The Leader and Emotion: Loneliness

With our entire world connected by social media it seems that none of us should be lonely. But the United Kingdom recently appointed a “minister of loneliness” to deal with the increased social and health issues associated with this emotion.

Loneliness is not a new emotion; it was keenly felt by David when he said to God, “Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted” (Psalm 25:16).

In another Psalm he pours out his heart, feeling all alone and forsaken even by God. 1 “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish? 2 My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest. 3 Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One; you are the one Israel praises… 10 From birth I was cast on you; from my mother’s womb you have been my God. 11 Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help… 19 But you, LORD, do not be far from me. You are my strength; come quickly to help me. 20 Deliver me from the sword, my precious life from the power of the dogs. 21 Rescue me from the mouth of the lions; save me from the horns of the wild oxen. 22 I will declare your name to my people; in the assembly I will praise you” (Psalm 22:1-3, 10-11, 19-22).

Leaders experience loneliness like everyone else. In addition, leaders often face an increased loneliness that comes from their leadership position. Although leaders work closely with people, they often face leadership challenges of which followers are not even aware. A business leader may wrestle alone with a financial decision that will impact the lives of many people. A pastor carries alone the weight of a church member in a personal crisis.

As a leader David also experienced loneliness and helps servant leaders understand how to lead with loneliness.

Loneliness should be recognized. David cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He recognizes that he is feeling abandoned by God. He felt all alone. Loneliness may also produce other emotions such as depression or sorrow, but David properly recognized that his primary feeling was abandonment or loneliness.

When loneliness is not identified, the pain is still keenly felt. Leaders are tempted to temporarily relieve the pain by overeating, indulgence in sexual fantasies or other illegitimate pleasures, addictive behaviors, etc. Servant leaders recognize loneliness, and this helps them guard their heart against moving in these unhealthy directions.

Loneliness should be revealed. David not only recognizes his emotion, he shares it with all of us! Leaders who seek to keep their loneliness hidden often sink further into depression or despair. Leaders who are willing to reveal their feeling of loneliness are able to adjust as needed and to take steps to avoid the pitfalls mentioned above.

Revealing loneliness also helps servant leaders seek help from God and others. David cried out to God, “Come quickly to help me.” Servant leaders learn to reveal their loneliness.

Loneliness should be restrained. David turns his focus from his own loneliness to say, “I will declare your name to my people; in the assembly I will praise you.” David recognized that if he focused on his loneliness, it would take him in a wrong direction as a leader. He poured out his soul to God, but then moved on to acknowledge God’s strength and ability to help. He also knew that isolation would only increase his sense of loneliness and that God created “the assembly” as a community.

Servant leaders learn to restrain their loneliness so that it does not control their ability to lead. They don’t allow loneliness to keep them from others and, like David, deliberately seek relationships with others. They actively seek God’s presence in their lives and join with others in praise to God. In community, they learn to lead even when lonely.

Until next time, yours on the journey,

Jon Byler

For further reflection and discussion:

  • Read all of Psalm 22 and reflect on how David experienced and expressed his loneliness. Jesus also quoted this Psalm of David when he was on the cross. How does this Psalm speak to me as a leader?
  • As a leader, what situations do I face that produce loneliness in me? What can I learn from David about how to lead with loneliness?
  • When I feel lonely, how can I express this to myself and others appropriately? What keeps me from expressing my loneliness?
  • When I feel lonely, what specific temptations do I face? In what way do these temporarily cover my pain? What are more healthy ways to respond to my loneliness?
  • Psalm 68:6 says that “God sets the lonely in families.” In what way do I find hope and connectedness with others? What do I need to do intentionally to strengthen my ‘family’ relationships?

Copyright, Global Disciples 2018.