Five years ago, my wife and I embarked on a journey. We did not know everything to expect. We moved to a brand new place. We knew some of the people who lived there. We’d sorted through our belongings, gave a lot of them away, and headed abroad in August 2009.
That first winter we were there, we had our first snow on October 31. And it was two feet of snow! That began a six-month winter on the streets and sidewalks; we did not have any bare ground for six months straight. There was snow and ice that whole time. We had more blizzards and frozen rain that came into town.
Not only that, it began a long winter season in my own life. Allow me to explain.
We go through seasons in life that are similar to what happens in nature. There’s the planting of seeds in spring and early summer. There’s the cultivation through the summertime. There’s the harvest, which for some garden crops begins as early as June, and may last until December or January depending on the weather and how late the farmers are trying to get their row crops out of the ground. And then there are wintertimes of silence, loneliness, despair, of Christmas right in the middle of it.
But then in the tropics there’s also two other seasons: the dry season and rainy season. So there’s really six seasons, not four.
Let’s go back to that wintertime. Not only was it literally a long winter for us, it was also a long one for myself.
Working with people who spoke a totally different language.
Losing my English along the way because we didn’t speak as much English as we do here.
Hearing other languages spoken in the city, too.
It took a very long time to make relationships. For me, honestly, it was a lonely time. My wife happened to make friends really fast. But for me, it was a different story. I tried to get together with people: the locals, but they couldn’t fully understand what we went through; the other foreigners, they were so busy with their own thing. To get together for things beyond the things we had volunteered to do: it was difficult to get together just to hang out, eat, or go to the coffee shop!
But I don’t tell you this to throw a pity party for myself. That’s not the purpose.
I was reminded about these things this past week when PBS aired the Roosevelt documentary series. I watched bits and pieces of it where the famous filmmaker Ken Burns (who also produced the documentary on the dust bowl) goes through the lives of both the Roosevelt presidents. I saw in the historical, true characters of FDR and Eleanor, that beyond the policies and what they initiated, look at them as people.
Eleanor was described as having chronic loneliness. Because she and FDR went their own ways, and had their own activities, she compensated for her loneliness by spending time with people and poured herself into things that she believed would put humanity into a better future.
I find this interesting because there are people in such positions that experience the same things we do. No matter where you go, no matter what cultures you work with, or if you stayed in the same county for fifty years, it doesn’t matter. People are people.
We all have similar needs and wants. We have emotions that we have fulfilled, and many go unfulfilled. We have dreams, aspirations, things we want to do for the future, and some people that just live day by day and they really don’t care what their future looks like. They have no ambition or aspiration. Everywhere you go, you find people like that.
There are examples of loneliness in Scripture as well. Let’s take the next few minutes and explore them. We’ll start in Leviticus 13. We’ll look at some examples of why people are, or may be, lonely.
Those Who Are Sick – Leviticus 13:45-46
When you look at a lot of the old law like this, there are some instructions given for health reasons. When Israel was in the wilderness for 40 years, and even as they settled the land for several generations, this is one way the community as a whole stayed healthy. They kicked the sick people outside the city (camp) such as the lepers. They have to say that they’re “unclean”. All the sick people are out there, and they join up together because they hang out and they all have these maladies together.
This reminds me today of AIDS. Would we hang out with people or touch them if they had AIDS, or STDs? Would we spend time with people whose skin may be discolored because they’re losing pigment? Or those who always have pimples on their nose, or who have a rash that will never go away? We tend to be picky and look at people like that; “I don’t want to associate with that person, for I will get sick,” we think.
If we look historically at the first century Christians, when there was sickness going throughout Rome, Greece, etc., all the unbelievers fled town. The believers, even though they didn’t all have training like Dr. Luke did, they would stick around and take care of their brothers and sisters in Christ. They would stay in town even though ebola is hitting them (that has been big in the news recently). And they wouldn’t let the sick unbelievers die alone, either. Many of the Christians would also get sick and die because they’re serving other people.
