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The Source of My STRENGTH
By CHARLES STANLEY
Nelson BooksCopyright © 2007 Charles Stanley
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWords of Comfort and Healing to Those who are LONELY
The scene is etched sharply into my memory. I can see it as clearly today as the day it happened.
Two of my friends-Jimmy and Rob-had come to spend some time with me on a Saturday afternoon. We had laughed and talked and played games together, and then the father of one of the boys came to pick them up in his car.
As I stood in the yard and watched the three of them drive away down the street, a sickening, sinking feeling hit the pit of my stomach. I clearly remember thinking, I have nobody.
A feeling of utter loneliness welled up in me-a feeling that was all too familiar, a feeling that had been there for all of my thirteen years.
My very first memory is of sitting up in a bed in a room that had brown boarded walls and was lit by a kerosene lamp. I had a terrible earache. And I was alone.
My father-a worker in a textile mill and the son of a Pentecostal evangelist-died of kidney disease when I was nine months old. At the time, we lived in a little place called Dry Fork, Virginia, just outside Danville. On the Sunday afternoon he passed away, just before he died, my mother asked him, "What will I do if you die?" He replied, "Well, you'll have to do the best you can." His advice sounds cold to me now, but the year was 1933, and probably the only thing that any person could do at that time was "the best you can." For my mother, "doing her best" meant going to work immediately to support the two of us.
Although I do not consciously remember my father's death, I have come to recognize that the little boy in me knew somehow that my father had gone away. In the deepest recesses of my heart I had the knowledge that I had been left alone.
For the first couple of years of my life, various women took care of me while my mother worked. And each day when my mother walked out the door to go to work, the little boy who still lives inside me said, "She's gone. She left you. You are alone."
I remember crying every morning of my fifth year as I prepared to go to school. My mother had to leave early to go to work, so she was always gone by the time I got up. For the first few months of that school year, Uncle Jack came over and helped me get ready for school-he'd comb my hair and cook my breakfast. Before I was out of first grade, however, I had learned to comb my own hair and cook my own breakfast-including an egg and a piece of bacon.
When I came home from school in the afternoon, my mother still wasn't home. She didn't arrive until about five o'clock. Coming home to an empty house really bothered me. It was a constant reminder that I was alone.
I got to the place where I could play all day by myself-riding broomstick horses and playing with toy soldiers. As I got older, I built model airplanes. I had a few friends who would come over to play with me-we could play Monopoly all day-but most of my days were spent by myself. Later, as a teenager, I'd take my .22 down to the creek bank and spend entire afternoons shooting at birds. Alone.
Even during the brief periods through the years when we lived with my aunts and uncles, I suffered from loneliness. My grandparents and uncles would frequently leave my mother and me at home when they'd go out. Although I feel certain now, as an adult, that their leaving us behind was probably a matter of convenience or necessity, as a little boy I saw their leaving as abandonment. I felt it as loneliness.
On one particular Saturday, my mother left our home and didn't return all day. I cried the entire time. I had no idea where she had gone or when she was coming back. Until about three years ago, the loneliest times of my life were Saturday afternoons.
I know I am not alone in my experience.
Although the loneliness of my childhood may be more severe than that experienced by many people, I have met hundreds-even thousands-of people through the years who have felt utterly alone, abandoned, isolated, ostracized, and thus, lonely.
It is one of the most excruciating feelings a person can ever have, and one that nearly every person attempts to avoid at all costs. Those who have spent time in solitary confinement consider it to be one of the worst forms of punishment or imprisonment on earth. They say, for example:
"I can't bear the loneliness. The walls seem to close in on me. The days seem never to end."
"Even when I'm in a crowd, I have this strong sense that I am alone-that nobody really knows I'm there. It's almost as if I'm invisible."
"The day he walked out the door, I thought I'd scream. Not that he was gone. But that he'd left me alone."
"I feel as if I'm swinging my arms in a fog-but rather than connect with anybody, the fog grows thicker."
People who are divorced nearly always give testimony to loneliness. A divorce is an extremely traumatic situation. It literally tears away at the emotions, and very often, the overriding feeling is one of intense loneliness, of being isolated from the rest of the world.
