Grace in Loneliness

graceTurn to me and have mercy on me, because I am lonely and hurting. (Psalm 25:16)

Ponder It.

  • When have you experienced loneliness?
  • What is the difference between aloneness and loneliness?
  • How have you experience loneliness in busyness?

Receive It. Grace never leaves you alone. You might experience loneliness in your life, but God never intends for you to do life on your own. He created us for relationship. However, we experience lonely times. We feel alone. We feel isolated, which is different than actually being alone. The truth is we are never alone. Even when we are by ourselves, as followers of Christ, we are with God. He is with us. When we feel lonely, we can be comforted and reassured in his presence. We don’t need to ignore our feelings of isolation; in fact, we shouldn’t ignore those feelings, because what we keep in the dark will usually grow and infect us in all sorts of unhealthy ways. Instead, we can call out to God and tell him about our loneliness. He reassures us. He invests in us. He challenges us and convicts us. God’s presence isn’t always warm and fuzzy. Discipleship never is. It’s growth-producing and growth is often not comfortable. Rewarding? Yes. But comfortable? No.

God’s presence provides grace to us in the loneliness. Grace fills the spaces. We don’t know how the spaces got there, and we often try to fill the spaces with things that look appealing but end up being unsatisfying spiritual junk food. Only God can fill the gaps with his perfect provision of just what we need and what only he can provide. Whether you’re in the middle of a crowd when you experience loneliness or isolated away from others, you are not alone. Acknowledge God’s presence and accept his grace. Trust him to give you everything you need.

Live It. Make space today. Set aside one minute to sit completely by yourself in silence, if possible. Close your eyes and clear your mind. Try to think of nothing. Sweep it clean. Of course, it will be a struggle, but don’t give up. Keep cleaning for a full minute. At the end, you might not have swept every thought clean, but you’ll hopefully have more space than before. Ask God to fill it.

You Stood Me Up

I waited for you today. I had hoped to meet you in the quiet corner of the coffee shop you frequent. I enjoy sitting across from you, listening to your heart. Hearing you share about your daily life thrills me. I’m honored when you share. I want to walk through life with you. I’ll listen to the details and never trivialize them. I’ll listen to your dreams no matter how silly or out-of-reach they might seem. I’ll help broaden your perspective to see the big picture.

I just want to sit with you. I treasure our silence. It’s the time we spend together that I value. I waited, hoping you’d slip into the empty chair across the table from me.

I know you’re busy. Even on the days when your schedule goes smoothly, it’s difficult for you to fit anything extra. I wish I wasn’t “extra.” Perhaps you don’t understand how invested I am in your life. I want you to know I support you. I love you, and because of that love, I will always approach you with compassion, patience, kindness – and accountability. You might not always like what I say, because my love for you is bold enough to confront you when you need to be confronted. I care too much to let you continue with faulty thinking or unhealthy behavior – no matter how extensively you’ve rationalized it.

You probably get mad or frustrated with me at times. On those days, you avoid spending time with me. On the days you don’t push open the doors and purposefully walk toward me and sit to share time with me, I miss you no matter what your reason is. When I look at the empty chair across from me, I’m sad. I watch people coming and going; many of them are alone, connecting with no one but the person managing the exchange of money and goods. I listened to people placing their orders with specific instructions and becoming disgruntled when the end products aren’t exactly as expected. Every now and then, I catch someone’s glance and exchange a quick smile.

I long for substantial connection, where someone is open to my investment into them.

That’s what I want for you. I miss you. I’m waiting for you. The empty chair and my longing heart are waiting.

Love, God

Nothing New Under the Sun

breadcrumbsAll things continue the way they have been since the beginning. What has happened will happen again; there is nothing new here on earth. Someone might say, “Look, this is new,” but really it has always been here. It was here before we were. People don’t remember what happened long ago, and in the future people will not remember what happens now. Even later, other people will not remember what was done before them. (Ecclesiastes 1:9-11)

It’s funny how we can each quickly believe we’re the only one who has ever experienced something. We feel alone, or at least, we feel as if we can’t find someone who can fully relate to us. We compare stories and find the differences instead of looking at the similarities, because we focus on the specifics instead of the underlying issues.

