By / Apr 28

At a moment’s notice, chaos can erupt in my home. This day was no different. Although every day is difficult with my son’s illness, some stand out as ones that will forever be etched in my mind. And this was one of them.

Something triggered him, as had happened countless times before, and a two-hour-long episode began. As chaos went on around me and he suffered at the hands of his illness, my adrenaline pumped within me and I leapt into action, buckling down for the long haul. By the time it had passed, he had melted into my arms in tears, and I was left with an aching heart and an exhausted body.

But worst of all, I was enveloped in an overwhelming sense of loneliness. 

Unseen and unknown in loneliness? 

Not only was I physically alone, but the longer our son’s challenges lasted, the more isolating it became. Very few could relate to our specific circumstances and most barely knew they existed. Even countless doctors were at a loss as to the cause, let alone the solution. As the years have gone by and the challenges have increased over the past decade, the loneliness has grown exponentially. 

I now sat on the floor, holding back tears as the other kids chased each other around the house, blissfully unaware of all that had just transpired. Even with noise all around me, the loneliness grew louder.

A knock at the door interrupted my runaway thoughts. I gathered myself and opened it to find on my doorstep a small box containing a small, clear bottle. No note, no signature, just a little bottle with a tiny scroll rolled up inside. I slowly unrolled the fragile piece of paper and read these words: 

You have kept count of my tossings; 
put my tears in your bottle.
Are they not in your book? 
. . . This I know, that God is for me.

I stood there for a moment, still perplexed by the unexplained box on my doorstep with no one in sight. But a small wave of comfort began to wash over me. In this moment of incredible heartache that no one could see but me, I felt seen and, somehow, less alone.

Is God really for me? I wondered. Does he really keep track of every sorrow that causes me to toss in bed at night and every tear that falls when no one else can see? As I thought back to all that I had endured over the years and all that still loomed in front of me, these few words carried so much weight. To be seen and known — we all desire that, don’t we?

And yet, when grief or pain take up residence in our lives, we often feel unseen and unknown as the life we knew comes to a halt and life around us goes on as usual. We can walk into a bustling group and feel lonelier than when we’re alone.

Loneliness comes in all shapes and forms. At times, physical illness or a child with special needs prevent us from typical life activities, forcing us into isolation. At other times, we experience a loss or trial to which very few relate. Even if they’ve experienced something similar, our different personalities, temperaments, and unique aspects still create a feeling of loneliness. Sometimes, we may act like the life of the party on the outside, but feel utterly alone on the inside — and we may not even know why.

For me, loneliness has come and gone in intensity, but the nature of our circumstances has often forced me into some level of isolation. Even when I’m with others, there is a large part of my life that I’m unable to share due to the complexity of our situation. If I try to explain, I’m often met with blank stares and awkward silence.

The One who sees and knows

Relationship and community are important, and we need to pursue them as much as possible. However, if you’ve dealt with true loneliness, you know that sometimes that’s easier said than done. But what if there is Someone who sees and knows us like no one else ever could? Could it be that there’s a God who wants to draw near in the messiness of our grief and loneliness, unlike those who shrink back in discomfort? Could it be that he sees us in the dark of night when painful and anxious thoughts rob us of sleep? Could it be that he sees the tears that come when no one else is

As I’ve had to learn the hard way, no matter how much I want to feel seen and heard by family and friends, there’s only so much they can understand and so much they can endure. The longer our suffering lasts, those willing to stick with us become few and far between.

But the Bible says that “there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Prov. 18:24). Even if everyone else abandons us or can’t see and understand our pain, there is a friend, Jesus, who promises to never leave or forsake those who put their trust in him. As the Bible also states, “The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged” (Deut. 31:8).

Whether you know it or believe it right now, God sees you personally. He knows your deepest fears, greatest desires, and heaviest heartache. You may be carrying sorrows and burdens that no one else can see or carry at the moment, but you can be comforted knowing that Jesus loves you so much that he gave his life for you and wants to come near to you with compassion. And he not only sees you, but he came to give you a hope that loneliness cannot steal. When we trust Jesus as our Savior, he promises our lonely tears are held by God himself.

Whenever I glance over at that little bottle sitting by my kitchen sink, I’m grateful it showed up at my door. To most people, it probably looks like nothing more than a strange choice of decoration. To me, though, this little bottle carries far more meaning than anything it could physically hold.

Whatever tomorrow may hold, that bottle will forever be a reminder that the God of the Bible knows and profoundly loves me (and you). Out of a world full of people, he personally sees and comes close to us in our loneliness. He is strong enough to hold what you and I cannot. If you trust him, he will draw near to you and fill you with a hope and comfort that cannot be taken.

You may not feel seen by those around you, but with Jesus, you’re never truly alone.

