Have you ever been lonely … really lonely?
If you have ever had that deep ache in your heart, and didn’t know what to do but say, “God, I feel lonely,” I know how it feels. I fell into that pit when I was halfway around the world.
Before I tell you more about that, I want to say that this is a follow-up post to “Finding the Purpose of Life”. As I think about the profound impact that this season of loneliness had on me more than three decades ago, it helps me to help my kids learn how to really enjoy belonging to God, in our daily lives.
I Was a Foreigner
At first, it’s kind of exciting to be in a different country. Everything is new, which means adventure, fun, growing, and learning.
We also had a mid-year conference to look forward to, which meant going to another new place, seeing a bunch of friends, and relaxing.
But, coming back from the conference was a different story. What had been exciting and new, was now old. Rats outside and bugs inside. Not much heat during the cold time of year. People still speaking this strange language all around me. And they didn’t even know what cheese was.
My Absolute Lowest Point
Somehow I had hit the lowest point of the year. Or it had hit me … very unexpectedly.
Having a whole new group of students didn’t help. That was not the kind of “new” I wanted. I wanted the old students that I had already built some relationships with.
Starting the second semester was like starting all over again, minus all the original excitement.
I was lonely, very lonely.
Even though I had teammates (a family of five) in another building on the same campus, and other friends teaching in various parts of that huge metropolis we were living in, the loneliness was the worst I’d ever experienced in my life.
Now keep in mind — this was 1986. I had no computer, I had never heard of email, and the inventors of Facebook probably hadn’t learned to read yet!
Phone calls were so difficult, from where I was, I needed an interpreter to even attempt it. I made two phone calls from that part of the world. Actually three, if you count waking up some stranger in the middle of the night.
I came to the conclusion that the effort it took to put a call through was not worth the stress of trying to find something important to say in a few short minutes, with the ever-mounting cost uppermost in my mind.
We did have snail mail. But it took about eight days in each direction. So if I said anything in a letter about being lonely and depressed, my parents would be really sad eight days later. And then if they wrote back about being sad because I was sad, I’d have another wave of sadness to deal with in sixteen days. Better not to say anything about it.
I just wanted God to take the loneliness away!
How Could I Get My Head Above Water?
I knew I should praise the Lord, but somehow all I could bring myself to do was to pick up a Keith Green tape, insert it in the cassette tape player, and press “play.” I figured I could at least listen to Keith praising the Lord, even if I couldn’t get the words out of my mouth.
At about that time, a representative from the organization I was working with, traveled to visit us, to encourage us. (They probably know it’s the worst time of the year.) That helped some.
What really helped a lot, though, was when I started thinking about John chapter 11 — about Mary and Martha after their brother Lazarus died.
Mary came to Jesus and “fell down at His feet, saying to Him, ‘Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died'” (John 11:32, NKJV).
She didn’t understand at all. Yet in her great grief and lack of understanding, she fell down at Jesus’ feet and called Him “Lord.”
Mary was weeping. Others were weeping. And guess what Jesus did? He wept.
He knew He was going to raise Lazarus from the dead. It was all in His plan. But the amazing thing is — He wept with them!
An Unexpected Answer
Somehow God worked in my heart to show me the wrong perspective that I had.
I had been thinking of God as being “over there.” I mean I knew He was with me, but I was “here” and He was “there.” And I wanted Him to “come here” and take this loneliness away from me.
It was like we were in a big room, and I was sitting all by my lonesome self, wanting God to please come over from the other side of the room and just get rid of my problem.
Then the realization sank in that Jesus actually wanted to share the loneliness with me — He wanted to sit there in the lonesome corner with me! Amazing!
When I let Him share it with me, I didn’t really care if I was lonely. In fact, the loneliness became a very special thing that only Jesus and I shared!
But soon, the loneliness went away. I was almost disappointed to lose this special thing that only Jesus and I had been sharing together. But I learned that Jesus is literally with me always, no matter what.
He’s not just with me in some way that I know in my head. But really with me. Always.
So That’s the “How”
Back to the purpose of life being to praise and glorify God and enjoy belonging to Him, the “how to do that” has at least two parts to it.
1. We can praise Him whether we feel like it or not. This is sort of like when Mary fell down at Jesus’ feet even in the midst of her deep pain. If it’s really hard to sing praises with our own lips, we can at least listen to someone else praising God.
2. We can pour out our heart to Him and let Him know we don’t understand, while at the same time realizing that He shares our pain with us. We can treasure and even enjoy that sweet fellowship with Jesus in the midst of pain.
To enjoy belonging to Him is not limited to the good times, but is made deeper and even more meaningful in the hard times.
Funny thing is, it doesn’t take going halfway around the world to feel lonely. My heart aches for the loneliness our kids have felt even in the most unlikely places.
But this is one of the most valuable lessons that I want my kids to learn — that Jesus is always with them and shares their pain.