Older people give frequent testimony to loneliness, especially after the death of a spouse. Grief becomes coupled with isolation-an excruciating combination, and sometimes a deadly one. Old friends, old associations, and old responsibilities have sloughed away-leaving only an inner ache for what once was and for friends who are no longer accessible.
Young people cry out in loneliness. Whether latchkey kids or the children of indifferent, self-absorbed parents, our young people frequently speak out about the isolation they feel from peers and from their society as a whole.
Salespeople on the road are lonely.
Mothers of young children and homemakers are lonely.
Those who have moved to new cities and those who have started new jobs are lonely.
College students who are out on their own for the first time, especially those who have gone away to school, are lonely.
Those who have empty nests after years of raising children are lonely.
Newly retired persons, so accustomed to a wide circle of acquaintances and colleagues, are lonely.
Look around, and you'll find lonely people everywhere.
The Lord's Response
What does our Lord say to people who are lonely?
In the creation story of Genesis 1-3, we have a picture of God desiring the fellowship of human beings. He says, "Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness" (Gen. 1:26)-a likeness complete with an emotional capacity to long for companionship. That desire resident in humankind to seek out God, to long for God in the deep inner recesses of the heart, is mirrored by God's desire for humankind.
Apparently, Adam and Eve walked and talked with God frequently. God's voice to them in the cool of the evening was not strange to them. (See Genesis 3:8-9.)
Time and again throughout the Old Testament, we find the Lord reaching out to His people, revealing Himself to them, desiring to be with them and to communicate with them. In 1 Samuel 12:22, we find this promise of God: "For the Lord will not forsake His people, for His great name's sake, because it has pleased the Lord to make you His people." The Lord's desire is for companionship, fellowship, and communion with those who will respond to Him in like manner.
In the New Testament, we read how Jesus developed a very close relationship with a group of men we call the apostles. He was so concerned that they continue in their relationship with one another even after His crucifixion that He spent much of His last night with them talking about their need to remain one with each other, and to be as one with the Father, just as He was one with them and one with the Father. He promised to send them a Comforter or Helper-the Holy Spirit-who would never leave them and would be not only with them but in them. (See John 14-16.)
The close communion that the Lord desires and is willing to experience with us is something we can count on, even if everyone else abandons us. We see this, too, in the life of Jesus. On the very night He was to be arrested and tried-the trial that would end in His crucifixion-He said to His disciples, "Indeed the hour is coming, yes, has now come, that you will be scattered, each to his own, and will leave Me alone." Can you hear the pain in that statement? Jesus knew what it was to be lonely. But then Jesus went on to say, "And yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me." Jesus knew what it was to be comforted even in the face of abandonment. (See John 16:32.)
Jesus' final words to His disciples in Matthew 28 were these: "Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." Jesus seemed to have an intense concern that His disciples would know with certainty that the Lord God was closer to them than the very breath that they breathed and that though they would feel lonely at times, they were never actually alone.
Today, Jesus is your Friend of friends. He is one Friend you will always have, who will be "the same yesterday, today, and forever" (Heb. 13:8).
When You Are Feeling Lonely
When loneliness engulfs us, the first thing we must do is to turn our focus away from what we don't have to what we do have. And what do we have? God Himself.
You can't ever be alone once you have trusted in Jesus Christ as your Savior. He says that He comes to dwell within you when you receive Him into your life and that He becomes connected to you just as a vine and a branch are connected. In the same way that sap flows through a vine and its branches, so, too, the love of Christ is flowing in you and through you. He is abiding in you, and you are abiding in Him. You are as one being with Christ. You share with Him the most intimate relationship possible-an eternal spiritual intimacy. (See John 15:1-9.)
The depth of that intimacy is, to a great extent, up to us. It relates to how much we desire to be intimate with the Lord, how much we allow Him to fill us up with His presence, and how willing we are for Him to reveal Himself to us. The fact is, however, that we can never totally isolate ourselves from the Lord. He is always there, desiring to be ever closer to us.
We might ask as the apostle Paul did, "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?" The answer is also provided by Paul: "For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom. 8:35, 38-39).