*Adapted from “He holds our tears in loneliness” (Ch. 2) of Tears and Tossings: Hope in the Waves of Life (10 Publishing, 2021), written as a resource for non-Christians and Christians alike who are walking through pain and suffering.  

By / May 13

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.

By / May 1

Like Gen X and others that have come before, the millennial generation is old news. They have moved beyond the college-aged years and into the workforce. In fact, many have their own kids!

There is a new youth generation that has been dubbed “iGen,” the “selfie generation,” the “trans generation,” but are most popularly known as Generation Z. Essentially, Gen Z includes elementary to college-aged students.

There is a ton of research on Gen Z by leading organizations such as Barna and The Center for Generational Kinetics. Yet in our recent book, So The Next Generation Will Know, J. Warner Wallace and I list a number of insights that uniquely characterize this new generation. Let’s consider five:

1. They’re digital natives: Gen Zers spend nearly every waking hour of the day interacting with some form of digital technology. This shapes their sleeping habits, how they process information, how they build and maintain relationships, and how they spend their spare time. Gen Z is the first generation raised swiping screens on tablets and smartphones before they could even speak. The use of digital technology—and in particular social media—is perhaps the defining characteristic of this generation.

2. They’re fluid: Categories that were seemingly fixed and distinct for previous generations are now considered blurry, ambiguous, and fluid for Gen Z. Technology has contributed to a blurring of the lines between work and home, truth and fiction, fact and feeling, and our public and private lives. Perhaps nowhere is there greater fluidity than with issues of sex, gender, and family. Few believe there is such a thing as a “normal” family. Only half of teens today believe gender is defined by one’s sex at birth.

3. They’re post-Christian: More young Americans describe themselves as religiously unaffiliated than ever before. The frequency of Bible reading, prayer, and church attendance is also declining. The Bible no longer holds the same authority in the minds of this generation, at least in terms of what previous generations claimed to believe. In her book iGen, Jean Twenge concluded, “The move away from religion is no longer piecemeal, small, or uncertain; it is large and definitive. More young Americans are thoroughly secular, disconnecting completely from religion, spirituality, and the larger questions of life” (p. 132).

4. They’re lonely: Based on their online presence, most teens seem eminently happy. But this happiness is often a veneer hiding deep loneliness. Gen Z may be on the verge of the greatest mental health crisis in decades. Depression, anxiety, and loneliness are on the rise.

5. Information overload. With smartphones, young people have endless amounts of information at their fingertips. As a result, they can have what they want, how they want it, when, where, and with whomever they want it.

Reaching Gen Z

The big question is how we reach a digitally-shaped generation that experiences information overload. In light of my research and personal experience as a parent, speaker, and teacher, I believe there are two key components.

Building Real Relationships

First, we must build relationships with this generation to develop trust so we can speak into their lives. Young people today have endless voices vying for their allegiance. Why should they listen to you or me? Part of the answer lies in building relational capital with them so we have the right to speak into their lives.

This is a distracted generation that deeply needs meaningful relationships with caring adults. Much of the loneliness of this generation stems from their broken relationships. Many young people settle for relational counterfeits­ such as consumerism, busyness, pornography, fame, and so on which can never truly fill their hearts. What they long for, and need, is adults who will step into their worlds and value them for who they truly are.

In 2018, the A&E channel ran a special show called Undercover High, in which seven young adults, aged 21 to 26, went back to high school to get an inside perspective on students today. What alarmed the undercover students most was the disconnect between teens and adults. One of the undercover students said, “They [teens] are craving for adults to understand them and see them for who they are and the struggles they are facing.” The undercover students concluded that, most of all, young people today just want someone to talk to.

Think about the caring adults in your life who shaped you. Honestly, would you be where you are today without them? Probably not. Because of social media and smartphones, this generation faces more relational challenges than you and I did growing up. They don’t just need “someone.” They need you and they need me. Will you be that caring adult who makes a difference?

Equipping with a biblical worldview

Relationships are vital for building the trust to reach this generation. But young people today also need a worldview through which they can make sense of information bombardment. In other words, Gen Zers need a belief system that can act like a funnel to determine which cultural message are good, true, and worth listening to.

Here’s the reality: If we do not consciously equip young Christians with a biblical worldview, they will unconsciously absorb the ideas of today’s culture. And because of our information-saturated world, Gen Zers are exposed to more competing worldviews—and at earlier ages—than any generation in history.

Barna research has consistently shown that people who see the world as Jesus did are more likely to live as Jesus did. We live based not on what we say we believe or want to believe but based on what we truly believe. If we aim to transform how this generation lives, we need to help them adopt a biblical worldview and then apply that worldview to their life and relationships.

