Lately you have been feeling “invisible.” It seems like everyone else has friends, but you are just “in” the crowd—not “of” the crowd. You feel empty, disconnected, and alienated from those around you—socially inadequate, socially unskilled. You are anxious and sad but feel like no one else knows how miserable and isolated you are. You feel empty and hollow, like you are separated from the rest of the world.
People around you are friendly and greet you with a smile. However, you find it difficult, seemingly impossible, to have any really meaningful interaction with others. You would like to meet new people and make deep friendships, but you just can’t bring yourself to take part in social activities to make friends.
Feeling unloved and unwanted, you are lonely. But how could you be lonely when there are people all around you? Isn’t God always with you so that you will not be lonely? Can cross-cultural workers be lonely? What can you do?
How can I be lonely?
You are certainly not alone if you live in a city of millions of people. However, loneliness has nothing to do with being alone; it has to do with relationships. If you live in a village of a hundred people, you are much less likely to be lonely than if you live in a city of a million people. You are likely to know the names of everyone you meet in that village, but you may never meet anyone you know in that city.
Many people choose to be alone, to experience solitude, and they find it a positive, pleasurable, enriching time. Loneliness is essentially unwilling solitude, wanting to be in relationship with others but not experiencing it. “Forced solitude,” solitary confinement, is one of the most terrible punishments used on people in prison.
You may be relatively new to the culture in which you live so that you find it difficult to have meaningful relationships with the nationals. You have not yet internalized enough of the culture to feel at ease with close relationships in it. Or you may have been in that culture for many years, even the leader of your group, and still be lonely. Being the leader changes your relationships with everyone in the group and it is “lonely at the top.”