and I began to love my work rather than feeling fearful of being reprimanded as I had been under my previous supervisor. I am also closer to my new colleagues and they have been a great help to me when I meet with challenges in my work.

However, I still struggle with depression today, and I still do not have many close friends—whether at church or within my social circle. While I hope that I can one day experience the vibrant community life I had in Brisbane again, for now I’m thankful that I’m still alive and I have God’s Word to guide my life. He knows me full well and will be with me as I go through the high mountains and low valleys in my life. He is sufficient for me.

4 Tips For Struggling Through Homesickness

At the beginning of my third year of University, I took two bags and all the courage I could muster, and got on a plane to spend the next four months across the world.

Since I learned that studying abroad would be compatible with the academic requirements for my major in Political Science, I welcomed the opportunity to have my assumptions about communication, people, education and more, challenged in a new cultural context.

My University in West Michigan (USA) had a long established relationship with a school in Cape Coast, Ghana, and it was the only financially feasible option for me at the time—with it being the most affordable program. After careful consideration, I decided to take the plunge, having great anticipation for the unknown that lay before me.

Prior to leaving, however, I didn’t put much thought into how it would feel to leave behind the community I had built at university during my first two years. As it turned out, even though I had a host of new exciting experiences that semester, I also endured significant bouts of homesickness during my time across the world.

To anyone experiencing a time of loneliness or separation, whether because of school or work, I can offer four suggestions that were instrumental in shifting my perspective from a negative to a positive one.

 

1. Set Boundaries for Communication With Those Back Home

In order to make time for the people and community where I was, I learned that it was really important for me to set boundaries for my communication with people from home. Those boundaries often meant that I would limit the frequency or length of my calls with friends and family.

Limited time on Facebook and social media also kept me from growing envious of the community that my friends back home still shared (without me). This was necessary because in setting these boundaries, it exposed a need and allowed time for developing community right where God had me, in Cape Coast.

With more time to be present, I grew more willing to participate in potentially uncomfortable meetings with new friends in Ghana and less likely to hole up in my room, making excessively long phone calls with familiar friends back home.

 

2. Plug in to a Christian Community

I had been in Ghana for over a month, when it dawned on me that every relationship I had there was brand new and shallow. No one knew me. I didn’t have a shared history with anyone. I believed that time was the only thing that could change that. 

As I grew weary of the surface-level relationships that surrounded me, God sent me encouragement. One day, I was standing in the hallway of my hostel, talking with several other foreign students. One of the local students from downstairs joined us, welcoming us to the university. As the others fell away, it ended up being the local student, myself, and one other. As we prepared to part ways, the local student paused to look at me and said, “You’re different than the others. Your Spirit is different. You’re a Christian, aren’t you?”

Finding this fellow Christian was an answer to my desperate need for a Christian connection in a foreign place. I was convinced that time and a shared history were the only things that could deepen relationships, when in reality, Christians have an instant deep connection with anyone who also testifies that Jesus is Lord.

Soon after this, I found a Church home (after weeks and weeks of searching), and I also agreed to attend a 5 a.m. Bible study that I had been avoiding. I didn’t always understand all of what was being said in the study, or at church, and I rarely knew the words to sing the songs. But I listened. I listened to fellow Christians praise God, and speak about His mighty power. And I knew that the very Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, was alive in those around me (Romans 8:11).

I found comfort in the very presence of my international Christian community, because God was with them, just as He was with my Christian community back home. When we fellowship with other Christians, we have an automatic deep connection, since we are all children of the same God, living with the same Holy Spirit inside of us.

 

3. Spend Time Getting to Know New People

In addition to seeking out a Christian community, I also started digging deeper in my relationships with unbelievers. I started asking more questions, listening, and taking a lot of time to communicate thoroughly with people who didn’t understand me.

In doing this, I unearthed that one of my new friends had very settled (and offensive) assumptions about Americans. This included an assumption that all American women are apt to sleep around with various men, drink a lot, and party irresponsibly. His assumptions doubled as accusations, and responding to them with patience was difficult. We took the time to talk through these assumptions, and I found it was a platform for me to testify to God’s call for all Christians (including American women), to set their minds on what is pure and good and right, and to act in accordance with that mindset (Philippians 4:8).

This conversation, along with several other significant culturally complicated ones, taught me that wading through cultural assumptions and bad reputations is not easy. However, if I commit time and effort to really get to know someone, even when there are difficult barriers to overcome, everyone involved can come out of it with a better and more accurate understanding of each other, as was the case with me and the friend with settled assumptions of American women.