Consider an example of how I tried to do this recently in my own family. My 15-year-old son wanted to see the movie Bohemian Rhapsody, which tells the story of the rock band Queen. I hesitated because the film is PG-13 and contains a message about sexuality that concerns me. Yet after some thought, and research on the film, I came up with a compromise: I would bring him and a friend if they would talk with me about the movie afterward.

He agreed. We went to the movie and then came home and discussed it at the dining room table for about 30 minutes. I didn’t lecture them, but simply asked questions about their impressions, insights, and how we can think about the movie Christianly. My goal was to build a relationship with my son and his friend and also to seize the opportunity to have a meaningful discussion with them about faith.

There are many other ways to do this, but the principle is simple: Truth is best taught to this generation through relationships. If we care about Gen Z, we must step into their worlds and be willing to sacrifice our priorities to get to know them so they can come to know our Savior.

By / Apr 20

Did you know that every time a lion pride hunts together it is a lightly organized operation? They do not test their potential prey for weakness like other predators do. The only weakness they are looking for is isolation. If they can remove a single animal from it’s herd, lunch is easily delivered, even if the animal they are hunting is much larger or faster than the lions themselves.

Knowing our place

We are much like a lion’s unsuspecting prey, because we are all made weak and vulnerable by isolation. We may be living life, oblivious to the threat, but the threat is there, and it is real.

First Peter 5:8 puts it this way, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”

Staying disconnected has the power to do much more than simply make us feel lonely. It may be what the enemy uses to prey upon you and bring you down.

Back to the Garden

Let’s head back to the Garden of Eden to take a look at exactly how isolation led to the fall of all mankind.

In Genesis 3:2-5, the serpent, who likely had been lurking in the grass for a while, sees his opportunity to deceive God’s children and moves in for the kill.

“And the woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, “You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’”

I believe Satan was hunting Eve. He waited for a moment when she was not surrounded by her community. Verse six tells us that Adam was nearby, but maybe he was just slightly out of earshot. And even if he wasn’t, Eve apparently didn’t take the time to talk to him about what was happening. We see in her the first woman with an independent streak as she determined that she would process the information Satan was giving her and make the decision all on her own.

Would things have turned out differently for Eve if she had simply said, “Let me talk to my husband about it,” before taking a bite of that rotten fruit? Certainly, she would have been even more protected against this attack if she had talked to her husband and consulted with God. God had given her a double-layered safety net through a relationship with him and a relationship with Adam, but she cut right through the net and put herself in grave danger by deciding to go at it alone. What happened next reminds us that we are all daughters of Eve.

Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.

And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. (Gen. 3:7-8)

Isolation set Eve up to sin. Then, her shame led to an even deeper isolation and feeling of loneliness.

Here’s the big takeaway: When we step outside of community, we become infinitely more susceptible to temptation and sin. In this way, loneliness is less of an emotion and more of a military strategy effectively used by our enemy. Our shame then lies to us and tells us that isolation is the only way to regain control. In this way, loneliness and shame become a two-edged sword that is very effective at takings us out at the knees.

A church at the stadium

Researchers recently surveyed those who regularly attend church services to get a feel for their experiences. Sixty-six percent of the people they talked to said they feel they have a “real and personal connection” with God while attending church.

However, the study also revealed that more than a quarter of those surveyed agreed with the statement that church feels “like a group of people sharing the same space in a public event but who are not connected in a real way.” Another nine percent of those surveyed weren’t sure if they were connecting to others in their church or not. I have to wonder if the people in this group know what connectedness feels like if or they’ve settled for a synthetic substitute.

What people were saying is that for them church feels like going to a football game. They stadium is packed. They are surrounded by people who all want the same thing. The mood is light, but they are not really connected. At the end of the day, the sermon, the service, the game, they will go back home to their lonely lives with the same sense they could never tell what’s really going on.

I think this trend is less a reflection on the state of our churches, and more evidence of a personal problem. To start, many of us have a bad theology of the church. We don’t get that God’s clear vision for the church is that it be our family—the unit in which we become more like Christ— and the hub of the gospel. Instead we think of it more as a social club. What’s more, as individuals we refuse to get real about our sin. We want to keep up appearances. We want people to think we’re really good people. We prefer to think of church as a country club where we wear our best clothes, including a pretty mask, instead of a hospital where we can get bound up and healed through the loving care of others.

Are you lonely? If so, is it possible that sin is the root cause? Can you look back and see that Satan waited for moments when you were outside your community? He attacked, and then he lied to you and told you shame should banish you to the bushes, making you feel even more alone.

It’s time to fall into your safety net. Seek God, and ask him to reveal the sin in your life. Confess it to him right then and there. Don’t hide yourself or your junk. But don’t stop there. Tell your Christian friends. Tell your pastor. Tell your mentor. Tell your family. Keep telling until you see the lion pride slink away and set their sights in a different direction.

