I avoided being alone for my entire life. When Bev, my late wife, was away even for a day I was uncomfortable. Then, she died two years ago. In the six months that followed her death, going home from the office in the afternoon often brought on an emotional storm. Many days I wept as I drove those miles to my house. Sometimes I parked in my driveway and stayed in my car, at least for a few moments, just to avoid the empty house. Loss, accompanied by loneliness, has been difficult, to say the least.
Two years after her death I have learned to be ‘alone’ and found a new depth of knowing Christ, too. There are things about ourselves and Him that are best known in solitary! Oh, yes, I know that the Scripture is clear that the richest and most whole Christian life requires community of the Church. Paul’s well-known illustration of the normal Christian life is the human body. He says “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. … Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” (1 Corinthians 12:12,27, NIV) Those who discard the Church because of her failures, do so at their own peril.
Yet, there is a place of spiritual formation that happens when we are alone with the Spirit.
I have found that being alone need not be lonely, that there is a kind of inner communion with Christ that can be richest in the silence. One of my favorite authors writes that “One reason we can hardly bear to remain silent is that it makes us feel so helpless. We are accustomed to relying upon words to manage and control others. A frantic stream of words flows from us in an attempt to straighten others out. We want so desperately for them to agree with us, to see things our way. We evaluate people, judge people, condemn people. We devour people with our words. Silence is one of the deepest Disciplines of the Spirit simply because it puts the stopper on that. When we become quiet enough to let go of people, we learn compassion for them.” ― Richard J. Foster Can we find that kind of ‘silence’ apart from being alone? Not easily, I think.
Jesus taught us to find a place alone for our intimate prayer. There we can become most honest to God and ourselves. There, if we will learn to go deep, we can hear both His challenges and His promises, and enter into the kind of wordless prayer that is described as “groanings that cannot be expressed in words.” (Romans 8:26, NLT)
One of the discoveries of my unsought status as a single man is the loneliness of so many people around me. Many elderly persons are truly lonely, often spending days without meaningful human contact. Those who struggle with chronic illness often are isolated, too. I have talked with teens who are not blessed with charm, who are ignored by peers, and discovered a kind of loneliness that crushes the human spirit. Oh, yes, our modern technologies offer us ‘relationships.’ We can pull up Facebook and ‘feel like’ we are connected on that social network, but it is a poor substitute for real human interaction. We can turn on the TV and choose to vicariously enjoy a romance or a hero’s exploits, but then the screen goes dark.
The paradox of loneliness is that it teaches us to value people in a different way. Instead of just craving companionship or conversation, we learn to value just being, loving the laughter of a child, the tears of an elderly person, the partnership of those with who we share discipleship! One of the curious results of my hours alone is my new-found way to love those around me, with greater acceptance, with less judgment, and with deeper empathy.
Are you in a season of life where you are experiencing loneliness?
Has your marriage gone stale, leaving you feeling alone?
Have you, like me, lost a loved one to death?
Has divorce, job loss, or relocation made you feel alone?
Know this – Jesus is a Friend that is ‘closer than a brother.’ That is not a cliché nor is meant to be a Band-Aid™ on your wound. It is an invitation to find His love. Choose faith in your struggle. Pray honestly, even allowing the Spirit to take your groans and shape them into petitions of our Abba.
Hear is a word from the Word. May this draw you to comfort in Him. “Be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.” (Hebrews 13:5-6, NIV) “Be still in the presence of the Lord, and wait patiently for him to act.” (Psalm 37:7)
What a Friend we have in Jesus
All our sins and griefs to bear
What a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer.
Oh what peace we often forfeit
Oh what needless pain we bear
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer.