Albert Einstein once said, “It is strange to be known so universally and yet to be so lonely.”  You can be the most active mom on the block—volunteering yourself like crazy and hosting every party—but be riddled with loneliness.

What is loneliness?  Ironically, it’s not being alone.  The strange thing about loneliness is that we feel it most intently when we are with people.  Loneliness is the knowing in our heart that we were created to really, truly know each other in the deepest sense but feeling stuck with superficiality.

About eight years ago my husband, Bob, and I went through a period during which we were really vulnerable about some struggles we were facing.  We took our proverbial masks of perfection off and shared that we were facing a marital challenge.  We ached so deeply.  I went to visit one of my closest friends.  She knew our secrets.  Surely, she would talk to me about them.  Instead, when she answered the door and saw my tears she said, “I just made some really great cake icing, do you want to come in and taste it?”  So I did.

And then she offered me the recipe and said she was really busy.  Man, was that one of the loneliest moments of my life.

Loneliness is most often triggered by a major, painful event such as the divorce of parents, a major dating break-up, an illness or long hospitalization, the loss of a loved one, a broken friendship, or a rejection from a group of people you trusted.  Let’s face it: It’s hard to talk about a cake icing recipe or who is dating whom when your heart is crushed by rejection or loss.

You want to talk about real issues.  You want to be known.

According to surveys, on of the three greatest fears of teen girls is that they will never be truly known and loved.  I’m not sure we ever outgrow that, girls!  Even Jesus experienced acute loneliness.  But He confessed His unshaken confidence in the presence of God in John 16:32 when He said, “You will leave Me all alone.  Yet I am not alone, for My Father is with Me.”

Are you lonely?  Here’s how you might be able to tell:

  • Has there been a significant painful event in your life in the past 12 months?
  • Do you zone out when people start talking about superficial things, desiring to talk about “real” issues? (Perhaps you leave parties early.)
  • Do you feel painfully isolated when you are with people? (If being alone is comfortable for you but being with people makes you feel alone, you are probably experiencing loneliness.)
  • Do you cry often and feel sadness but still maintain productivity and efficiency? (Depression dampens ability to function; loneliness does not. If you find yourself unable to perform normal duties, you should consider whether you could be depressed, which can occur if loneliness goes on too long.)

If you answered yes to all of the above, you may be experiencing loneliness on some level.  We all experience it at some point in our lives.  It’s not a sin.  (Remember, Jesus knew this emotion as well.)  But it’s not something God wants you to live with as a constant companion.

So, how do you relieve loneliness?  Oh, my friend, the pill to relieve our pain from loneliness isn’t one that just one of us can swallow.  We must all dive in to become a tight-knit group of intimate friends, with unconditional trust, a place where weaknesses, strengths, successes, and failures are shared.  We must be so tight-knit that we talk about real things in real time.

That means we take off the mask and be transparent so intimacy can grow and our friendships are so deep that they aid us in our times of deepest need.

If you are experiencing loneliness, I encourage you to call a friend and tell her what is really going on in your life.  If she can handle it, she’ll help you find the way out.  If she can’t, find someone who can.

After my friend sent me home with a great cake icing recipe, I called another.  She and her husband walked with us through our pain and today Bob and I enjoy a great marriage with each other an an intimate friendship with them.  Two returns that were well worth the investment of transparency.  I’m so glad I took off the mask of perfection—the cost was well worth the pay-off.