Have you ever felt lonely in a room full of people?
Suffering is a lonely gig. It just is. But the problem is, we did not know that before. Before the suffering hit. Misery does NOT love company, contrary to the popular saying. Usually misery is left alone.
I have experienced this myself and recently a new friend shared with me that she is very lonely and her friends have abandoned her. Now, the pandemic has not helped, but neither has her suffering.
Ever since she told me, I have been mulling it around in my noggin. Yes, in the last 7 years where suffering has had a starring role, not all of her time is screen time, but she is definitely on stage, I have been lonely.
God sets the lonely in families. (Psalm 68:6) Praise God. I could not imagine doing this without my dear family. They have served me, loved me, laughed with me and cried with me. We have had some pretty awesome times, and we have had moments of great distress. But, I am in a family.
It is in these situations where the loneliness can creep in. I think it's just the nature of the beast. Consider Psalm 23 – yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow.
Notice the pronoun – it is I, not we. Oh, I want it to be a 'we', but the Psalmist David is correct in saying it’s a one person gig. I cannot explain it, but I see in Scripture as well in real life that suffering is a lonely process.
Why is that? It could be because we don’t know what to say when someone is suffering. I cannot tell you all the very inappropriate things that have been said to me over the years. Crushing. And it takes a moment to swallow what has been said and not react, let alone respond. When I lost our first pregnancy through miscarriage, many people were very consoling with, “It’s ok. You can always have another one.” So, how did I respond after we had a second miscarriage? There’s the rub.
I think too, it is more uncomfortable to be around someone who is different. We long to spend our time with the happy people. Hey, they are happy, so their lives must be put together. I’ll go there. I mean, who wants to hang out with the girl in the wheelchair?
I can speak to this because I was in a wheelchair for a time. Being in a chair is almost like being invisible. Because you are actually sitting lower than where all the action is taking place, it is very hard to be seen. People talk above you, all around you, but not with you. Or, this happened unintentionally to me – we would all be at a spectacular sight, and I was wheeled up front and center. Then, one wandered off, called to the others to check out another sight. Leaving me behind. Remember, unintentional, but it stung nonetheless. It was mostly out of curiosity to see what was happening just up ahead.
Did you know that the view from a wheelchair is NOT the best view of humanity? I mean, think about it. I was the exact same height of the anatomy of mankind. And, there were times when I wondered if all the mirrors broke on the same day.
What about someone in your circle of people, but not necessarily a friend? Because I am not living his/her life on a day-to-day basis it is hard to remember how things are going. My life is busy and full, so hers must be too. Isn’t everybody’s?
But, pain and suffering does not keep us busy. It keeps us under lock and key. If we let it.
So, how do we, or I, address this very real phenomenon? I think the very first step is recognizing it for what it is. A thing. Something tangible. Something you could cut with a knife. And make note that while you may not be the one suffering, there are people around you who are.
Cast all your cares upon Him, because He cares for you. 1 Peter 5:7
This is a good place to start. God knows about loneliness. He created man to have a relationship with Him. (Genesis 1:26-27) ). He Himself desires relationship and community with His people, so He understands when something is not right. My job is to run to Him with my emotions because God is a safe place. Do I always do a good job at this? Oh please. I wish. But, when I do run to Him with hot tears of frustration from being overlooked or left behind, I do find solace. If you have looked at the Psalms in light of emotional dumping, you will see some very raw emotions. Everything from the highest heights to the depths of despair. And yet, while the Psalmist chastises himself, God does not. God cares that we are lonely. Jesus was left alone, abandoned by His friends and DISCIPLES, the ones He handpicked, when He was on trial and on the Cross. He told His disciples they would fall away, and sure enough they did.
No one understands like Jesus. Not one.
He knows about deep suffering, sorrow and loneliness. But, He often escaped to BE alone with His Father. He craved that time with His Father. So, maybe I have been looking at alone-ness wrongly. My attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus, so I need to spin the situation. I need to look at loneliness as an OPPORTUNITY to spend time ALONE with God. Wow.
All along I have had the world's definition of loneliness mentality, which smacks of the enemy who wants to make it all about me, when at the same time, alone-ness has been granted to me as a gift to spend time with my Heavenly Father. Why do I keep making suffering all about me, when the reality it is all about Him?
I am to give thanks in all circumstances. I am to praise Him, whether I can walk or not. I am to love others as myself. And, when I am wallowing in self-pity, or loneliness, it’s not a pretty sight. It’s hideous actually.
So, loneliness has two sides. One who is lonely, and the one looking into loneliness. I can speak to both. As I just discovered in those last few words, when I make the focus about me, I lose. I miss the opportunity to spend time with my Father, who understands me completely. I can run to Him with every emotion, and quite frankly feeling left out stinks. But, I can also look at this as a time to crawl in the Father’s lap and cry my heart out and then…….worship Him. Have you ever had times when you felt like the Lord said, “I have been waiting here for you, what took you so long?” I have. Lots. It’s better if I express these thoughts of loneliness to Him than to take it out on my unsuspecting friends or family.
And that leads me to the other side of the coin. Most of the time I do not even realize that I have walked past someone who was looking for a hug or even a hello. Or, if someone is not in my daily sphere of life, it is really easy to forget. I do it. All. The. Time. But there is no shame (Romans 8:1), rather, it is a lesson learned. I need to cross the aisle. I need to make that call. Or that text. I need to drop a card in the mail. Knowing how good it makes me feel when I am remembered, I can do the same for someone else. And, will it get uncomfortable? Probably. I mean, it is hard to listen to all of the many symptoms, rejections and hurt of someone else. It is. I don’t like to hear about the new ache, the new spot, the latest form of rejection of someone. But, God has not called to scrutinize every jot and tittle. He has called me to COMPASSION. Empathy.
What exactly IS empathy? I looked it up just now. Noun. The ability to understand and share the feelings of another. Do you want to hear something interesting? My go-to dictionary is the 1828 Webster dictionary, and EMPATHY is not in there. I looked up COMPASSION: noun. A suffering with another; painful sympathy. Ok. What does sympathy mean? It’s a noun too and it means fellow feeling, the quality of being affected by the affection of another. I had to hunt down our thesaurus for empathy. Here’s what it says: SYMPATHY, accord; affinity; communion; compatibility. So, when did Empathy become a word, and it is the right word after all?
According to The Atlantic, dated October 15, 2015, the word has only been around for a century and its meaning has continually changed over the course of its existence.
In reading my Bible, Jesus repeatedly tells us to LOVE one another. And then, in 1 Corinthians 13 we get a very good description of what that love looks like. Patient. Kind. Not a resounding clang, always drawing attention to ourselves. It does not envy or is not proud. In the King James, patience is translated longsuffering, or suffereth long. I am seeing that God has given us the Bluebook on how to approach someone who is suffering. With love. And, there are times when that love will look like a listening ear. Or a shoulder to cry on. And sometimes it may look like a funny joke. However the sufferer needs to be loved at the moment, in his/her time of loneliness. It IS compassion to step aside with one another. It is giving of oneself to another and that is the best working definition of love that I have T-I-M-E. Spending time with someone shows that you care.
Jesus did that with His motley crew of people. I mean, a bedraggled group of fishermen, cast offs, always doubtful, always missing the meaning of what He was telling them. He showed love to them by the time He spent with them. He stepped into their world, called them higher and engaged in life with them. He walked a mile in their shoes. I believe this IS the answer to loneliness. LOVE. And it was demonstrated to us by the Master, the One and only Son of God, Jesus Christ.
Your attitude should be that as Christ Jesus. Philippians 2:5
I am so grateful that Jesus gave me an example to follow.