From Loneliness to Love


A From the Seminarians Series

by Draa Mackey


The odds are that you’ve experienced it firsthand. If you have, you’ll quickly recall how smothering it can be. Laura and Robert Illig in Business Insider write, “Even before COVID spread to all corners of the world and caused isolation, loneliness has been running rampant.” They cite the US Surgeon General’s report that loneliness increases the likelihood of premature death by 29%. Startlingly, this is the same increase in the likelihood of premature death as someone who smokes up to 15 cigarettes a day

How can loneliness cause such damage?  I’m convinced it is because of the way in which we have been designed. We are creatures formed not primarily by our intellect, nor by our actions, not even by our beliefs, but by and through our loves. And love necessarily must have relationship. It is only once we recognize and understand this universal constant that we can begin escaping the loneliness tsunami reshaping our societal landscape.

We will be looking at how reorienting our loves is a major step toward overcoming loneliness.  This article will offer three observations: 1) our lives flow from our loves; 2) we become what we love; and 3) how we love what we ought.


“Will you be my valentine?” For some, this question sparks fond memories of asking their middle or high school crush on a date. For those fortunate few, boldly going to where few teenagers have dared, this question actually paid off! For others, it regurgitates flashbacks of sheer panic comprised of quick glances to nearby, giggling friends, cold sweats, and memories of subtly mouthing the words, “Help me,” in their direction—to no avail, of course. 

Assume the admirer is a teenage boy, and the one being admired graciously declined his advance. If the suitor seriously desired this girl, he may begin to experience something known as lovesickness. A handful of its symptoms are the following: constantly thinking about the person, feeling unmotivated, daydreaming, insomnia or poor sleep, mood changes, and a dull achy feeling in the abdomen.

Pause a moment and consider the situation. If this young man was being led by his intellect, what should have been his response? Perhaps he would have given an ambivalent nod, followed by a curt, “Good day, then.” What if he had been led by his actions? His daydream of their future together would have had no bearing on the outcome had he been rejected. 

There must be something else undergirding his choice: desire. And it is this something else—this deep-seated longing—which moved his will to act and provoked his intellect to justify his actions. This is precisely how we operate as humans: Our hearts desire, our wills act; and our intellects justify.

An illustration. Coffee is amazing. One of the first things I crave every morning is coffee. This craving moves me to get out of bed, walk downstairs, put the kettle on the stove, grind some coffee beans, dump the grounds in the French press, pour the 195-degree water into the press, stir the grounds, and then wait approximately 6 minutes before enjoying the liquid ambrosia. 

This scenario shows my desire moving my will to act which then led to my intellect to justify my actions. It all begins with desire. It begins with a longing—a restlessness—that seeks filling through a sequence of actions capable of producing the desired result—fullness, restfulness—from a good ol’ cup o’ joe.

Consider if my routine were interrupted. Suppose my desire for coffee—still present and just as strong—was never (or rarely) satisfied. Do you think this would change my demeanor? Certainly! How do you think I would change? Would I feel restless? Sad? Frustrated? Annoyed? Angsty? Answer: all the above!

Hopefully our desire for coffee does not hold an incomparable sway over us. But I suspect our innate desire for meaningful relationships does. And it should; God designed us to desire, deeply desire, relationship: first with Him and then for another. The creation narrative in Genesis depicts God walking with Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:8), with walking being synonymous with relationship. He was with them, and they were with Him, intimately fellowshipping within a perfect trinity of love! Contrast that glorious scene with the first time God said something was “not good” in His creation. He even said it before mankind fell into sin! After He created Adam and before forming Eve, God declares, “It is not good that the man should be alone” (Gen. 2:18, ESV). God created men and women as relationally dependent creatures. We desire deep, meaningful connection with others. When this desire is left unfulfilled, the terrible roommate called loneliness moves into our lives and makes itself at home. 

If all that we need are relationships to kick loneliness to the curb, should we simply hop on Tinder and “swipe right” on every profile that catches our eye? Before you get yourself in too deep (and possibly in a world of hurt and regret), consider our next observation: we become what we love.


We have all heard the saying, “You are what you eat.” You may have even been told at times, “If you keep eating cheese puffs, you’ll become one!” This idiom applies to our loves as well. We would like to think that we are solely formed by our thoughts rather than our desires or emotions, and that godly orthodoxy (the right doctrine) will lead us to godly orthopraxy (the right practice). Yet, we have all witnessed men and women who, having mentally assented to impeccable orthodoxy, still led ruinously depraved lives. There must be something undergirding the proverbial thinking man. Life choices, good or bad, come from our loves. Thus, proper orthodoxy does not lead to proper orthopraxy; but proper orthagápe—the right loves—leads to both (I will explain this concept more fully in the third point—hang in there if this is becoming headier than you would prefer!). 