By / Apr 13

Is it even possible that my generation, which sends 6 billion text messages per day and 6,000 thousand tweets per second, is fatally lonely? Not only is that possible, it’s increasingly the consensus of social and behavioral scientists. Carolyn Gregoire at Huffington Post has highlighted a report from the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science that discusses the serious effects that chronic loneliness can have on health. One study concludes that the connection between loneliness and decreased physical well-being (including lifespan) is so well-established that loneliness should be considered alongside things like obesity a “public health concern.”

The loneliest generation

The irony is obvious. Millennials sit perched atop the most dazzling machines of communication in the history of human race. Of all the emotional ills that could possibly afflict someone, chronic loneliness seems like something that should be thoroughly vaccinated against by now. Yet not only are we still lonely, we are lonely in an intensity and frequency that very well may exceed any generation in our country’s history.

Secular commentators usually explain our condition one of two ways. The first and most popular explanation is that economic inequality creates this interpersonal isolation by perpetuating the class divide and rewarding self-seeking behavior. This kind of worldview tends to reduce human dynamics to personal power structures. While it is true that poverty can keep people from investing the time and resources in meaningful relationships, it’s also true that many non-Western cultures are intensely communal even at the lowest economic levels.

The second common interpretation is closer to the mark. According to this view, the astonishing mobility of the modern information age has displaced us. No longer tied by necessity to hometowns, jobs, or even spouses and families, we lack the social anchoring that creates community between people united by geo-social realities. Instead, our lives are highly atomized. Our jobs are just jobs, our neighborhoods are just streets with houses and our friends are not necessarily connected to either. We can create custom lives to suit our desires, but this often comes at the expense of a sense of place and belonging.

Personal autonomy: An enemy of friendship

This explanation is interesting because it suggests that personal autonomy–the right and ability to live one’s life absolutely according to personal desire and being ultimately accountable only to oneself–is actually an enemy of friendship. Personal autonomy, especially sexual autonomy, is practically America’s real religion of choice. Personal autonomy is the religion that undergirds no-fault divorce, abortion rights, the decline and redefinition of marriage and moral relativism. The autonomous self is the self that proudly declares “Only God can judge me” and lives as if “God” and “me” are the same person.

It’s important to note that “personal autonomy” and “selfishness” are not the same thing. It is possible to spend one’s life unselfishly advocating for the autonomy of others, and seeking to “stamp out” those who publicly critique autonomy doctrine. That’s precisely where many social progressives currently find themselves.

People convinced of their autonomy are more confident to upheave social expectations on their lives. If you live your life outside the moral universe of religion, tradition and human flourishing, then you are indeed more likely to craft a custom built code of ethics that may make you feel like a “revolutionary.” Yet such revolutionaries often tell of a sense of isolation, unmet emotional fulfillment and personal stagnation.

One example is the liberation promised by the sexual revolution, which has instead turned out to be a legacy of broken homes and deeply dysfunctional lives. Though Westerners are less likely than ever to filter out their sexual desires through transcendent moral norms, they are more likely to be emotionally isolated, sexually frustrated and depressed.

Love: Self-sacrifice for the happiness of others

Why are autonomous selves so lonely? Because the doctrine of personal autonomy is a deathblow to the foundation of genuine relationship and community. Love, the opposite of loneliness, requires the surrender of the self to the good of the other. The key to self-surrender is the seeking of our own happiness in the happiness of others. That is the true fuel of love. The doctrine of the autonomous self teaches us that only by looking inside ourselves and actualizing our felt identities can we be happy. That is the opposite of love. Even if in our quest for self-authentication we behave altruistically or advocate for others, in the end we will only do so in hopes of achieving self-actualization, not the happiness of others.

Social media plays into the religion of self autonomy by allowing us to project custom-built versions of our identities into space and await others to “Like” or “Favorite” it. This isn’t to say that social media is bad or cannot be used in relationally meaningful ways, but it is to say that the reason social media cannot cure our loneliness is because it is not intended to. Social media exists in the end to serve us, not others.

We were not created for loneliness. At the dawn of the universe’s existence, only one thing was not good: Adam was alone. God’s answer to Adam’s aloneness was not to reinforce his sense of self autonomy; quite the opposite. He created Eve, and in so doing proved that the image bearers of God are meant to live with one another, with the highest relationship being marriage between a man and his wife.  

Thousands of years later, Jesus would tell his disciples that whoever would be great among them should serve like the least, and that the love of Jesus’s followers for one another would be the distinguishing mark of their faith. The cure for loneliness is the love of God, expressed in the life of his church. As the Lord said, whoever saves his life loses it, and whoever loses his life will save it.

This was originally published at