Being alone is tough.

I’m not talking about taking time for yourself. That can be helpful and even spiritually rejuvenating. We all need time alone.

But there is a kind of aloneness that is an ache that can’t be soothed. It comes from deep within us. It can be rooted in many things and find expression even when we are with other people. Sometimes group gatherings are the loneliest places in the world.

In the gospel of John, Jesus comforts His disciples with the idea that when He dies, they will not be left alone. He says, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live (John 14:18-19).”

Jesus’ carefully chosen image of an “orphan” is very appropriate. One of the religiously rooted reasons we feel alone and even desperate is that we relate to God at a distance.

What stands between us? Our desperate need to prove ourselves acceptable or accepted.

Practically, this distance between us and God reveals an orphan mentality. An orphan is someone without any family. They are alone. They have no support system so they must do it themselves. An orphan finds themselves always feeling like loving and living for God is a duty and obligation. Other people are connecting to each other and to God, but not them. This only furthers the feeling of isolation and distance.

We subconsciously spend our lives struggling to be put back into God’s good graces. We feel like we have to earn everything in life ourselves. We feel like we have to be good enough alone.

Author and church planter Rosemarie Miller in her book, Anything Is Possible with God, says, “The gospel was not my working theology: Mine was moralism and legalism — a religion of duty and self control through human willpower. The goal was self-justification, not the justification by faith in Christ that the gospel offers. But, as many people can tell you, moralism and legalism can ‘pass’ for Christianity, at least outwardly, in the good times. It is only when crises come that you find there is no foundation on which to stand. And crises are what God used to reveal my heart’s true need for Him.”

Miller’s point is true: in crises, our true foundation is revealed. In the book of John, the disciples have come to this kind of crisis. Jesus has predicted His impending death. They don’t really believe He is planning on leaving them. (After Jesus dies, it is fascinating to see how the disciples’ response reveal they are shell-shocked by what has happened, even though Jesus told them it would.)

Jesus makes them this promise, “…I will come to you (John 14:18).” He says He isn’t going to leave the disciples alone forever.

And then His promise is followed by three days of silence — three days where everyone assumes He is gone forever.

It’s the same way for us. We often hear and believe the promise of God to be with us, but later we feel like God will never be close again. We retreat into an “orphan” mentality — believing that we are alone in the world, that we have no Father, and that we have to work to be loved.

Often, that leaves us in a place where we subconsciously spend our lives struggling to be put back into God’s good graces. We feel like we have to earn everything in life ourselves. We feel like we have to be good enough alone.

Miller writes, “We go through the day believing that it is up to us to figure out how to solve our problems and get on with life. The result is that we live with an uneasy guilt and fear because we have not measured up to our standards or won the approval of others.”

It’s a sad paradox: a spiritual orphan desperately wants to be connected to others and God, but believes that the only way to be worthy is to be independent and self-sufficient.

No doubt, the disciples felt this fear in those three days after Jesus’ death. Everything they had hoped for was gone. Everything they had put their faith in was destroyed. Now, they were on their own in matters of life, death, and eternity.

When God looks at us, He sees the goodness of Jesus and not the distance that we feel.

Ironically, it would be Jesus’ sinless life and sacrificial death — and the three loneliest days ever — that would secure for us a permanent place in the family, adopted by God.

So, how do we rid ourselves of this constant sense of aloneness fueled by an orphan mentality?

It’s simple, but not easy. But here are three steps to take:

1. We dwell on the resurrection, not the crucifixion. We focus on the joy and victory that has come to us, not our problems. We intentionally focus on our hope in the future and not our past.

2. We let people love us. An orphan can’t trust anyone. They are not cared for, so they have to take care of themselves. They can never be weak, and they can never depend on anyone. To move beyond being an orphan, we must let others care for us in intentional ways. We must stop doing everything ourselves.

3. We trust in Jesus’ righteousness and not our own. We have no hope of satisfying God, but that is good news, because the pressure is off! Christ has been good enough for us to satisfy God. It’s not our worry anymore. We obey out of love and not religious duty.

Miller says it this way: “Living to please God — repenting of the true guilt that comes when we put anything besides God at the center of our lives, trusting in the blood of Christ to cleanse the conscience of dead works, and relying on the power and presence of the Holy Spirit for the tasks of the day — is truly the liberated way to live.”

When God looks at us, He sees the goodness of Jesus and not the distance that we feel.

You can trust that.

God sees you as His son or daughter.

You can trust that.

God sees you as someone He loves.

You can trust that.

God sees you as a sinner, and still wants a relationship.

You can trust that.

God sees you with Him in eternity.

You can trust that.

And when you trust these things, you are no longer an orphan.

This article was written by Senior Pastor Mike Adkins and first published in the Holiday 2017 issue of Grace Magazine.