Our loves will ultimately lead us to very good or very bad choices. The Divine Comedy, written by Dante Alighieri 700 years ago, is an epic poem which chronicles a pilgrim’s descent into Hell, ascent of the mountain of Purgatory, and flight through the Heavenly Spheres until he arrives in the Empyrean and sees God. It is a poetic, theological, and literary masterpiece! 

Dante’s metaphor of Purgatory is fascinating. He sees it as a mountain, with each terrace as a place of purgation for Christians who had had imperfect loves during their earthly lives. The lowest terraces hold those with misdirected love: the proud, the envious, and the wrathful. The middle terraces hold those with deficient love: the slothful. And the upper terraces, closest to the earthly paradise, hold those with excessive love: the avaricious, the gluttonous, and the lustful. Dante, by constructing Purgatory in this manner, points his readers to a universal truth. Our loves will ultimately lead us to either good or bad places—that we will inevitably and finally become what we most desire.

This point can be easily misunderstood. I am not saying that we will become in the sense that we cease to be ourselves and turn wholly into something else. What I mean by become is like what we mean when we say, “That girl, Diana, has become a lady,” or “That boy, Rodger, has become a man.” A dramatic change has occurred, but Diana is still Diana and Rodger is still Rodger. Think about how we’ve seen this becoming occur in real time.

If you love agriculture, you will work toward becoming a farmer. If you love teaching, you will work toward becoming a teacher; but here is a chilling thought: if we leave our loves unbridled, we may become something far worse than anything we had imagined possible. Think what would happen if you unbridled your desire for a milkshake after work every day. Or, what if you took the leash off your love for social media? For fitness? For sex? What would you begin to become?

This issue’s complexity is compounded by the simple fact that we rarely feel ourselves becoming. When people ask if someone plays an instrument, they will seldomly respond, “I’m becoming a pianist.” Most people will say, “I’m learning to play the piano.” Notice the detachment from identifying themselves as becoming a musician through their choice of the words learning to play.

This is not irrelevant wordplay! Our unwillingness and inability to see ourselves becoming, is what leads us to being alcoholics, addicts, adulterers, divorcees, gluttons, and the like. If this seems shocking, don’t worry. 

It gets worse. 

Often the thing we truly love is different than the object we crave. For the alcoholic, what does he crave? Alcohol. What is it he truly loves? Is it the escape? Is it the feeling of euphoria? Is it the forgetting of one’s life situation? Is it the numbness the drink provides? A deeper desire is at work. Alcohol is simply the means of temporarily and partially achieving the end which the alcoholic loves. Or consider the many times you’ve caught yourself doom scrolling on social media. What are you craving? Social media. But what is it you truly love? Is it the ping of dopamine after seeing a funny meme or reel? Is it the quick hit of serotonin after reading a post from someone you follow? Or is it the sensation of superiority when your political pundit destroys the other side? Again, there is a deeper desire at work within you.

It is especially scary when we are unable to name our deepest desires even though we continue blindly pursuing them. When we do this, we are becoming something unknown. Is it beautiful or terrifying? What will you one day be if you continue following the desires you currently pursue? Consider for a moment what you would become if the roots of your desires are ultimately something nefarious, malicious, or diabolical. Each choice we make is a step in becoming that will eventually lead to a being. What will you one day be?

So, before attempting to satisfy your loneliness by opening Tinder (either for the first or hundredth time), ask yourself these questions: when I do this, what am I really loving? When I scour the chatrooms online, look at porn, or barhop around town, for what am I truly searching? When I catch myself wasting time on social media, binge-watching a streaming show, or mentally and physically checking out when I’m with family, for what am I truly longing? Keep answering those questions until you reach your desires’ roots. Why? Because we ultimately become what we love.

If we become what we love, how do we ensure our loves are leading us toward becoming better—not worse—people? I recognize that some people reading this may struggle with loneliness and are successfully resisting the urge to fill its void with subpar or detrimental solutions. Each day, though, seems to only bring with it more opportunities to be overwhelmed with emptiness. Is there a way to break this cycle? Yes—but it will take time and effort. So far, we have examined the why and what of our loves. Now we can turn our attention toward the how in our last observation: how we love what we ought.


How do we love what we ought? The Apostle John’s words speak to this question. He writes in 4:7-8, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” 

God is love. 

“Great!” We think to ourselves. 

What in the world is love?

C.S. Lewis, in one of his wonderful works entitled, The Four Loves, looks at the four Greek words for love: affection – this can describe the love an animal has for its offspring. It moves the lover to nurture and care for the loved. The second type of love examined by Lewis is friendship. On friendship, Lewis writes, “Friendship…is born at the moment when one man says to another, ‘what! You too? I though that no one but myself…’” On eros, Lewis examines the intoxicating love between a man and a woman. He distinguishes between sexual desire, which desires the thing itself, and eros, which desires the beloved for themselves: mind, body, and soul.

