Apparently, the only “not-good” development in the paradise of God called Eden, before nary a square inch of lush green perfection had been stained by our rebellious disregard of God, was the un-matched fella who had everything, except, well, someone.
Someone to whom he corresponded.
Someone like him, yet unlike him.
Someone who might solve the problem of alone.
And from the text of Genesis any way, it isn’t Adam who notifies us about his problem. His Maker does. The divine analysis of the pristine and unblemished ancient world in its toddler years was that a fundamental incompleteness was marring the otherwise marvelous (and surely, mosquito-less) environs, where new creational delights awaited Adam’s discovery each second as he reverently paid attention to what was around him.
But neither the berry red brilliance of the embroidered edges of an Impala Lily opening its petals to the African sun, nor the sprinting Dama Gazelle adorned with handsome antlers, and donning a sleek fitting coat of rust with white under-shirt could dispel the Creator designed relational ache of the man with no companion.
You know what happened next of course. God reckoned that the “not good” of all alone should be remedied with a striking creature so “alike and yet so pleasingly unalike” that she compelled Adam to pen poetry! And the rest is quite literally, and indeed, history.
Secret and Serious
But these Authorial intentions convey something rather secret and serious. The secret is the unquenchable, but mostly unrealized ache to be known, companioned, and connected. But it’s a secret hard to put into words. Our mouths can’t easily form the syllables to adequately capture the sprawling extent of that loneliness. But it effects so much. Maybe there’s nothing about our lives this malady of lonely doesn’t stain.
Wendell Berry, in a poem called “An Embarrassment”, understands how vulnerable we are to this loneliness, and how striking it would be to ever hear, for instance “a lonely soul” lament its actual condition to God:
“Do you want to ask the blessing?" "No. If you do, go ahead." He went ahead: his prayer dressed up in Sunday clothes rose a few feet and dropped with a soft thump. If a lonely soul did ever cry out in company its true outcry to God, it would be as though at a sedate party a man suddenly removed his clothes and took his wife passionately into his arms.”
Whoa! I hope you’re still there and that your blushing cheeks haven’t overwhelmed your cognition for the moment.
There’s a lonely that nobody around us can ever quite guess, unless by imagination, and experience with their own, they might hazard an approximation. This is that cosmic loneliness of longing that marks our state, stuck in-between the already of God’s commenced earthly repair and the not-yet of a free, defenseless knowing and being delightedly and un-embarrassedly known.
Loneliness Not To Be Borne Alone?
That loneliness, is I suspect, something of our lot to bear. But dare I say, we shouldn’t bear it alone?
A recovering alcoholic is generally the best companion for the newly sober trying to learn a new way of life. Who better to bear a burden than she who has been broken, and re-built, fumbled and fortified under its weight?
And all of us, in our expert knowledge of various types of cosmic loneliness, have the resources, if we are paying attention, to consider and imagine, not our own, which comes so easy, but that of those around us.
In a book on suffering, Phillip Yancey insists:
“Every survey shows that a person who is connected with a caring community heals faster and better. Known “enemies of recovery” such as stress, guilt, anger, anxiety, and loneliness are best defeated by a compassionate community.”
As lonely but connected folks who belong to one-anothering communities of compassion called churches, we have a commission to anticipate, notice, and act, even if in inadequate, awkward, and fumbling ways, toward the loneliness in our midst.
The first place to look? The un-tied.
CS Lewis, in his bereavement writes to his friend Peter Vide:
“For I am—oh God that I were not—very free now. One doesn’t realise in early life that the price of freedom is loneliness. To be happy one must be tied.”
Freedom costs loneliness. Being bungee-corded to a community brings the salve of ameliorated loneliness.
So look around at who is less “tied” in than others. Give special consideration to the unhitched.
Unless you are a single woman, or an unmarried man, you may not have reckoned with the unintended but nonetheless biting sting of being surrounded by families. Especially if you are unaffiliated with any of them.
Christians believe that our first family isn’t the only important one in our lives. In fact, our adoptive family, the family of God called the church is a widening span of concern, resource, and happy formation for us. And plus, the task before us, like all God’s aspirations for his purchased people, are much too demanding and ambitious for any one solitary soul.
Jean Vanier, in Community and Growth reminds us this is a calling larger than for one individual:
“One of the marvelous things about community is that it enables us to welcome and help people in a way we couldn't as individuals. When we pool our strength and share the work and responsibility, we can welcome many people, even those in deep distress, and perhaps help them find self-confidence and inner healing.”
Look, Consider, Notice, Act
I’m wondering today, if we might ask Christ to make us aware and creatively responsive to the hamstringing ailment of loneliness that some of our dear folks encounter like a stiff, punishing wind coming off Lake Michigan in February.
Those whose marriages suffered a rupture. Those whose spouses have gone to be with the Lord. Or those who never had a spouse. And of course, those enduring chronic pain can tell you about a severe loneliness too. As can those who simply don’t think they belong, as if their entire life is a banished exile to the Island of Misfit toys.
As a community of Misfits acted on by Christ, moved by his sacrificial and welcoming love, let’s ask, (together, remember, for the job is too big for any one individual) that He might employ and equip us to take more notice, to extend more invitations, to do more including and visiting, and to help us open up our lives more generously to those who in our midst who’ve been entrusted with relational deprivations or alienating ailments of body they may not want at all, but which cause them a steady, anguished grief.
Perhaps, together (O, lovely word!) we can realize, in tiny steps at a time, more satisfying realizations of how good it is NOT to be alone, because folks discover they mattered to someone enough that they wouldn’t permit them to linger alone for long.
Grasping the possibilities of sustenance for the companionless in compassionate communities called churches, Phillip Yancey relates the following interchange:
“Someone asked a Lutheran bishop, “What is the best advice a pastoral or other counselor might give to a woman in her prime who faces devastating health problems?” His answer: “She should have been an active member of a vital congregation for the previous twenty years.”
As devastating instances of loneliness multiply, perhaps our scores of churches in Chattanooga, as we become increasingly attentive to the untied, forlorn, and beleaguered, may become known for proving that Lutheran bishop profoundly correct.
Contact Eric Youngblood, pastor of Rock Creek Fellowship on Lookout Mountain, at email@example.com