Monday, February 23, 2015

Mind the Gap: Loneliness and the Christian Life

There I was traveling London, waiting for the underground metro, when a hurried stream of people came flooding out from it's doors. I heard the phrase "Mind the Gap" echo as I took a few steps forward. It was a reminder to watch out for the small amount of space between the platform and door of the metro.

When I consider loneliness, I think of the phrase "Mind the Gap." It makes me think about the risk involved with getting into relationships. It's easier to try and go at life alone than invest time in people. It hurts less. It takes less effort. 

Over the past few months I have experienced loneliness like never before. Going from a small private high school where you see the same people every day to college where you study, eat, sleep, and hang out with your best friends all day every day--it has been quite the adjustment. 

Challenge #1: Commuting. Going to a school consisting of 75% of commuters was a struggle. People were interested in getting through class and getting off campus as fast as possible. Not only was I a transfer and hardly knew anyone, but also a commuter. I was not living on campus, I was not there on the weekends, and I was constantly bouncing between classes and work without much of a social life.

Challenge #2: Being a Christian. My value system is completely different from the people around me. I was so used to being in a Christian bubble, that the world was a slap in the face and hard to handle.

Challenge #3: Living at home. Everyone was gone. So many of my close friends were now away at college. Friends lived close by were just as busy as I was. Life continued for the people at my old college, while I felt completely isolated from everyone I had just gotten close with over the past year. 

College is supposed to be the time you feel the least lonely, right? Not for everyone.

Many people struggle with loneliness and it is almost unnoticeable. It does not matter if you are shy, outgoing, popular, or on the outskirts of society-we crave human relationships. It is how God made us. But even more than we crave human relationships, we have a deep felt need for God. Augustine, a major figure in church history wrote in his work Confessions: "You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you." Just as Blaise Pascal penned the notion of the "God-shaped heart", we need to recognize that our souls are made for a relationship with the Creator. You and I cannot turn to the world for the satisfaction we desire because it only comes from God.

However, we also need relationships with each other, but they can be messy, exhausting, time consuming, and heart-breaking. Why would we want to engage in these kinds of relationships if they are so difficult anyways? Because they are worth it. Community is worth the risk. But sometimes, no matter how many relationships we might have in our lives we can still feel lonely. 

A. W. Tozer puts things into perspective when he writes: "His inability to find human companionship drives him to seek in God what he can find nowhere else." Our loneliness should urge us to seek deep relationship with God. However, it does not mean that the feelings of loneliness will go away. We will always have a sense of incompleteness because our relationships with people are broken because of sin. 

Loneliness is a tool that can be used in the hands of God. A. W. Tozer continues to write in The Saint Must Walk Alone that there are beautiful lessons to be learned through these dark times. The first he talks about is how sometimes the "spiritual climate" around us is not the same as that in other's lives. Therefore, sometimes we do not feel open enough to speak with others. If this is you today I would encourage you to seek Christian community with someone that understands what you are going through. 

However, the other way that loneliness can shape your life is how it can either make or break you. It can either harden or soften your heart. Tozer writes, "His loneliness makes him sympathetic to the approach of the broken-hearted and the fallen and the sin-bruised." Does loneliness make you spite humanity or love it all the more? Because it should make you love it more. It should make you recognize how broken we are and how much we are in need of a Savior.

To be honest loneliness has made me fearful. It makes me hold on tighter to my loved ones, which can be bad. It makes me cry, a lot. It makes me crave the comfort of familiar surroundings and does not push me to create new relationships with others. It has made me feel discouraged. When someone walks out or walks away I don't think my companionship is enough. However, I am striving to forget to "mind the gap" and forget the loneliness I feel. Instead, I am praying that God will replace a heart like His that is beating deeply for others just as it grows in love for Him. I look forward to a day when there is no more loneliness or hurt in relationships and where sin does not easily entangle my friendship with others.

How will loneliness shape you today?


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