During the past year I’ve experienced something I’d practically forgotten about: loneliness.
It’s been awhile since I’ve known this feeling. I knew it in middle school, when the awesome elementary school playground gave way to awkward hallway walking. (Hated that.) And I knew it again in early college before I found my place in the world and the love of my life. Truly, from the day I married Cindy and we began having children, I didn’t know loneliness for a long, long time.
For so many years our family was in the center of absolutely everything: school, church, community—an embarrassment of riches. That changed this past year when our final daughter left the nest, and along with her, all the activities that had essentially become our social life. Additionally, I took a sabbatical from full-time pastoring to work on a book. Suddenly life became shockingly quiet.
In a sense, the loneliness has been good for me. It has resensitized me to how some people feel all the time. And I regret not thinking enough about people on the edges when I was in the middle of it all. For many years church was just one of many spiritual communities for our family, and I didn’t realize (enough) how for many people, church was everything.
Jesus, of course, knew all this ahead of time. He knew some people would have large families and communities, while others would have only small ones, or sometimes none at all. And that’s why He invented the church—so that everyone would have community.
So I’d like to say a word to two groups of people.
First, to the lonely, bruised, and broken: I am so sorry. When I was abounding in community, I wasn’t sensitive enough to those who weren’t. Having been reacquainted with loneliness during this season, I promise I will never forget again.
Second, to the loved, busy, and blessed: You should rightfully praise God for seasons of abundance. If you live and move within strong healthy communities, you’re absolutely living the life that Christ intended—the one we will all enjoy fully forever and ever. In the meantime, don’t forget those who need your community. Even when going to church feels like one more thing, remember that for many people, church is everything.
A few weeks ago I sat with a tour group of 50 people on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. As the evening breezes blew, our group spent an hour together singing and sharing, laughing and crying. It’s always amazing to me how, in one week’s time, a group of strangers walking together in Jesus’ steps can become the closest of friends. No one is left out; everyone is included and special. Across the same lake, Jesus of Nazareth had also sat with a group of strangers, looking into their eyes, telling them He was now their family. And then He asked them to do for others what He had done for them.