 

4. Remember Who Helps You

During my time in Ghana, God revealed that my dependency on my Christian community back home had grown to be unhealthy. I was counting solely on my community for growth, direction and comfort, instead of relying on God for my every need. When I faced spiritual obstacles in this new place, like feeling distant from God, God was the only consistent person to bring those thoughts and fears to.

It exposed a sinful preference of mine to take my concerns to fellow broken Christians before laying them at the feet of our holy and perfect God. Now, I always try to remember that counsel from God-fearing Christians is good, but it is not a substitute for going directly to the Father with all of my needs.

 

My time in Ghana was challenging, and I often was exhausted by the effort it took to do something as simple as have conversation, or find a church. Even so, that semester was one of the best times of my life.

After four short months, I returned home to finish my degree and graduate. I think that being physically present was vital to sustaining my new friendships, so it was difficult to keep them up across the world. Five years later, most of the relationships that I gained that semester have faded. What never faded and continues to shape my perspective today is what God taught me through all of it.

Now, even years after my brief semester abroad, I am constantly challenged to be present, and to be active and engaged where I am, instead of getting wrapped up in wishing for something or someplace else. I still prioritize finding a Christian community wherever I go, and I hold tight to a commitment to good communication.

God also continues to remind me that He alone sustains me. Without God’s Spirit working directly in me, no community, no person, and no Bible study will sustain my faith.

How Do We Love Others If We’re Lonely?

I got into a great conversation with a girl at a party recently. She’s been a friend for a long time, but it went so well I started to wish she was more than a friend. But I could tell she didn’t want the same.

It’s hard to walk away from a party alone. No one’s hand to reach for. It’s hard to be turned down. Especially when the holidays could be so much sweeter with someone. It is then, that those little irrational questions drift in: What’s wrong with me? Am I not lovable? Why am I alone?

Last Christmas, I didn’t go home as I had traveled a lot last fall. But as I was thinking about being alone over Christmas I recalled the little bit of tension between my brother and me, and the argument we had had a month or so ago. I know we love each other and that tension helps us both grow to be better to each other. But my mind keeps going back to that and asking: Have I failed as a family member? Is this in some way an indicator of why I’m alone?

And sometimes, especially when I feel lonely, I find myself remembering the small failures I’ve had with friends. That time I accidentally stood up a new friend for dinner, and he hasn’t talked much to me since. Or when I showed my impatience to a friend who was just being kind and reaching out to talk. And again I start to ask myself: Am I alone right now because of stuff I’ve done wrong? Have I messed up my chances to be loved?

I need to remind myself that I have good friends, my family loves each other, and I haven’t ruined my chances of romance. I know at times I feel very loved and nothing has changed with most of those people. I know people love me—so why does loneliness trick me into thinking otherwise? It makes me feel empty of love. I’m like a dry pitcher no other pitchers have poured into for a while, and I’m drying alone in the sun.

Recently, however, I realized I was looking at this wrong.

 

It Starts With Knowing We’re Loved

God has given us a different way to look at love. 1 John 4:19 says, “We love because He first loved us.” We are not a pitcher waiting to be filled up by other pitchers. We are a pitcher that is filled up by the source of water itself. I must dip myself in the spring to receive His love first. Then I can avoid a mindset of scarcity, and act out of one of abundance.

This change in perspective is the most important part because all our actions flow out of it. Our beliefs dictate our actions.

Maybe it’s hard to imagine that type of love. It can be hard for those of us who have felt let down by God to picture God as good. Maybe there was a promise you felt God didn’t come through on. Or maybe God didn’t save you or someone you love from some horrible suffering. Remember that the hard things that have happened to you are a result of this worldly kingdom where God has allowed free wills to rule. God’s love and His kingdom is the opposite of that. He longs for us to know He loves us so much, even though it’s hard to see or feel through the fog and free will of this world.

Imagine how you feel when you see the cute innocence of your baby, or a nephew or niece, or even a new puppy, and how your heart wells with love because you want and hope so much for them. Now imagine that is a finite fraction of the love God wants to pour into you. He is your father. He has so many hopes for you, and so many things He wants to show you. He holds you closer than you hold your breath, and wants you to live within, and out of that love.

 

It Enables Us to Love Unconditionally

The next step is to act on that infinite love. When you are wondering why your family hasn’t called to check on you, or why your friend seemed distant when you last talked, you can be the one to love first. Act on your love for them. And do not make your love conditional on whether they love you back. If they are not at a place where they can give as much back, don’t require them to. For, as Acts 20:35 says, “It is better to give than to receive.”

When it isn’t reciprocated, we must remember that there are many reasons—some beyond our control—why friendships grow distant. Or that romance is not returned. Or even that fissures within families happen. After I have looked at each situation to make sure I have done my part to repair and learn from it, I must let go of the worry and turn to God to be filled again.