You simply cannot be alone once you have the Spirit of God dwelling in you. You can experience a tormenting feeling of emptiness, fear, or desperation. You can feel alone even though you are not alone. These feelings are subject to what you do about them. You can let your feelings drive you away from the Lord-and experience less intimacy with Him. Or you can let these feelings drive you toward the Lord and to an even greater intimacy.
When we choose to turn to the Lord, we are saying to Him, in effect, "I need for You to fill this ache, this void, this loneliness in my life. I am trusting You to do it. There's nobody else to whom I can turn. I turn completely and totally to You." In so doing, we are inviting the Lord to reveal His presence to us-a presence that does, indeed, take away our loneliness.
Don't Shut Off the World or Shut Out the Lord
Lonely people sometimes turn to drugs or alcohol to get away from their feelings of loneliness. A chemical-induced lull is never a good substitute for life!
Lonely people may also turn to television, videos, or radio programs to fill the void of loneliness they feel. While it's true that the media can provide noise in an otherwise quiet house and give a sense of connection with the outside world, it's also true that there are two dangers in turning to a form of the media when one is feeling lonely:
The first danger is that a media form will become a substitute for real-life relationships and involvement in the family or with the greater community in which the person lives. Television isolates a person from the world. It shuts off a person's communication with others and thwarts opportunities to build relationships. The second danger is that television will become a detour or a diversion that keeps the person from truly turning to the Lord and developing a relationship with Him.
Don't let television, radio, or some other form of media become a cheap substitute for the real thing: a relationship with the Lord and relationships with other people. Rather than watch relationships on television or listen to them on radio, seek to build relationships in real life.
Let me take you back again to the creation story in Genesis. In the first chapter of Genesis, we read how the Lord created the world and all that is in it, and after each act of creation, He says, "It is good." The first time that the Lord says that something is not good is when He addresses the issue of loneliness. The Lord says, "It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him" (Gen. 2:18).
The Lord's desire is not only that you have a close, intimate relationship with Him but that you have satisfying and enriching personal relationships with other people. When you are lonely, you turn first to the Lord, but you turn next to people-not to the media or to some type of escapist activity. Loneliness is remedied by interaction and involvement-with the Lord and with others-not by withdrawal or an escape into fantasy or some type of chemical-induced stupor.
One of the greatest blessings in life is a godly friend. Don't be reluctant to call upon such a friend when you experience moments of overwhelming loneliness. That friend is a gift from God to you. This is especially true in times of intense grief over the loss of a loved one or the loss of a relationship. Seek out a friend who will love you, spend time with you, and help you break through the wall of separation you feel from the world.
With television, you have something only for the moment. With other people, you have something that can last a lifetime. With the Lord, you have something that lasts for all eternity.
When you turn off the television set, what do you have? Loneliness again. When you spend time with the Lord, what do you come away with? Feelings of oneness with Him, security, affirmation, encouragement, a sense of His presence and power, and a joy in your heart that drives away loneliness.
When you are feeling lonely, first go to the Lord. Say, "Lord, help me to have a relationship with You. I want to know You better. I want to feel Your presence." And then ask the Lord to guide you into satisfying and mutually beneficial relationships with other people. Say to the Lord, "Lord, please provide for me friends who will speak the truth to me and help me to live in a way that is pleasing to You, friends who will love me and who will receive love from me, friends with whom I can share laughter and sorrow, friends with whom I can converse freely." Look for the opportunities to build friendships that the Lord brings your way:
Say yes to social invitations from godly people. Get involved with your church and with various groups within the church. Be faithful in your attendance and in your participation in group functions. Get to know the people. Invite others to join you for lunch or after-church brunch.
Develop Godly Friendships
As you get to know people, look for areas of common interest or mutual concern. Find ways in which you can get involved in problem-solving tasks with people. It may be feeding homeless people or visiting members of your church who are homebound. It may be helping with the children's choir or joining a group that provides assistance to missionary families.
Be willing to share your life with others. Tell what the Lord has done for you and how He has helped you through difficult times in the past. Your story will be an encouragement to the person who hears it, and in turn, the individual may feel more open in sharing something of his or her personal journey with you.
Excerpted from The Source of My STRENGTH by CHARLES STANLEY Copyright © 2007 by Charles Stanley. Excerpted by permission.
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