Amy Grant: Faith in a Time of Loneliness

Singer Amy Grant shares a message for everyone who feels lonely: Have a little faith.

Posted in , Oct 4, 2010

Singer-songwriter and Christian music star Amy Grant

Whenever I finish a concert, a lot of you teenagers come up to see me. Sometimes you want an autograph but more often you want to talk. Maybe because I'm not so far from my teenage years myself you feel you can tell me about your deepest feelings. And what do you talk about? The places you're hurting. You're not popular, or you're not getting along with your parents, or you just feel different.

Although the causes are varied, I think many of you are struggling with the same thing: loneliness.

I've heard it said that the teens are the loneliest time of life. Doesn't that seem odd? It's a time when you're surrounded by people and plenty of things to do both in school and out. But loneliness—that awful feeling of being cut off, isolated—hits us all at one time or another, and often because we feel we're different from other people.

When I was in junior high, the "in" thing for girls was long, straight hair parted down the middle. All my friends had the "look." But I didn't, I felt left out, alone. My hair was long all right, but it sure wasn't straight. Just like my dad's, it had a curly mind of its own. I couldn't part it down the middle because I was born with two cowlicks in the front of my forehead forming a widow's peak.

One day I got up early, came downstairs and set up the ironing board. First I put my head down, stretched out my hair as far as I could and ironed out all the curls. Then I got a razor and shaved off the front of my hairline so I wouldn't have to struggle with those cowlicks anymore. Finally I would look like everybody else. Wrong! You can imagine the mess I had made. From a distance I looked fine, but up close the razor had left its mark. I had a half-inch strip of sandpaper for a hairline. And I had to go to school that way!

As I look back on this escapade it sure seems like a silly thing to have done, but I thought that lonely, empty feeling would disappear if I could just look and feel like my buddies. What I hadn't figured out yet was that God made each of us to be unique. At the beginning of time He planned that each of us should be as different as the patterns of a snowflake.

It wasn't just my cowlick that was different, it was me. My own lack of self-esteem made me think my differentness was bad, and that caused my loneliness.

Talk about self-esteem and loneliness. A few years ago Renee Capps was a teenager living in Auburn, Washington, and she was miserable. She was the middle child in a family of five children. Her brothers and sisters were all remarkable. One was a football star, one was a basketball champion, another got perfect grades, and one had a great personality and loads of friends. Compared to her brother and sisters, Renee felt she wasn't popular or talented at all. It bothered Renee, but it didn't begin to really hurt until one day her father said to her, "You know, Renee, the other four are going to make it, but I'm concerned about you."

Her parents had no idea of the feelings of inferiority she was suffering already. Believe it or not, her father thought his words would help motivate her. But now she felt completely cut off from the love and acceptance of her family. She'd sit in her room alone. She didn't bother to compete at all. The only thing that seemed to dull the pain of her unworthiness was eating. Not just a cookie here and a slice of pizza there—but obsessive eating. It wasn't unusual for her to finish a bag of Oreos, a quart of vanilla ice cream, six maple bars and four cinnamon crullers.

Yet she was also obsessive about controlling her weight. She fell into a pattern of forcing herself to eat as much food as she could, then sneaking into the bathroom to throw up. It was all very secretive. There is a medical name for this; it's called bulimia.

This unbreakable cycle made Renee feel even more trapped in her own failure. Worse, she felt absolutely alone, with no one to go to. At this point, she knew her only hope was God, and she cried out to Him for help. When no help had arrived by the next day, or even the next week, Renee felt as though even God had abandoned her. And that's the loneliest feeling there is.

A couple of weeks later Renee heard that a woman in her church had once had the same problem with food that she did. It took a lot of courage, but Renee went to talk to this woman, to ask for help. The woman quickly sized up the situation.

"You've got to break through this," she said to Renee. "Find a way to make your parents understand your feelings."

And break through Renee did. Dramatically. She took a tape recorder to her bedroom and sat down on the bed. She didn't know what she was going to say but turned it on anyway. When she started talking, everything came pouring out—how inferior to her brothers and sisters she felt, how she was afraid her parents would only love her if she was a success. Tears started running down her cheeks when she told how words and actions had hurt her, how lonely she was and how she felt trapped by bulimia. When she was done, she wrote "To my family" on the tape, and she walked out and handed it to her brother.

