“There are many paths of loneliness” (Elliot, 1988)…
One such path is being in a room filled with close friends, allies and family of which, you are an outsider. Watching as they connect… listening to the reliving of shared moments… previous encounters, places, events, mutual relations… watching eagerly, patiently waiting and anticipating the conversation to turn towards mutual context, per chance to join in. Watching… as communal acts of care are exchanged, only inches away, still smiling dumb and obtuse. Watching… yet longing for friendship, connection, relationship.
We need nurture, touch, and relationship. It is innate. It has always been so. In the beginning, God made Adam, the first human and God placed Adam in a garden and gave him a job… ‘name all the animals’. So Adam does but God, being God can see into Adams heart and he sees that Adam is lonely… who knows maybe Adam revealed his loneliness in other ways…
What if… what if Adam not only named all the animals, but actually turned them into his pets… lions, snakes, mice, rabbits, birds of all types, horses, bears… Who knows, maybe in his loneliness, Adam might have sought relationship with them. Maybe he rode on them, wrestled with them, played tag with them, a flock of doves and sparrows forever flying about his head and landing in his hair on his shoulders and arms… I bet badgers, with those long claws could give great back effluage! Just for a moment, close your eyes and imagine what that would be like… Have yourself a little daydream… Imagine a pack of animals running to and fro around God and Adam, cantering about in circles, cats weaving in between their legs during their evening walks about the garden… dogs barking, lambs bleating, cows mowing, horses whinnying… yet…
However it happened, God noticed that Adam was lonely. So God said, “This is not good” and made woman for him, his very own companion. God knew the animals were not enough… Adam needed one of his own species to love and be loved.
I think this was the hardest thing about career military service for me. When it was time for negotiating new orders, I used to say, or complain is more like it, by ranting, ‘I hate moving… moving is the worst… I don’t want to move’ and then would drag it out to the last minute. However, now that I think about it, it wasn’t the moving that caused the angst, it was the loss of intimacy, loss of relationship that occurred as a by-product of moving. It is hard to have relationship and build bonds of close friendship in short periods of time. Equally difficult is maintaining relationship long distance. For some people, building and maintaining trust and relationship is problematic. Too, I think some people have fears about making and keeping friends who are military or they belong to a family who is military. Why make an effort? They are going to leave eventually anyway… the rewards of friendship overtime are not going to happen.. why should I invest?
I have heard people conclude that military members are too strong willed, saying, ‘they are weird or too decisive and passionate and/or hard to get to know’. And this may be true, but it comes from the service… the training… the mandates embodied. However, lack of intimacy does not preclude the need for it or for the need of fellowship and discipleship from the community of believers, the Church.
So what do we do? How do we deal with loneliness, an unmet want for relationship stemming from whatever life situation we find ourselves in… military service or the consequences there of… singleness… widowhood… trapped in the cage, forever to taste and lick the blood of our wounding?
We go to the source… We go to God. As Elisabeth Elliot purports, “Loneliness is a kind of death”. And as a surrendered death… death of self and death to want/need…death to loneliness, we can choose to offer ourselves and our situation up as a sacrifice. Loneliness is our offering. Ms. Elliot also reminds us that Paul talks of this in 1 Peter 2:5, “…[we] like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. “If the primary function of the priest is to offer sacrifices, then that is our primary function as His priests. The whole life becomes a continual offering up for His praise”.
God the lifter of the head (Psalms 3: 3), will accept our offering, bloodied though it may be, but we can present ourselves as a living sacrifice, holy, pleasing to God (Romans 12: 1). But the question still remains, “Can we give up all for the love of God? Can we give up loneliness, our constant forever friend, so near and dear to our heart, cradled and nurtured as a babe protected in mother’s womb?
“When the surrender of ourselves becomes too much to ask, is it first of all because our thoughts about God Himself are too paltry. We have not really seen Him, we have hardly tested Him at all and learned how good He is. In our blindness, we approach Him with suspicious reserve. We ask how much of our fun He intends to spoil, how much He will demand from us, how high is the price we must pay before He is placated. If we had the least notion of His lovingkindness and tender mercy, His fatherly care for his poor children; His generosity, His bountiful plans for us; if we know how patiently He waits for our turning to Him, how gently He leads us to green pastures and still waters, how carefully He is preparing a place for us, how ceaselessly He is ordering and ordaining and engineering His master plan for our good— if we had an inkling of all this, could we be reluctant to let go of our smashed dandelions or whatever we clutch so fiercely in our sweaty little hands? We have not loved thee with our whole heart…”(Elliot, 1988)
How do we do this?
God shows us the way, God gives the intervention, the rescue. It is by His mercies, with His grace… “grace first, last and always” (Elliot) in which we can surrender… by the mercies of God we are able to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy, and pleasing. We can trust in His mercy… trust in His grace.
Will we put on the priestly mantle today? Dare to trust? Dare to taste the grace so freely offered?
Great is thy Faithfulness, God of our Fathers. Help us to see it and dare to taste and experience Your grace today. Lift up our head to see You and your mercy. Wash us clean with Your grace and help us to leave loneliness at the foot of your cross. In you we pray…