Circumstances vary, but the feelings are similar. We feel isolated, vulnerable, and alone. We want to talk and be heard. We want to be known and understood; we don’t want to feel invisible. We want to be included and cared about. Wanted. We desire intimacy. We want to be connected to someone.
So how do we remedy this loneliness? I thought it was simple: Make one really good friend. I am a decent listener I think, so, my job was to listen, make you laugh, and help you out. Your job was to be my friend so I wouldn’t be lonely. But eventually I would upset the balance of this arrangement by asking you to help me. If you couldn’t manage it, I felt hurt. Or maybe I couldn’t get you to listen to me for ten minutes when I had already listened to you for hours. Or maybe you choose to hang out with another friend instead of me and I take it as a personal rejection. When you let me down or are not there for me, I saw them as obstacles to my sense of security and belonging. Whatever the case, I would take self-protective steps to prevent getting hurt again. My best way to protect myself is to back away from the friendship, even if it has become a very good friendship that I deeply care about.
Not a very healthy dynamic.. I work to get you to like me, but I also work to protect myself from you. I move toward you because I want your acceptance, but I back away because I want to play it safe. A tug-of-war goes on within my heart. My desire for acceptance wins one moment, self-protection the next. The result? I send out a continuous stream of mixed messages. When I am self-protective, I withdraw into myself. But then I become afraid you are (a) losing patience with me; (b) glad to be rid of me; or (c) not even noticing that I’ve withdrawn. All of these possibilities are bad, so I risk getting hurt by being nice again so you’ll still like me. Sooner or later, it all takes too much effort and my heart does not know what to do except cry and fight the desire to hold on too tight because I can’t imagine life without friends, and resort that my life is destined to be completely alone and by myself forever. But eventually, I grow tired of days spent alone or days surrounded by people who really do not know me, the memories of our cycle fades, I think that if I am better, you will like me more and I begin the cycle all over again. Because see, this friendship has become an idol and I can’t imagine loosing it.
In the case of a “idolatrous relationship,” these typical idol patterns reinforce and compete with each other. They fit together in an uncanny way, creating massively destructive feedback loops. Idols counterfeit aspects of God’s identity and character: Judge, savior, source of blessing, sin-bearer, object of trust, author of a will which must be obeyed, and so forth. Each idol that clusters in the system makes false promises and gives false warnings: “if only…then….” I start to think, “If only I am more fun, then…” or “If only I am less awkward in certain situations, then….” This idol promises and warns, “If only I can give the right thing and can make it all better, then the friendship will be better/I will be liked more. Because both the promises and warnings are lies, service to each idol results in a hangover of misery and accursedness. Idols lie, enslave, and murder. They are continually insinuated by the one who was a liar, slave master and murderer from the beginning. The simple picture of idolatry—a worshiper prostrated before a figure of wood, metal or stone—is powerfully extended by the Bible. In Psalm 105 and 106, a history of Israel is given and what the Lord has done for them. In 106:28, it says that the people of Israel yoked themselves to their idol, Baal, even after all the Lord had brought them through. This began the process of me thinking, “what idols am I yoking myself to?” As I was, at the same time, crying out the Lord about my loneliness and friendships that I keep screwing up no matter what I do, my eyes are opened to a correlation between all 3. These are my idols and people make horrible gods.
In his mercy, God hasn’t left me to endlessly repeat this cycle. He opened my eyes to this reality: it isn’t what remedies our loneliness, who fixes relationships but who remedies it—namely, Jesus Christ, the friend of sinners.
He loves me too much to allow me to continue life with my current gods. It is taking hurt, brokenness and feelings of loneliness and rejection to strip them from me. Loneliness is a result of man’s original sin against God in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:1–13). The perfect union Adam and Eve had enjoyed with God and with each other was destroyed when they chose to disobey God. Sin separated them from God and from each other. Where once there had been openness (they had been naked and unashamed), sin made for hiding (behind fig leaves and trees). Where once there had been completeness, sin made for loss. Where once there had been acceptance, sin made for rejection. Where once there had been praise, sin made for blame (“she made me do it”). Hiding. Loss. Rejection. Blame. All ingredients of loneliness. Loneliness was born at the Fall.
It is true that before sin entered the world, God had declared that it wasn’t good for man to be alone (Genesis 2:18), but God was stating a fact, not voicing how Adam was feeling. At the time, Adam was enjoying perfect communion with God. Apart from God telling him, he had no way of knowing that anything more was possible. Maybe Adam began to get an inkling of it as the animals paraded past him, but it was God’s assessment that man should not be alone. This shouldn’t surprise us. After all, God created man in his image, and he is not a God who exists alone. He is one God in three persons—three who are alike, yet distinct. God wanted man to enjoy fellowship with him, but he also wanted man to enjoy the kind of fellowship God enjoys as three members of the Godhead—with others who are like us, but distinct from us. Because we are made in God’s image, we are made to be in relationship with him and with other people.
I desperately desire good friends, just a few good friends who know my heart, my past, my sin and my struggles and who love me enough to walk through life with me. Who enjoy being with me and love to laugh with me; who want to be with me. I also desperately desire a husband and a family. And even more so, I am desperately ready for the day all of this will finally be healed, I will be the bride of Christ and will finally get to meet my bridegroom Jesus face to face (Revelation 19:1–9). Oh what a day. Until then, as I anxiously await, I pray I love and cherish my friendships, healthy friendships who are not gods, but who are a creation of my God whom He has given me to live in community with. Only. Because people make horrible gods.