October 6, 2013
Sunday, 7:30 p.m.
Letter #298: Alone
We are created to be in community with others. We are born into a family, live in a neighborhood, and worship with like-minded believers. We belong to each other. I Corinthians 12:27 states clearly that, “All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is part of it.” Yet each one is also responsible—alone—for our own relationship with our Creator. Our proximity to godly people, in a godly family that attends a godly church, has no bearing on our own relationship with God. This requires being alone with Him.
Prison certainly presents an opportunity for solitude, but for the first couple of years, I did all I could to be around others, developing friendships that are still meaningful to me. As much as possible, I tried to keep my outgoing personality and fun lifestyle habits. I didn’t want to feel abandoned, lonely, or isolated, so I found great ways to spend my time around others.
Two years into my sentence, I began to become much more focused on what God wanted from my life. Prison didn’t derail His purpose for me, I realized, so I needed to focus on the essentials, beginning with my primary relationship with Him. Besides church services and teaching, I’d spend time in my cell in purposeful isolation. I stopped trying to make sure I was involved, noticed, or accepted. I made it my mission to accomplish just the goals I’d set for myself based on my purpose in life.
There are still plenty of friends I associate with, but no one I consider as a close friend or a best friend. And for me, at this stage of life and personal growth, that’s a good thing. The old me would have tried to fill this friendship relationship void with activities, or romance, or business, or busyness … the next “thing” to make me feel better.
I discovered an old quote by a wise Middle Eastern man named Hafiz. In part, he said, “Don’t surrender your loneliness so quickly. Let it ferment and season you as few human and divine ingredients can.” This led me to see loneliness in a different light. Like its cousin, suffering, could it actually be a tool in the hand of my all-wise and all-knowing Creator, used carefully and even surgically for my benefit?
The psalmist accuses God of this very thing when he cries, “You have driven my friends away by making me repulsive to them. I am in a trap with no way of escape. My eyes are blinded by my tears … ” and then, perhaps, we see a ray of hope, of reason, as the loneliness forces him to look up to God: “Each day I beg for your help, O Lord; I lift my hands to you for mercy.” (Psalm 88:8–9) And perhaps this is the point.
Loneliness can do a work within you, searing until the flesh of your emotions is raw, wearing away the callouses of arrogance and selfishness until you reach out for help, for mercy. Loneliness can be the extreme torture, pulling the truth from deep inside your soul, the truth that has always been there, knowing you need. You need others. You need community. You need God. But this painful aloneness is more than we think we can bear. It is more than we think we deserve to bear. So we are tempted to make it go away at any cost. Even the cost of it benefitting us.
Hafiz closed his statements on loneliness by revealing how it had clarified so much for him and showed him deeper within his own soul. “My voice is so tender … my need for God so abundantly clear.”
Filling the perceived void with cheap human interaction and emotional attachments can blind us to the real need, like a surgeon whose only tool is a Band-Aid. Sure the pain subsides for the moment, the ache within quenched for another day. But self-sufficiency and pride meet their match when loneliness is allowed to do its painfully healing work to reveal the vulnerable man inside … the man who needs to commune with Christ before the community; learning to dwell in Him to be part of His Body. Let me be that man.