Sunday, February 10, 2019

Hello! My Name is "Lonely."

“Loneliness is the ultimate poverty.”  Pauline Phillips

I met a girl named, “Lonely.” No, I’m not attempting to write a song. I really did. Recently, I was at Panera grabbing a breakfast sandwich and a coffee. The young lady’s name tag who waited on me, had for her name, “Lonely.” I asked about it and pointed out, how could she be lonely when she was surrounded by people, BUT the truth is, she could be.
  This coming week is Valentine’s Day and many couples and married folk will be celebrating it. One underlying and often acknowledged reason that they celebrate is – they’re not lonely. They believe that they have someone.
  I’m always staggered by that first statement in the Garden, when our Creator made the first negative statement in the midst of all of the wonder of creation – “It is not good that the man should be alone” (Genesis 3:18). Then, our loving God created Eve as the marriage partner for Adam. Our kind Creator gave to us what the Godhead already possessed – community. It’s what we know theologically as the Trinity. In the Trinity, God exists in three persons: God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. It wasn’t just God that created us; the Godhead created us. In Genesis 1:26, there’s a conversation within the Godhead, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” Do I understand the Trinity? Can I even adequately explain it, “No.” I’m a finite human being who will never fully comprehend an infinite God. There are many other things that I also don’t understand, like love or loneliness.
  It wasn’t a long conversation, so I don’t know if she was truly lonely, or if it was a joke. I do know that we are surrounded by lonely people. The Beatles hit a societal nerve with their mega-hit song, “All the lonely people.” Some lonely people are more obvious – a single person, divorcee, widow or widower can be lonely. So can a teen or college student, which is one reason that depression is epidemic among both.
  Yet, there are many other categories of loneliness we’re often oblivious to. For example, there’s the loneliness of suffering. Many around us carry great burdens that they carry alone. The suffering is painful and loneliness only adds to the weight of the burden. Perhaps it’s a disease or an emotional malady. My pastoral experience has been that it can often be the loneliness of a hurting marriage. From the outside (and posts on Facebook), they appear to be a Valentine couple, but they’re not.
  Or, sometimes it’s because of unresolved marital issues. One of the loneliest marriages to be in is where you know the Lord, yet your spouse is an unbeliever. You can’t share the greatest part of your life with them. You carry the heavy burden that the one you vowed to love “til death to us part,” is doomed, unless they come to Christ to a tragic eternal destination.
  As a church family, when we learn of someone in those circumstances, we need to partner with them, praying with them that their spouse comes to Christ. We must continually encourage the regenerate spouse, reminding them that they’re not alone and we’ve got their back. There are many on my prayer list from our church family that I continually pray for and that their spouse will accept God’s glorious gift of forgiveness and eternal life.
  The loneliness of suffering can be a wayward child. Many close friends,  many of my friends in ministry, have one. Sometimes it’s a child who has rejected Christ and the faith. It’s a heartache that’s nearly impossible to share. It can be a child who’s imprisoned or enslaved to addiction, or who despises Christianity. It’s the loneliness of suffering with a heavy heart.
  One that most never consider is the loneliness of leadership. Every pastor understands it. There are some burdens that you can only share with your Heavenly Father. Probably one of the loneliest individuals you know, yet probably don’t have a clue that they’re lonely is your manager or boss. I can assure you that the CEO of your company, in spite of all of the apparent trappings of success, struggles with loneliness. Because when you’re a “success,” you wonder who your true friends are. Are they your friends because you’re successful or truly your friends? Sometimes it’s only when life tumbles in that you learn who your real friends are.   
  What’s the cure to loneliness? I believe that it’s first a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. As a believer, I have promises that I’ve anchored my life to. The Lord promises every child of His, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Heb. 13:5). Jesus’ last words were, “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20). Those are the promises that will carry you even when you walk through the valley of the shadow of the death after the loss of one dearest to you. It’s His promises that carried me when as a boy, I lost my mother in a tragic car accident. And if the Lord should take one of those dearest to me, they’ll carry me again.
  One of my favorite quotes about loneliness that’s encouraged me countless times over the decades is, “Loneliness becomes our friend when it forces us to enjoy the fellowship of God as much as we would the fellowship of others.” At periods of my life when I’ve felt so very alone. I am confident that I am not. The sweetness of my Heavenly Father’s love for me has so comforted me…and it will comfort you too.
  Personally, I have found that one of the best cures for loneliness is for me to care for and serve others. God designed us for relationships. When I care and reach out to someone else, my own soul is filled with joy.
  As believers, we must continually look outward to others. We’re commanded, “Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2). The most miserable people are those who think primarily about themselves. God designed us to be rivers through which His love flows, yet when we focus primarily on ourselves, we become cesspools.
  So choose to be God’s Valentine to those around you this week! Look for someone lonely that you can encourage. Let’s help downsize the number of all those lonely people so no one has to wear a name tag, “Lonely.”

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