Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted.Psalm 25:16-18
The troubles of my heart are enlarged; bring me out of my distresses.
Consider my affliction and my trouble, and forgive all my sins.
The Affliction of Loneliness
For the longest time, I suffered with loneliness. For a long time, I was of the party who called Valentine’s Day, “Singles’ Awareness Day.” My introversion seemed only to worsen the curse. I’ve always found it difficult to socialise, especially because of the societal assumptions that I always have to say something in order to socialise adequately. Even worse, my love life was a tragedy. I had a lot of relationships, and they were all failures. I had an ex-fiancée who cheated on me and women didn’t want to be with me because of my pastoral path.
I suffered with this for years until, miraculously, the Lord brought me the love of my life. We’re getting married on June 28th this year. Yet it was a long road to get here. Having watched many of my friends get engaged and married in their early twenties, I’ll be 30-years-old when I get married, and she’ll be 32.
I never thought my affliction would end. Friends and family assured me that “the Lord would bring the right one along in His timing.” Of course, I knew this, but it wasn’t comforting. Instead of helping me with my emotions, they invalidated my emotions by implying they don’t matter since the Lord will do His will. The Lord will absolutely do His will; it’s not like I didn’t know this. Plus, they assumed they knew God’s will. It could well just have been the Lord’s will that I not marry at all and remain celibate. What I needed was comfort in my affliction, and nobody would give it to me.
Hence my writing this. My attempt here is to provide what little comfort I can that words on a page can bring. Through the words of the above psalm, if you’re suffering with loneliness, I hope to comfort you at least a little bit. Yet using the words of the psalm, I will also challenge you. This is going to be a down to earth, realistic article.
Verse 16: Grace in Loneliness
David asks the Lord for His grace in his loneliness. Certainly, David’s loneliness was not of the romantic kind. Even so, we know what loneliness is.
When I was lonely—and I’m sure you who are lonely can probably say the same—I recall many times when I prayed for God to help me in my loneliness. They were prayers of asking for a godly woman who loves Him and who would love me as I am, among other things.
However, note that David’s petition doesn’t ask for a person or thing to put an end to his loneliness. Instead, he asks for God. “Turn to me,” he says. He desires God’s undivided attention. He desires God to “lift up His countenance” upon him and give him peace (cf. the language of the Aaronic Benediction used in Numbers 6:24-26). He asks for God and he asks for God’s graciousness.
David doesn’t say how God provided His graciousness in the psalm, so let us consider how God provides His grace for us today. We call these things the means of grace, which are the methods by which God bestows His gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation. These means are His Word and Sacraments. His Word speaks forgiveness, life, and salvation to you; and because God’s Word is living and active (Hebrews 4:12)—that is, His Word does what it says—this means God’s Word performs forgiveness, life, and salvation to you.
He does this also through the Sacraments. God commanded these physical elements to impart His grace through the power of His Word. In Baptism, eternal life and salvation are yours; you are made a child of God. The Holy Spirit has been given to you to work in you sanctification. In the Eucharist, you receive Jesus’ true body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins. In Absolution, the pastor forgives you your sins by the stead and command of Jesus Christ.
Praying for a faithful wife or husband is a good desire. There’s nothing wrong with that. But does that desire sustain you? Will it sustain you? It is okay to desire a spouse, but your greatest desire should be for God and His graciousness from which all good things flow.
My encouragement to you is that as you pray for a godly husband or wife, pray first and foremost for God and His graciousness. Seek His grace in the Word and Sacraments where He has promised to be present and to impart His grace. I soon realised that rather than Christ being the sole desire of my heart, getting married became an idol in my heart. But more on that later.
Verse 17: Loneliness Increases in the Heart
I get what you’re going through. Loneliness only seems to get worse. At times, I was even mad at God. “You said it is not good for man to be alone,” I yelled at God. “So, why must I be alone?” Every Valentine’s Day enlarged the pain in my heart. Loneliness was like a merciless tumour that grew exponentially every Valentine’s Day I spent by myself.
Every time a couple who were years younger than me would get engaged or a crush would begin dating someone else, my heart sank deeper and deeper into the bottomless pit of desolation. And every time I was dumped because a woman couldn’t deal being with a future pastor, I became increasingly convinced I was meant to live the rest of my life alone.
So, I get it. It keeps getting worse. It might even seem as if all signs are pointing to the worst: that it just might be God’s will for you to be alone for the rest of your life. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. I can’t discern that for you. But I understand that terrible, sinking feeling in your heart that seems to have an endless growth like weeds along a dilapidated building.