Even though it is an incredible blessing when we do experience love for and from other people, and we are meant to feed and cherish it, our love pitcher is not meant to be filled first by other people pouring their love into us. We are first meant to be filled with God’s love. And this is the place of abundance from which we love others.

 

This article was originally published on the writer’s blog here. This version has been edited by YMI.

Christmas Can Be a Time of Loneliness

The Christmas season sometimes feels like an incredibly lonely one for me, and listening in on other people’s exciting holiday plans makes things worse.

“Am I the only one doomed to be spending Christmas holed up in Auckland with my family?” I think.

While there is nothing wrong with hanging out with my family, I’m envious of my friends and work mates, with their plans for travelling out of town to visit grandparents and long-lost relatives, or spending time with close friends. I envision them piling into the car, their trunk filled with luggage and presents, as they drive out of Auckland, away for a fabulous time.

As for me, my Christmas holidays usually involve four long days of doing nothing, apart from sleeping in, watching DVDs, and attending church on Christmas morning. Furthermore, with all the shops closed on Christmas Day, the feeling of isolation and loneliness has a way of seeping into my spirit.

There are no relatives for my family to visit, as all of my extended family had stayed on in Malaysia when my family moved to New Zealand almost two decades ago. So Christmas is usually a very quiet affair spent with my parents and my sister.

Many years ago, when Christmas cards were still sent and received, I would line our window sill with cards in a bid to keep our living room cheerful. But upon closer inspection, you’d see the cards were mainly from local businesses, real estate agents, and the church. A few would be from friends.

We also had a Christmas tree, and while it wasn’t a tree that would win awards, we did our best to decorate it with red and gold baubles, wooden soldiers, and angels. If you looked under the tree, however, you’d find presents that looked like they had been hastily stuffed back inside their wrapping, with torn corners and curling cellophane. Some were just props—empty boxes wrapped in colorful paper. The presents with the torn edges were my birthday gifts (my birthday is four days before Christmas, so I do get a few 2-in-1 gifts), which I had opened only to rewrap them for the tree.

My family doesn’t quite do Christmas the way other families might—big sumptuous lunches, buying gifts for one another, decking our house in fairy lights and various Christmas decorations. So I guess that’s what makes our Christmases feel so woeful and lonely.

Occasionally, my family does get invited for a Christmas gathering at a friend’s home. It involves each family bringing a meal to share and a present for Secret Santa. Can I tell you how much I dread these gatherings? I’ve never been keen on hanging out with people I have never clapped eyes on, and working my plastic cutlery into overcooked barbecued meats. And then there’s the Secret Santa gift exchange, which often feels like a dumping ground for cheap unwanted goods or cast-offs. If you’re lucky, you’d walk away with a box of chocolates.

So yes, Christmas for me is pretty so-so. However, my thoughts and attitude towards my so-called lonely Christmas changed after I saw firsthand what a lonely Christmas truly looked like.

A lonely Christmas is the individual I packed a gift box for as part of my church’s year-end community event, where we gave to people who would otherwise not receive a present. I remember my pastor telling us to buy something we thought they would need, something they would like, and a Christmas decoration. For my chosen individual, I bought a pair of new pajamas, an autobiography by the late All Blacks rugby player, Fred the Needle (even had the book signed), and a Christmas bauble.

A lonely Christmas is the vulnerable woman who had broken away from an abusive relationship. But she was grateful for the gift of basic toiletries such as bath soap, toothbrush, and toothpaste, along with a gift for her child.

A lonely Christmas is the family struggling to pay their bills, resorting to their local food bank to see them through the season, and most likely not being able to give presents to their children.

A lonely Christmas is the young mum who desperately wants a food hamper filled with washing detergent, toilet paper, and canned food.

I believe if we were to ask Jesus what Christmas should be about, He would say it’s the time to care for the widows and the orphans (James 1:27).

For Jesus, I believe it’ll be about taking the time to reach out to people who otherwise might not have anyone to spend Christmas with. Last year, my sister and I invited a friend whose parents live in a different town, over for a Christmas lunch and gift-giving.

It was a small gathering of three, but we had Christmas foods like mini-pavlovas and a bottle of sparkling juice. We also tried our hand at deep-frying a pork dish—the oil went all over the kitchen and cleaning it was a mess. There was nothing extravagant about the Christmas lunch and the presents exchanged were hardly excessive, but it was probably one of my best Christmas memories.

After my eye-opening experience of what a truly lonely Christmas means for various individuals, I have since made it a habit to buy presents for my local charity.

Christmas can be a time of loneliness for certain individuals, but I believe when we reach out to them with love and compassion, we are also bringing with us a little bit of Jesus into their lives.