Many times, the issues we have are less about the specific situation and more about the foundation of what’s underneath the issue. We feel inadequate, ignored, overlooked, mistreated, targeted, accused, betrayed, overwhelmed, and so on. If we’d set aside the specifics of our situations and look for the common experiences underlying them, we’d realize we’re not so different from people. And that God’s included a person and situation in Scripture for us to pay attention to and learn from.

People in the Bible have left bread crumbs for us to follow. Are you looking for them?

Perhaps you’d rather find the differences. After all, if you can find how someone in the Bible is different than you, you can dismiss the lesson, because it doesn’t “quite” apply. But look at the basics of the lesson. What is the person going through or struggling with? Each person and each situation is a trail of bread crumbs leading through the process of God revealing something about himself and his will to you. You have to pay attention to the details.

If you’re intent on learning about God and from God, you’re going to have to let him teach you the way he intends. Don’t worry: he knows your learning style. He knew what you’d need long before you ever did or ever will.

Will you follow the breadcrumbs of faith?

(To go deeper into God’s Word, order Pure Faith: A Study of What Faith Is and How to Live It Out Loud.)

We’re All In This Together!

There’s a group of people I only see a couple times a year. We typically work together at a couple large conferences, and the schedule is exhausting. We all fly in one evening. We know we need to be up early the next morning to set up, but we typically stay up late, catching up with each other. With Facebook and Twitter, you’d think we’d already have all the details we need, but face-to-face is different. We get to have conversations in real time, and we take full advantage of the opportunity.

After three days of connecting with people passionate about ministry, scurrying out for meals together, and trying to discuss and fix all the issues of the world, we’re exhausted. We usually have morning flights, so we typically flop into our beds the last night and try to get any amount of sleep that will help us return to our regular routines of families, ministries and all the things that don’t pause even when we’re away from them.

During our last trip, we set aside sleep the final night and went to Ghiradelli’s in Downtown Disney for late night ice cream and hot cocoa. Despite our exhaustion (or perhaps because of it), we got a renewed burst of energy once we squeezed around a small table and consumed our overloaded sugary treats. We laughed over goofy videos a few people on the team had made during a quick trip for supplies. We discovered the packed table next to us had similar ministry interests, and we shared stories and needs and took a photo right in the middle of the bustling restaurant. (Yes, we were those annoying people in the restaurant. A nearby table of teenagers gave us a couple eye-rolls and looks of disgust.) We shared a common cup of hot fudge despite most of us either being health-conscious or germaphobes.

And we sang. Yes, we sang. Who cares if the only line we could remember from the High School Musical song was “We’re all in this together…”! If you sing it over and over, it resembles a complete verse! (We committed to at least learn a couple more lines before we’re together again.)

We sealed the experience of being together for a common purpose (serving in ministry together) with an experience of being together for a common purpose (building relationships). We set aside sleep and made memories instead. We set aside everything going on in our personal lives and our preferences for answering emails, working out, taking a warm shower, or whatever else we wanted to do in order to share a brief window of time together.

When have you sacrificed yourself for a group experience?

What benefits are there to individuals coming together for a common purpose?

When you get together with others, do you usually only do so for “work,” or do you fit in some fun as well? Or perhaps fun always supercedes work for you. Do you need to focus a bit more on the benefits of having a group of people together and the possibilities of progress a group can accomplish?

I’ll be the first to admit my default setting is not to jump into the middle of a group of people just for fun. I enjoy people. I love the relationships of my life…but I also like my alone time. I need some retreat time to think, recharge, and to be productive with the responsibilities I have. But one of the responsibilities I have is to build relationships with others.

I need to seek relationships.

I need to maintain relationships.

I need to keep relationships healthy.

I need to invest in relationships.

I need to celebrate relationships.

I need to appreciate relationships.

Take a look at your relationships. Are they balanced? Are you seeking relationships with new people or simply investing in those you already know? Are you actually investing or just maintaining? Are you appreciating relationships or taking them for granted? Are you keeping relationships healthy or keeping status quo?

You’re in this life with someone…a whole group of someones. Do relationships intentionally.

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another. Hebrews 10:24-25 (NIV)