“I Have a Question,” Ensign, Oct. 1995, 60–61
Julie Larsen, Relief Society Spiritual Living teacher in the Aspen Second Ward, Orem Utah Aspen Stake.
Almost everyone at times struggles with loneliness—children who feel left out, adolescent youth who are trying to find their place in the world, single adults who are not married or who are divorced or widowed, parents whose children are growing up and moving on, the elderly who find themselves facing long hours alone. Even those surrounded by family and friends can at times feel alone.
Some Latter-day Saints may wonder how feelings of loneliness can be possible if they are striving to live worthy of the companionship of the Holy Ghost. Loneliness, however, is a normal and necessary part of our probation on earth.
When Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden of Eden, they were also separated from the presence of the Lord. Life in this probationary world became a series of experiences that often must be faced alone. An important aspect of being mortal is facing challenges and making choices without our Heavenly Father’s constant presence we once enjoyed (see D&C 58:26–28). Even the Savior’s suffering, “that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities” (Alma 7:12), included loneliness (see Matt. 27:46).
One of the most touching examples of loneliness in the scriptures is when Moroni, after the final battle at Cumorah, “remain[s] alone to write the sad tale of the destruction of my people” (Morm. 8:3). He continues: “Therefore I will write and hide up the records in the earth; and whither I go it mattereth not. … I am alone. My father hath been slain in battle, and all my kinsfolk, and I have not friends nor whither to go; and how long the Lord will suffer that I may live I know not” (Morm. 8:4–5). Yet, as acutely bleak and lonely as Moroni’s situation may seem to have been, he was not without comfort and hope. Further reading reveals that “the disciples of Jesus” ministered to Moroni and that he enjoyed close communication with the Lord (see Morm. 8:10–11; Ether 12:29–37). Other possible sources of comfort and strength include his father’s words to him regarding hope in Christ (see Moro. 9:25–26) as well as his own testimony (see Moro. 10:34).
Likewise, the Savior does not leave us entirely alone. He has promised, “I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you” (John 14:18) and, “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee” (Heb. 13:5).
The first place to turn in overcoming loneliness is the Savior’s outstretched hand. He sends the Comforter, whose influence “may abide with [us] for ever” (John 14:16; see also John 14:17) and may help heal the hurt in loneliness. And while the Lord may not completely remove our burdens, he will send comfort.
To receive the companionship of the Spirit, however, we must make our lives worthy. Just as we should strive to keep a year’s supply of food at home, we should strive to be prepared spiritually so that when difficulties arise we will be able to withstand adversity by calling upon our faith to sustain us.
President Ezra Taft Benson explained what we must do to qualify for the companionship of the Holy Ghost. “Each week we make a solemn covenant to be like Him [the Lord Jesus Christ], to always remember Him in everything, and to keep all of His commandments. In return, He promises to give us His spirit” (Ensign, Dec. 1988, p. 6). Keeping the commandments not only qualifies us for spiritual guidance but also can make a difference in our feelings of worth and in our ability to build good relationships with others.
It is helpful to consider the benefits that can be reaped from trials like loneliness. For example, single adults can develop a special empathy that allows them to help others who, feeling lonely, are in need of comfort and companionship. Heavenly Father needs servants trained through experience to minister to the needs of his children.
Sometimes we need to learn and do certain things to alleviate our loneliness. In such cases, it is worthwhile to seek help in improving one’s character and broadening one’s interests through study, self-discipline, increased social interaction, and a general willingness to try new things and meet new people.
Elder Richard G. Scott, now of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, commented on the role of personal initiative in overcoming feelings of loneliness and of being excluded:
“The social and sport activities [of my youth] left me feeling alone and unwanted. It was not until a lot later in life that I realized it was largely my fault.
“I have since learned that one cannot demand love and respect or require that the bonds of friendship and appreciation be extended as an unearned right. These blessings must be earned. They come from personal merit. Sincere concern for others, selfless service, and worthy example qualify one for such respect. All my rationalization that others had formed select groups and knowingly ruled out my participation was largely a figment of my imagination. Had I practiced correct principles, I need not have felt alone” (“To the Lonely and Misunderstood,” Brigham Young University 1981–82 Fireside and Devotional Speeches, Provo, Utah: University Publications, p. 199).
Becoming more involved in Church and community activities can also help cure feelings of loneliness. No Latter-day Saint, given the ample opportunities to mingle with, serve, and help others through Church service and activity, need feel alone or unneeded indefinitely.
President Benson said: “Reach out to others. Rather than turning inward, forget self and really serve others in your Church callings, in personal deeds of compassionate service, in unknown, unheralded personal acts of kindness.
“If you really want to receive joy and happiness, then serve others with all your heart. Lift their burden, and your own burden will be lighter. Truly in the words of Jesus of Nazareth: ‘He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake, shall find it.’ (Matt. 10:39.)” (Ensign, Nov. 1988, p. 97).
I have an 88-year-old friend who is almost blind and is completely homebound. Often when I arrive to visit her, another visitor is just leaving. Many of her visitors are friends and neighbors who are in their eighties themselves. Instead of sitting at home, they are giving of themselves to one who has greater needs than they. My friend does not let her physical limitations prevent her from seeking heavenly solace in her times of solitude.
“I talk to the Lord as if he were right here with me,” she says. “The lonelier I get, the closer I get to the Lord. Being alone gives me an opportunity to be quiet, and in my quietness I seek the inspiration that the Lord has offered me.”
She, too, is learning lessons she could not learn without experience.
“A mere hundred years from now today’s seeming deprivations and tribulations will not matter unless we let them matter too much now!” said Elder Neal A. Maxwell of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. “Some deprivations are but delayed blessings, which, if endured well, constitute the readying of reservoirs into which a generous God will pour ‘all that he hath.’ Indeed, it will be the Malachi measure: ‘There shall not be room enough to receive it.’ (Mal. 3:10.)” (We Will Prove Them Herewith, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1982, pp. 28–29).
Loneliness can be a pivotal experience in our lives. It can be the leaven that allows us to rise to the next step in our spiritual advancement, or it can be a chain that restrains our progress. In the very act of making up our minds to confront loneliness, half the battle is won. For if we seek the Lord through service, prayer, and righteousness, we will find that we are not alone (see Rev. 3:20).