A 91-year-old’s perspective on loneliness and isolation

May 13, 2020

Have you ever had one of those times in your life when you could almost hear God saying, “Pay attention. I’m about to teach you something important!” Of course, God gives us those lessons almost daily, but sometimes his lessons come with alarm bells or pain or a terrible sense of loss. We may even say, “Am I going to survive this one, Lord?”

I hadn’t really thought through the issue of loneliness, for instance, growing up in a ministry home with five sisters and lots of other young people beginning in the ministry whom my folks took in from time to time. In fact, I would sometimes hide in the attic just to be alone to write in my journal. In the 65 years of my marriage with four wonderful children and about 30 grandchildren and great-grandchildren, my husband and I discovered conversation was no longer required for communication. I loved those first moments of waking up and reaching over to pat my sweet husband’s face on the pillow next to mine. And now that my husband is enjoying Heaven’s glories (one year this month), I still find myself remembering the softness of his face. And I find myself alone.

Then COVID-19 came suddenly into our lives, and loneliness wasn’t the only issue. Tornadoes came across the South destroying homes, businesses, and our beloved church and school—those precious buildings where we had so felt the presence of God.

The blessings in the midst of isolation

But then God came with some questions of his own. One morning while I still wallowed in my losses, it was as if God, in his kindness, said, “Jessie, your entire life I have surrounded you with my blessings—people to love, my beautiful world to see, wonderful adventures, opportunities to make a difference in other peoples’ lives, answered prayers, a life full of my grace. I’ve given you so many lovely things, but If I were the only person in the universe to make you happy, would I be enough to satisfy the longings of your heart?”

He reminded me that he wasn’t taking away “people” and “things” to make me unhappy; he was showing me all those second-hand distractions that were keeping me from discovering how absolutely and wonderfully his love and presence meets every longing of the human heart.

I also continue to enjoy the added privileges of being able to pray anytime, anywhere because of living alone. I sometimes find I am talking out loud with the Lord—not a good idea if I happen to be walking through the neighborhood as I pray. However, when I was a little girl, my bed was close to my parents’ bed, and I remember how comforting it was to sometimes hear my Dad praying in the night.

No matter how I may feel about my usefulness or ability to serve, and even when the loneliness sets in, I continue to learn that God truly is sufficient to meet my needs.

More important, I have learned the benefit of planned prayer time. Through the years, I have kept some sort of a written journal–a collection of the people and projects and deep, deep needs which I brought to the Lord either on a temporary or permanent basis. These included my own children, the students I taught, the other young people my husband and I mentored through the years, my own longings, and the requests that others asked to share with me. I would not dare reveal all that I wrote in those prayer journals; they are not the prayers of a great Christian, but the faltering, sometimes doubting, usually tearful requests of a fearful child of God.

But here is the point: When I bring all of my broken things and dump them in the Lord’s lap for help, he doesn’t reply, “Jessie, what a mess you are!”  Instead, he reaches out to me beyond the mess and pulls me to himself, wipes away my tears, and then goes to work fixing the problem.

Here is God’s promise in Luke 12:28-32: 

If God cares so wonderfully for flowers that are here today and gone tomorrow, won’t he more surely care for you? You have so little faith! And don’t worry about food—what to eat and drink. Don’t worry whether God will provide it for you.  These things dominate the thoughts of most people but your Father already knows your needs. He will give you all you need from day to day if you make the Kingdom of God your primary concern. (NLT)

There are other lessons in loneliness as well. Just because my circumstances have changed, doesn’t mean I can’t do things to serve others. I have elderly neighbors all around me, many of whom may have fewer resources than I. I love sharing special food treats when I find bargains, and I try to bake cookies just for fun. And I’d like to do more.

No matter how I may feel about my usefulness or ability to serve, and even when the loneliness sets in, I continue to learn that God truly is sufficient to meet my needs. And not only does he provide what I need, he meets me with his love and presence every moment of even the hardest days. Whatever our current and future circumstances, he promises to do the same for all his children.

Jessie Sandberg

Jessie Sandberg grew up in a ministry family as the fourth of six daughters of Dr. John R. Rice. She holds degrees from Wheaton College and the National College of Education, and she is the author of five books, including Letting People Off the Hook. Over the years, she has … Read More