John presents a further, fourth understanding of love by using the Greek word agape when he writes, “God is love.” This is the love that moves a soldier to throw himself on a grenade, hoping to save his comrades. This love moves a wife to tenderly care for her ailing husband until his final breath, knowing her kindness cannot be returned. This love moved God to send His Son Jesus to die a cruel death on our behalf, knowing full well that the glory received from our lips would never match His own infinite worth. Lewis writes, “God, who needs nothing, loves into existence wholly superfluous creatures in order that he may move and perfect them.” God not only has but is this love. And it is this love we are called to be: selfless, all giving (regardless of return), gracious, unconditional. Agape.

Does this call overwhelm you? How could we ever develop—let alone become—such love? The answer is simple, but by no means easy! If we become what we love, what does it mean when our own loves find their end in the One True Love; when that end is not something unknown, but Someone who can be known; and, indeed, has revealed Himself; when it is not diabolical, but holy; when it is not repugnant, but beautiful; when it is not deceit, but truth itself? This is when we will see God. Meditate on John’s words written earlier in his letter, “When He shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is” (1 Jn. 3:2). We become this love by fixating on the One from Whom it flows and to Whom it belongs. We become agape love, the deepest and most formative of desires as we walk with Him in relationship.

This promise is only true for those who love God, however imperfectly. Remember, your love for God is not the basis of His love for you. His love for His Son, Jesus, and your faith in His saving work is the basis of His love for you! Through the Holy Spirit’s power, we are becoming like God; only to be fully realized and completed when we see Him face to face (Phil. 1:6, II Cor. 3:18, and 1 Jn. 3:2). 

How do we love what we ought? How do we begin the arduous journey of escaping loneliness and pursuing love? Through God’s grace, we fix our eyes on Jesus now; though we may not feel the changes along the way—just as you may not notice the day-by-day changes while learning a language or mastering an instrument—you are growing and transforming; until, one day, you will awake in glory and say with Dante, 

O Light Eternal, fixed in Self alone, known to Yourself, and knowing Self, You love and glow, knowing and being known… I yearned to know how could our image fit into that circle, how could it conform; but my own wings could not take me so high—then a great flash of understanding struck my mind, and suddenly its wish was granted…I felt my will and desire impelled by the Love that moves the sun and the other stars.”


Our hearts love. Our wills act. And our intellects justify. We are creatures formed ultimately by our loves. Our actions and intellects are not irrelevant; but they are not the primary basis of what we are and will one day be. If we desire change; if we desire escape from the silent suffocation of loneliness, we must begin by examining our loves.  Are you falling in love with God anew every day? How about His Word? What about His Bride, the church? Are you attempting to love your neighbor and your enemy, especially when it is hard? What about God’s creation? Aligning our answers to these questions with God’s Word will begin the process of aligning our loves toward His own.

I would never want to purposely undermine your present situation nor unrealistically simplify its solution. We live in a broken world. My own naivety that once held out hope for fairytale living died the moment my wife and I experienced loss firsthand. I don’t know the extent of your own pain, loss, or loneliness. But there is One Who does. And He loves you endlessly, and desires relationship with you. He desires to enter your life and “restore the years that the locusts—loss and loneliness—have destroyed” (Joel 2:25).

Maybe what you need most is not a reorienting of your own loves, but a reminder of God’s love. Maybe your loneliness has led you into despair and discovering hope again seems impossible. Let David’s words from Psalm 23:4 sustain your faith: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” God is with you, even now. The God who left the ninety-nine to chase down the one is with you right now. You may be lonely; but, rest assured, you are never truly alone. Allow God to conquer your loneliness with His love.

After graduating with a BA in pastoral ministries from Pensacola Christian College in 2018, Draa Mackey returned to his home state of Maine to assist with a church revitalization effort. He lives and works there with his wife, Jo, and their two children, Kirk and Hazel. When he’s not spending time with his family, organizing church events, doing odd jobs, or working his way through Reformed Theological Seminary’s Master of Divinity, you’ll find Draa hitting the ski slopes, running mountain trails, or meandering his way through the many hills and valleys of a good book.

The From the Seminarians Series are blogs written by current seminary students with a minimum of 20 hours of credit. They are free to pick a topic in culture of their choice, and cast it in a theological light.


NEWSFILE. (2024, March 8). Society Must Reimagine Friendship Culture Amid Ongoing Loneliness Epidemic, says Laura and Robert Illig.

Those familiar with Augustine and his many works will immediately see his influence in my own thinking. Though, I would say his thinking was influenced by the Apostles and even our Lord himself (if I may be so bold)!

Lewis, C, S. (2017). The C. S. Lewis Signature Classics (1st ed.). HarperCollins, 794.

Lewis, 827.

Alighieri, Dante, and Mark Musa. 1986. The Divine Comedy, Vol. 3, Paradise. New York: Penguin Books.

Image by Ulrich B. from Pixabay

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