The Undercurrent of Loneliness
Just in the last few days we have heard again about a surfer on the beach who saw two girls in trouble in an undertow just down the beach. Immediately he went into the water and was able to save the girls who were almost out of strength from fighting the current and who would have certainly drowned.
We don’t know if there were any red flags up on that beach to warn swimmers of the danger. We do know that swimmers who ignore such warnings are often in trouble and some of them lose their lives because of it.
However, a beach is not the only place one finds serious and dangerous undercurrents. They also come in life situations and often with the same element of surprise. As a Pastor, I often encounter people struggling against the undercurrent of loneliness. Sometimes it is an ongoing issue of life while for others it comes as a total surprise due to a sudden change of life circumstances. Either way, it can be menacing, frustrating and painful. Loneliness knows no boundaries. It happens to children and teens as well as adults. It has little to do with location. Most of us live close together yet many feel miles apart from anyone. It is particularly sad if people can be lost and lonely at church which should provide the most welcoming atmosphere of all.
Loneliness is experienced in many different ways. “Loneliness is being six years old and not knowing the name of another first grader. Loneliness is learning your parents are getting a divorce and not knowing who you will live with. Loneliness is saying ‘no’ when other people are saying ‘yes’ to things you know are not good for you. Loneliness is being at the top where the buck stops. Loneliness is coming home from your child’s wedding or your mate’s funeral.” “It is an empty place at the table, an empty bed or a broken heart.”
It is like the words to the song popular years ago which said, “You’ve got to walk that lonesome valley, you’ve got to walk it by yourself.” But maybe we need to question that logic. “Do you really?”
There are things people can do. Some fill their lives with activities, hobbies or recreation. Others fill their lives with things or join organizations. While there can be some benefit, many of these do not speak to the deepest issues or solve the real problems brought on by loneliness. Solving loneliness is more than activity; it is finding a new way to look at life.
As I encounter people struggling to find a place in life the place to turn is Jesus. If anyone understood loneliness, it was Jesus. On one occasion we got a glimpse into His world when He said, “Foxes have hold, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” It was a realistic assessment of His situation. Furthermore, consider the loneliness of His calling and the misunderstanding of His mission even by those closest to Him. In the worst moment of His life on the cross he cried out, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”
Because of what He faced and as an example of how God sees us, Jesus treated people differently. When he saw someone in sin or sickness, He sought to make them whole and forgiven. He didn’t look down on the harassed and helpless or find reason to criticize their condition. Instead, He referred to them as sheep without a shepherd. Over and over the Bible emphasized that “He had compassion on them.” In our world people without standing or lost in difficulty become patients to doctors, clients to professionals or prospects for churches without any real care for their emotional or spiritual condition. Jesus saw them as person’s made in God’s image.
What is our response to loneliness? Some who read this might find themselves in that situation while others know people who are struggling with identity and happiness. We can all do a couple of things. One, we can determine to be the friend to someone who needs it. That’s Christ-like. We can also help ourselves by helping others. A friend who had almost become a hermit discovered the joy of helping someone less able to move about than she. Soon the ministry to her new friend had transformed her own loneliness into a new sense of worth.
Second, when loneliness strikes us or those close to us, it is a critical time to learn to rely on the Lord. The Bible is rich in the promises of God to the lonely. “I will not leave you comfortless; I will come to you” (John 14:18). “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me, thy rod and thy staff they comfort me” (Psalms 23:4).
I love the old story of the Scottish preacher who was expounding on the 23rd Psalm. He said, “The Lord is my shepherd, aye, and more than that, he has two fine collie dogs, Mercy and Grace, and they will see me safely home.”
Perhaps the clearest answer to loneliness was expressed long ago by Augustine who said, “Thou has made us for Thyself, and our souls are restless until they rest in Thee.”