Verse 18: Marriage as an Idol
Consider if this is an idol in your heart. Again, desiring a godly husband or wife is a good desire, but is this the desire that takes precedence in your heart? Any desire that is placed over the desire for God is, by definition, idolatry.
David asks God for His presence and graciousness in the midst of his affliction and loneliness. So, his asking for God’s forgiveness seems to be an odd inclusion in this section of the psalm, but perhaps it’s not so odd. It is not good for any person to be alone; it is not God’s desire that you suffer. Yet sin takes what is good and twists it into something evil. What David desired was good, but maybe he is also sinning in his affliction.
What we desire in our loneliness is a good desire. Marriage is a blessing from God, but it can easily be made into an idol. As fallen creatures, we are prolific at making what God gives us for our own good into idols.
For example, God gave the Israelites the Ark of the Covenant where He promised His glory to be present. This was a good thing! God was doing this for their own good. At one point, however, the Israelites turned the Ark into an idol. Failing to consult their prophet Samuel to go into battle against the Philistines, they lost the battle. So, they figured they’d bring the Ark of the Covenant with them into battle that would guarantee their victory. Instead of consulting the Word of the Lord through their prophet and trusting in the Lord, they trusted in the Ark, using it like a pagan talisman. As a result, the Philistines captured the Ark, although to their own detriment (1 Samuel 4-5).
God gave the Israelites the Ark for their own good. They misunderstood this as the Ark being God’s confinement and began treating it as an idol, placing their trust and security in it rather than Yahweh. By doing so, the thing God intended for their own good only hurt them.
We can do the same thing with marriage. God instituted marriage for our own good because it is indeed not good for a man to be alone. Yet we can easily turn this good thing into an idol by putting our trust and security in marriage rather than where it properly belongs: in God. Thus, it is no wonder why loneliness seems to grow exponentially.
It took me too long to realise it, but I realised I was making marriage into an idol. I was placing my identity in it. “If I don’t have somebody who loves me, what good am I?” I thought. Instead of finding my identity in Baptism where God has made me into His child, I was placing that identity in marriage.
So, here’s my challenge for you: Is your desire for marriage an idol? The desire for marriage should be just that: a desire. It should never be the ultimate thing in your life; that belongs to Christ alone. Whatever takes His place becomes an idol.
This is where proper time for self-examination is required. Take some time and pray, and I mean really pray. Meditate on the Word. What is the greatest desire of your heart? Why do you want to get married in the first place? Just to stop this feeling of loneliness? To have kids? To feel loved and have a sense of belonging? To glorify your Father who is in Heaven? All of these are good desires, but which one takes precedence?
If you find that marriage is indeed an idol in your life, you need to repent. That’s what I had to do. I always said the Lord was the greatest desire of my heart, but that was an outright lie. Marriage was the greatest desire of my heart. That’s sin!
Realising this, the Word humbled me and brought me to repentance; and that wasn’t the end. When I repented, the Lord altered my attitude toward relationships. Instead of becoming dismayed when my younger friends got engaged, I rejoiced in their happiness. Next to Christ, marriage is the greatest blessing this life has to offer. Instead of being envious of them like I always was, I genuinely grew happy for them. I even prayed for them.
Eventually, I decided to stop putting so much time, money, and energy into finding a wife and instead to put all that into my seminary studies and personal development in my life. I truly left it in God’s hands. Sure, I was still looking, but for the first time I was more passive than I was active. During this time is when I met my soon-to-be wife.
I’m not saying that if you repent and focus your attention on Christ rather than marriage that finding your spouse is bound to happen. He could do that, but this was just my experience. Rather, if you find that marriage is an idol in your life, I encourage you to repent for two reasons of Law and Gospel. Under the Law, this is sin, and you must repent. Under the Gospel, by placing your trust and security in Christ rather than a thing of this earth, Christ truly brings you His peace (cf. John 14:27) and completely changes your attitude. The promised marriage feast of the Lamb becomes your source of comfort rather than the transitory feast of an expensive wedding reception.
Whatever the Lord’s will for you is, what I can tell you with absolute certainty as an engaged man is this: the wait was absolutely worth it. At no true fault of my own, I’m getting married pretty late in the game. Would I have liked to have gotten married at 23 or 25? Of course. But I have no regrets with marrying the love of my life at the age of 30. She was absolutely worth the wait. I would do it all over again, too, just to meet her beautiful soul for the first time again. So, if the Lord brings a spouse into your life, I guarantee you the wait will absolutely be worth it.