Her family listened to it that night. It came as a shock to them. From that day on, they began to draw Renee into the family circle. Gradually, she triumphed over bulimia—and loneliness.

You see, I firmly believe what Renee found out: There isn't a problem that God can't see you through. No matter what it is that makes you feel cut off and lonely, if you'll lay your burden down at Jesus' feet, He'll send the help you need to carry it, or to get rid of it altogether.

From what you tell me, one thing hasn't changed much since I was in high school—the need to be part of the "in" crowd. Let me tell you about Kelly. She was especially envious of her lab partner, B.J., who always looked great; her clothes were always exactly right; she was slim as a reed, and her hair never wilted on humid days. Kelly didn't date much, but B.J. was going with one of the handsomest guys in the school, and he drove her home every day in his sports car. They went to all the good parties. At lunchtime in the cafeteria, Kelly would watch B.J. eating with her friends, flicking her thick hair over her shoulders and laughing the hardest.

Kelly felt she would never be "in" like B.J., and aching with loneliness, she started spending most of her time watching TV or wandering through the park by herself. She didn't even go to the parties she was invited to because all of her friends seemed like such nerds compared to B.J.'s crowd.

Then came the shocker. B.J., the princess of the "in" crowd, went home one afternoon and tried to kill herself.

Kelly couldn't believe it. After a few days, when B.J. did not come back to school, Kelly went over to her house. B.J. looked awful. She took one look at Kelly and started to cry. "You're the first person to come see me," B.J. said. "Nobody has even called."

The two girls talked—and the real story came out. All of B.J.'s running around, all the laughter, was just a show. B.J.'s "in" friends didn't accept her for who she was but only if she played by the crowd's slick rules. Actually, she hated the parties—and especially her boyfriend's insistence that she drink and stay out late. To stay popular she had to do what her "friends" did and laugh at jokes they thought were funny. It got harder every day to keep up the facade. She felt emptier and emptier and more and more trapped. If she alienated her "in crowd" friends, she'd have no one. Desperately lonely, she tried to kill herself.

Here were two girls, each wanting to be something she was not.

What is the answer to this? Risk reaching out to somebody else—even the unlikeliest kid in the class. And most important, be yourself.

Do you get the idea that only girls are lonely? Well, that's far from so. I know of one fellow named Gary Chapman who spent some pretty lonely years pursuing his dream. From the time he was a young boy Gary loved music. As a child, listening to Chet Atkins records at half speed, he'd taught himself to play the guitar. His friends and family could see that God had given him quite a gift for songwriting. Gary worked hard at his craft, and when he turned 17 and had finished with school, he moved to Nashville, a capital of the music industry.

There, away from the support of those who believed in him, Gary experienced an unexpected loneliness. Not because nobody was like him—but because everybody was! Everybody had the same dream and no one had time for one more struggling musician.

Still, he'd planned this for so long that he wasn't just going to give up. He went to church, made some close friends and started writing the best songs he could write.

After a couple of years of living on peanut butter and crackers, he got his big chance—the chance to play his songs for a big record producer. The men in suits listened carefully to his songs. And then the producer came over and said, "Son, you might have some talent. And you might write a good song someday. But right now I see absolutely no prospect for you."

Gary picked up his guitar and left. He walked to a park and he sat alone on a park bench. And just when he might have reached the most forlorn moment in his life, something strange began to happen. He felt surrounded by God's love. And right there on that bench he knew he didn't have to wait until people understood him to quit being lonely. And he wasn't a failure because some big guy said he had "no prospects." He had a God who loved him. He picked up his guitar and started to write:

When the weight of all my dreams
 is resting heavy on my head
 And the thoughtful words of help
 and hope
 have all been nicely said
 But I'm still hurting, wondering if
 I'll ever be
 the one I think I am
 Then You gently re-remind me
 All I ever have to be
 Is what You've made me.

Gary made a demo tape of that song. I heard the song and recorded it. We were good friends then, and today that once lonely fellow, Gary Chapman, is my husband. Gary and I both know that loneliness comes in many forms. It can take a lot of fight to get out of it. But let me repeat what I know is true: There's no problem that God can't solve. And no matter how alone you feel, God loves you—really loves you for who you are. And with Him, you'll never be lonely.

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