Was Anyone More Alone? How Jesus Comforts the Lonely

I had read the account of the woman at the well countless times before, but never had it spoken so powerfully to a quiet pain I have often felt: loneliness.

I had always focused on the needs of the woman while reading John 4, but this time the needs of her Savior arrested my attention. In the familiar account, a weary and thirsty Jesus sits down beside the well of Sychar while his disciples, hungry after an exhausting journey, venture into the Samaritan town to buy food (John 4:6–8). In the next scene, a woman arrives to draw water from the well. Jesus asks her for a drink, and then he offers her a drink of another kind — a soul-satisfying draft of living water (John 4:13–14).

Presumably, Jesus drinks the water the Samaritan woman draws from the well, but after his disciples return with food, hungry as he almost certainly is, he does not eat. Instead, in another play on words, he tells his disciples, “I have food to eat that you do not know about” (John 4:32). The bewildered disciples conclude that someone else had given him food. Knowing their confusion, Jesus explains, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me” (John 4:34). Jesus had feasted on a spiritual harvest that day; so spiritually full was he that his physical hunger diminished.

Food for Lonely Hearts

Rereading this account was a hunger-diminishing experience for me. I was weary and thirsty from a journey of my own — another out-of-state move. If T.S. Eliot’s Prufrock “measured out [his] life with coffee spoons,” I could measure mine out with these moves, each one bringing fresh feelings of loneliness as I once again took on the identity of an outsider. I was hungry for friendship and belonging.

Jesus’s example at the well of Sychar gave me a plan for dealing with my loneliness-hunger. Jesus modeled the joyful obedience that suppresses lesser appetites. I learned that busying myself with the good works God had given me could fill me spiritually such that my hunger for belonging would recede into its proper place.

Just as Jesus experienced fullness through faithful obedience to God, I have learned to find joy and satisfaction in faithfully completing the work God gives me each day, whether preparing another meal, writing sample sentences for grammar class, responding to emails, arbitrating my children’s disputes, greeting a neighbor, sending up prayers of confession and pleas for help, or even cleaning a spill in the refrigerator. Each small act of faithfulness begins to fill my soul, much like the first bite each morning begins to fill my stomach.

Best and Dearest Friend

I am hardly alone in my loneliness. About one in four adults across the world suffers from a similar hunger. Bankrupt of any long-term solutions, the world suggests increased human interactions to alleviate the suffering. But for all our digital connectedness, the loneliness epidemic persists and grows.

Only in Jesus do we find a solution to the growing problem. He offers the hunger-suppressing plan of faithful obedience. But he also offers so much more. Jesus offers the presence of a sympathetic friend. If, as C.S. Lewis observes, friendship begins when one person says to another, “What! You too? I thought I was the only one” (The Four Loves, 78), then in Jesus we find the best and dearest friend. He fully “sympathize[s] with our weaknesses” and has experienced the pain of their accompanying temptations, “yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:14–16).

Acquainted with Loneliness

Jesus is a friend who, just like us, is intimately acquainted with hunger, thirst, exhaustion, and, yes, even loneliness.

Has anyone been more misunderstood than Jesus, whose divine proclamations of truth were met with ignorance and doubt? “We brought no bread” (Matthew 16:7). “He is out of his mind” (Mark 3:21). Who can forget the derision of his fellow Galileans after he authoritatively taught and powerfully performed miracles among them? “Is not this the carpenter’s son?” (Matthew 13:55). How about Peter’s brazen rebuke when Jesus revealed the wisdom of God’s salvation plan? “This shall never happen!” (Matthew 16:22).

Has anyone been more alone than Jesus, who “set his face to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51)? While his friends and brothers carried on with their lives, he single-mindedly pursued the task his Father had given him. He wasn’t granted the gift of human marriage or children or property, as so many others had been. Instead, his was the lonely path to Golgotha. Who has been more alone than the one who, in his greatest hour of need, fell on his face, prayed, wept, and bled, only to find those dearest to him sleeping, unable to help shoulder his burden? “Could you not watch with me [for] one hour”?! (Matthew 26:40).

Has anyone endured more hatred than Jesus, whose bloodied body and anguished cries from the cross provoked the jeering of the violent mob who had gathered to satisfy their bloodlust? There, Jesus endured the lonely lash of public mockery: “He saved others; he cannot save himself. . . . Let God deliver him now, if he desires him. For he said, ‘I am the Son of God’” (Matthew 27:41–43).

Nor was Jesus a stranger to the loneliness of bereavement, likely having mourned his (adopted) father Joseph’s death. Matthew 14:13 also records his withdrawal “to a desolate place” after hearing the news of his cousin John’s beheading in prison. See his lament over the coming judgment on Jerusalem or his tears at the tomb of Lazarus (Matthew 23:37–24:2John 11:33–36). Jesus knew and grieved the separation of death.

Misunderstood by family and friends, rejected by his countrymen, despised by the religious leaders, forsaken and betrayed by his disciples, Jesus understood loneliness. No one was more of an outsider, and no one could be more of a friend. To our own lonely hearts, the ever-present Jesus whispers the comforting words, “Me too. You are not alone.”

Glorious Through Loneliness

But more than offering the presence of a friend in loneliness, and more than offering a plan for alleviating the loneliness, Jesus offers purpose to the suffering of loneliness. If Jesus was perfected through suffering (Hebrews 2:10), will we not also be perfected through our own suffering? Loneliness is another of those “various trials” that may grieve us throughout our lives (1 Peter 1:6). But as we embrace the affliction, as we resist the temptations it brings, and as we pursue joy by faithfully doing the work God has given us, our faith is refined like gold, becoming more and more precious as the impurities melt away (1 Peter 1:7).

One of the purposes of loneliness — and indeed, one of the main purposes for every kind of suffering — is for God to make us glorious through it. And as we all in varying degrees share the sufferings of Jesus, so shall we also share in his glory.

Not Alone

Maybe yours is the loneliness of bereavement, or of being the outsider, or of being misunderstood or cynically judged. Maybe your life circumstances distinguish you, though not in the way you would prefer. Maybe you endure chronic snubbing in your neighborhood or chronic ridicule at school for being a Christian. Whatever the nature of your suffering, take heart, lonely soul! You are not alone. Jesus is with you.

Feast, as he did, on the “food” God has given you to eat. Be filled with “the peaceful fruit of righteousness” that enduring loneliness produces in this life (Hebrews 12:11). And wait in the company of your dearest friend for the coming glory, where his faithfulness has earned for you a share of his inheritance (Romans 8:17).

By Charisse Compton / Was Anyone More Alone? How Jesus Comforts the Lonely | Desiring God

 is the coordinator for the Seminary Wives Institute and an adjunct professor of Grammar and Composition at Bethlehem College & Seminary, where her husband, Jared, also teaches. Together, they have three children and are members of The North Church in Mounds View, MN, where Charisse serves as a women’s Bible study writer and teacher.
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