Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Feeling Lonely?

Loneliness is a big problem for many people. Perhaps you struggle with it too. When I was growing up and trying to understand what it was to be a man, I looked to my father who was very stoic and guarded about his feelings. To my young, impressionable mind, that was what it was like to be a man. When kids at school made fun of me, mom reminded me to say, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me."

When I first heard the Simon and Garfunkel song "I Am a Rock," it really resonated with me. I think I can safely say it shaped the way I looked at other people for decades to come. Whenever I was hurting because of what someone did to me or said to me, I would put on that record, slip on my headphones, and sing -- almost shout,

"I've built walls, a fortress deep and mighty, that none may penetrate. I have no need of friendship; friendship causes pain. It's laughter and it's loving I disdain. I am a rock, I am an island! ... Hiding in my room, safe within my womb. I touch no one and no one touches me. I am a rock, I am an island."

That is one kind of loneliness -- being hurt to the core by some people. It's being so afraid of re-experiencing that kind of pain that we shut everyone out to make sure we never have to go through it again.

That's what I did.

But then Lent came around, year after year. Each time I saw Jesus acting differently than I was acting. He knew the unbearable emotional pain that was coming: the mocking from Roman soldiers and Jewish leaders, the abandonment of His chosen disciples, Peter's vehement denial, and Judas' cold-hearted betrayal. Putting myself in Jesus' shoes -- and knowing what He knew -- I know I would have locked my heart against them.

But year after year I was confronted with the fact that this isn't what Jesus did. He didn't hide from the pain or cut Himself off from the people who would cause Him such agony. Instead, He embraced them and poured out His great, compassionate love. It didn't matter to Him whether they recognized His love or responded to it. Like His Father, He would love them so deeply that He would sacrifice it all and endure everything to do what was necessary to win their salvation. Then after His death, resurrection and ascension, He sent His followers to these same enemies to share the salvation and eternal life He had won for them.

When God made Adam and placed him in the Garden among all the animals, He countermanded Simon and Garfunkel's song. He said, "It is not good for man to be alone" (see Genesis 2:18); it is not good to be a rock or an island. One of my favorite Old Testament promises is found in Ezekiel 36:26, "And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh."

We can go through life fearing heartbreak and doing everything in our power to shield ourselves from emotional pain. But that's not really living. Instead, we can let Jesus' love transform us. Then we can live daring lives with hearts wide open to love and embrace all the people around us. We can be confident that Jesus will always be present; His Spirit will comfort us in our sorrows, and when we reach the end of our road, God will wipe away every tear from our eyes (see Revelation 7:17).

Many are the things that can shut us down inside: a hurtful and jilting relationship, a sharp critique from someone we respect, the bitter chastisement of a loved one. Experience one or two of these and it's easy to retreat where no one can find us. But at the end of the day, the old cliché rings true: "This too shall pass." Hanging on to that truth, however, can be very difficult sometimes.

Been stung but good sometime during your brief sojourn here? Care to talk about it or, better still, relay how you got through it? You can share your thoughts by clicking here and commenting.

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