I have just re-read an early piece I had written about loneliness. Through writing it all out, I had come to realize that loneliness and solitude are not the same. Solitude may be a blessing, while loneliness is almost always a choice. In my innocence, I vowed always to choose to see my state of “aloneness” as solitude, and not loneliness. It was a good thought, but almost impossible to maintain consistently.
One positive consequence of working all that out on paper was that I have genuinely come to enjoy solitude, and to be alone is now often my first choice. I have also learned that I need to find a balance between my enjoyment of my own company and the need to interact with others. I still need people. While I have come to appreciate solitude, when I am very tired or discouraged I may occasionally lapse into loneliness. That no longer frightens me. It may not be pleasant, but I have learned that, in moderation, it does not kill the soul. I instinctively now turn to Christ, to find in Him the reassurance and comfort that He always loves me, that He will never abandon or forsake me.
It is so comforting to know that He was, in all things, tested just as we are. He didn’t stand aloof and above our human problems. He understood loneliness. After He left His mother’s home and began His ministry, He had no place to lay His head. He had no wife or children or home to comfort Him. He understood the frustration of being misunderstood, of speaking to people and knowing that they have not fully understood Him, even those who claimed to love Him. Not only was He alone, He was despised and rejected. We say that so glibly, but do we ever think about what that truly meant? How our lives would feel if we were actively despised and rejected by those around us? The pain to a caring soul to know that you are completely misunderstood? In His home town of Nazareth, they tried to kill Him after He began to preach. THAT is rejection! It is often in that sense of human isolation, the apartness even in the middle of a crowd of people, that I find kinship with Him.
Sometimes, for me, to continue to stay in connection with others becomes a step of courage almost too exhausting to manage. In those times it is only in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, who indwells my heart and points me to the Savior, is it possible at all. I remember that nothing can pluck me from His hand, and that nothing can separate me from the love of God.
On the other hand, on good days I have learned to live happily in solitude. I have learned to be content. However, I recognize that the life of a Christian is best lived in community. I was saved by grace, but toward good works, and to serve and demonstrate Christ through my interaction with others. I can’t be His good servant if I am hiding in my cave. I know this ~ and yet sometimes when I am dealing with other human beings, I find it almost impossible to trust. There have been too many betrayals; too many times when I have naively opened up to someone I believed I could trust and found that they could not wait to gossip and judge and misinterpret to their own advantage. There are times when I have simply had enough of other people and when I prefer solitude to community… and yet when I pull away and hide, eventually solitude will bring loneliness: loneliness, with its pain and non~productive inner dialogue about my essential insufficiency and spiritual bankruptcy.
It is hard to trust, even God. Yet, I have learned that when I get down on myself like this, God not only loves me, but wants to comfort me. My whole Christian life has been centered on the reality of God’s love for me. Although I am frequently insensitive, non-responsive and indifferent toward Him, His love never changes. I am sure that my lack of trust must hurt my Father, and yet I know that He understands me completely because He has formed my every cell, and knows even the thoughts I can’t allow to come to the surface. I am learning not to trust in feelings; that I am to believe, by faith, and trust that although I can’t see, hear or feel Him, He is there. I am learning, very dimly, what it means to practice the presence of God.
I am glad God is so patient. Occasionally the light does go on. The other day I was brought up short by an incident in my own life. I was praying, and I must admit that I tell God what I am feeling, even if it is not always the “correct” thing to say to God. I was complaining to Him about the unresponsiveness of some people to whom I attempt to minister. I was unhappy about continually being forced to take on responsibility for them, and their apparent unwillingness to think or act for themselves. I told Him it was hard to continue to love them, when they didn’t care whether I loved them or not, and of my frustration at how they constantly complained because each of them wanted things to be THEIR way, although few were willing to put themselves out to help. I felt unappreciated and used.
Suddenly it was as if God was giving me a deeply ironic smile. Here I was, complaining to God about having to love and give without any response… complaining to God, Who had given His Son; Who has loved us from the beginning and had us shut Him out and walk away from Him without a backward glance, even as He provides for our every need. I was deeply ashamed as I realized how much I have taken His love and patience so much for granted.
I spent the rest of my morning thinking about the grace of God, and His faithfulness. It eventually occurred to me that perhaps my feelings of isolation and apartness may really be a very long-range answer to prayer. Many, many years ago, when I was a very new Christian, I was overwhelmed with Christ’s love. I asked God to let me be made like the Lord Jesus, to understand and see things through His eyes. I had no real idea of the magnitude or the arrogance of what I was asking, but perhaps He has been answering that prayer for the past 60 plus years. Could it be that He is allowing me the blessing, the privilege, of seeing just a little of how the Lord felt in His life here? How could I understand Him fully, without understanding, at least a little, some of the isolation and apartness that He experienced in this world? If I had never felt the pain of loneliness, how could I really comfort those around me who are suffering that same pain?
If that is the case then I will try, when my loneliness surfaces, to bear it gladly. Loneliness is just a small component of life lived through the refinement of occasional trials. Trials seem to be a necessary part of our Christian experience, and instead of taking us away from Christ, can actually be redemptive when we submit them to Christ and let them shape us.
It has been my experience that in many situations in which I have been hurt, I am eventually able to forgive; that is, I can release the anger and not look back… but a small part of the pain remains. It is as if I need the memory of that little wound, that thorn-like prick in the spirit, to remind me what it feels like to be hurt so that I may be more gentle, more compassionate with those with whom I am interacting. It changes my perspective of life, and makes me more patient and less prone to dismiss out of hand what people are saying which might seem to be mere complaining. Not everyone is able to articulate with clarity the depth of pain they are feeling, and I want to be sensitive to what is actually being said from the heart and not just assume that the spoken words are the real message. Perhaps I could never do this if I had not experienced the loneliness and sense of isolation which He has allowed me to feel.
I pray for more light, Father… more understanding, and the ability to reflect back what You have taught me about Your Son. Then again, perhaps not being able to understand completely, but still believing, is called faith.