Those Who Think There Are No Other Faithful People Left – 1 Kings 19:9b-18
Elijah is on the run. Jezebel wants him dead. Elijah is afraid, running for his life. He goes to Mt. Horeb, the “mountain of God” (v 8) and spends 40 days and 40 nights there. After that, he enters a cave.
Elijah thinks (he has accepted as reality) that he was the only one left who was faithful to God. However, God had to remind him that there were 7,000 who had not bowed down to the false idol, had not kissed Baal, had not sacrificed their babies on the fire to this false god.
And how often today do we think that in our town, we’re the only ones left doing the right thing. “I’m the only one left following God.” And we deceive ourselves, and have to be reminded that there are other believers that we walk this journey of life with.
There are those tens and hundreds who are still faithful. We have to remind each other of that. How do we do that? I’ll get to that in a few minutes.
Those Without a Companion on the Journey – Ecclesiastes 4:7-12
What was the song from a generation ago? “One is the loneliest number…”
Sure, there are people in our society that want to live on their own and be hermits. There’s a middle-aged lady that lives in the very north extreme Alaska and keeps watch over a place that’s located in the middle of snow. She has to make sure that there’s fuel and provisions at this remote place. She lives all alone (except for the videographer who’s documenting her progress!). That’s the only reason I know about her is because she was on a show a couple years ago.
She said that she likes to live alone; to be by herself. I find it interesting. I highly doubt that she’s a Christian, because as believers we have this indwelling life Whose power is in us, and if we listen to it, says, “Get together with other people. Get together with your brothers and sisters.” This nature, that God has placed inside us of Himself, says, “You’re not meant to be alone. You’re not meant to do things alone.”
There’s Even a Lonely City – Lamentations 1:1-4
Jerusalem is described here as “no one to offer her comfort” and “all her gates are deserted”.
Times with the Lord, Alone, are Different – Matthew 14:13, 22
By earthly lineage, John the Baptist was a cousin of Jesus. John ended up in prison, Herod had his party, and John the Baptist was beheaded. Jesus heard about this, and then “went to a remote place to be alone” (v 13).
These crowds are always following Jesus around. It’s often hard for Him to get away. He’s often going to “lonely places” to pray. Jesus is getting away to spend time with His Father.
And then, there’s the feeding of the 5,000. At verse 23, Jesus dismissed the crowds, and “went up on the mountain by Himself to pray”. There is value in having time by yourself, especially for people who get wore out from spending time with people all day long. Time by yourself to reconnect with your Lord, to get refreshed and recharged. Jesus shows us that there is time to be alone, but not all the time.
Before Creation, God – John 8:16
Before creation, God as Father-Son-Spirit is not alone. There’s three of them there. There’s three of them sharing their life, love, community, everything with each other. Jesus says “I am not alone, but I and the Father who sent Me judge together.” They’re acting together, doing things together.
There’s many other places Jesus talked about before creation Him and the Father had this relationship. He’s also expressing that during His time on earth.
Prediction of Disciples Scattering – John 16:31-33
“The women” and John followed Jesus all the way through His death, yet most of the disciples scattered.
Just as the Father is with Jesus, He is present among us.
First Century Workers Worked Together, Not Alone – 1 Thessalonians 3:1-6
Paul, Silas (Silvanus), and Timothy are the ones putting this letter together. Three of them were working together at this point, not just Paul.
This is just one example of many where the apostles worked together. Jesus sent the disciples out in pairs: the 12 went out in pairs; the 70 went out in pairs. This continued to happen throughout the first century. There was no such thing as a lone individual in “ministry.” This is a pattern that for centuries we have neglected. They worked together as they started, established, and encouraged those new churches all throughout the land. You can go to several passages in Acts where you see this happening.
Lonely Widows – 1 Timothy 5:3-8
Here’s something we don’t hear much about. Widows among us are another example of people who can be lonely.
Over the years I’ve spent time with shut-ins and people at nursing homes. A few weeks ago there was a lady who I delivered a meal to. She said that her husband died about a year ago; now she’s about 80. For those brief moments on her porch, I listened to her as she poured out her continued grief. She was thankful for being so nice and coming by to provide food. It stuck me that day how many people live by themselves.
Now often times. I know, we chalk it up to the older generation being stubborn, and they want to live independently. We have these commercials on TV that encourage those who are of that age to be able to live by themselves, so it’s perpetuated.
Sometimes we say, “Grandma is so stubborn and she wants to live by herself; she doesn’t want to come have lunch with us, and it’s so frustrating.” But that shouldn’t stop us from getting on the phone, making that visit, watching over those who are by themselves because they really don’t have any family left around. Or even orphans. Taking care of one another is a big thing.
So, What Do We Do About All This?
I could just leave here and say that, “Ok, Jesus is with us all the time.” Yes we have this thing in our mind that He is with us and guides us; we are never alone. That’s true, Jesus is always with us and present.
But I want to take it one step further. There is a very practical way to live this out. You see, when you get together with people to share a meal together for no other purpose, for no other motive, than to get to know one another. Share your stories, your histories, your family and how you’ve come to the point where you are right now, and eat together—there’s something special about sharing a full meal together in each others’ homes.
I’m not talking about potlucks or big parties in the park. I’m talking about one-on-one or families getting together to eat, and eat, and eat.
You see, when you spend more than five hours with one person, say you’re a night owl, and you go to someone’s place at six. You start eating at 6:30 or 7. You play games and you spend the whole evening together and the guests don’t leave until 11 or 12. That’s a long time. You start to form this bond with each other.
When you get to know one another like this, get to know other people for who they are and their stories, and admit to each other your weaknesses and faults, and your strengths, and how you’ve come through your spiritual journey, you know what begins to happen?
- Trust goes through the roof.
- You feel closer to each other.
- Gossip goes down and is eliminated.
A few months ago I read an article on NPR. That article said those who are in the younger generation today in the larger cities are starting to do something different. The past 10 years or so we’ve had social media and we’re making all these connections online. Now the trend is to connect with people online and talk about how we’re going to meet up in person. This article went on to describe how these young people who go to restaurants, instead of sitting there texting or doing whatever they do on their smartphones, play a game by setting their phones all in a pile on the center of the table and see who doesn’t touch their phone the longest. Who’s going to go the longest without picking up their phone?
In the culture around us, people are connecting with each other face-to-face because that’s what we long to do. As many groups as we have for people getting together for like causes, such as Lions Club, Chamber of Commerce, things like that, they aren’t the true expression of community.
There’s all these “one anothers” in the New Testament; 58 of them, actually. Love one another, encourage one another, build each other up, etc. One another, one another, one another. The easiest way that I found to get past loneliness, that I’ve seen other people get past chronic loneliness, is within the only true community that exists on the planet: among brothers and sisters in Christ.
That’s what I implore you to do. Find someone, and you probably already have someone in mind, “I want to really get to know this person/that family.”
One of your objections might be, “I just don’t have the time!” Part of that is the sacrifice of giving up our own lives and restructuring our schedules so that we can have time, we make that time to enjoy fellowship and a meal with one another.
Exchange phone numbers. You never know, the meal that you share this week with a brother, a sister, with another family, might be the spark toward going forward.
Don’t wait for conditions outside of you to change. If you’re waiting for something else to happen before you do this, then it’s never going to happen! Take the initiative and do it.
Jesus does know what loneliness is. On the cross, He said what is said in Psalm 22.
Psalm 22:1-5; 25:16-21
We were created for community, not to be chronically alone. The only true community is in Christ, not online, not at the county fair, not at some civic organization. Sure, there are common interests and we tend to get together; those aren’t to be totally avoided, for we do mingle with those outside the body.
For those of us inside, to set an example of, “Oh, how they love one another!” Get together with one another! That’s the most practical thing I can tell you! Eat a meal, or two, or three, with each other. That life that is inside us is craving expression and relationship with others who also share an experience of indwelling, abundant life.
We have to go against the rugged individualism, independence, “I can do everything by myself” that is so pervasive throughout this culture. Carve out the time, create the time, to eat with one another.