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Jun 10, 2018

#1 - Loneliness is Not Just a Feeling

Passage: Luke 5:12-16

Preacher: John Huizinga

Series: When You Need More Than a Band-Aid

Category: Not By Chance But By His Fatherly Hand

Keywords: alone, belonging, community, loneliness, lonely

Summary:

Throughout the summer months we’re going to explore some difficult subjects. Painful burdens, even secrets, we carry with us like loneliness, mental illness, depression, addiction, sexual confusion, aging, death and loss, among other things. We will talk about them because the Bible does. The living Word of God speaks for us and to us about our deepest pains, burdens and questions. Jesus lived a human life to be with us in these struggles and to bear them to the cross, where he overcame these would be powers over us and triumphed over them. Throughout this summer series, we hope you find the courage to add your voice to the preacher’s. To share your story, your deliverance, or your continued hope and trust. So that together this may be a place of grace in our broken week. And our church may become a safe place to share in these dangerous times how to love one another, and love ourselves and find the way to love in the love of God. Our first topic is loneliness.

Detail:

June 10 - Loneliness

Are you lonesome tonight

Do you miss me tonight?

Are you sorry we drifted apart?

Is your heart filled with pain, shall I come back again?

Tell me dear, are you lonesome tonight?

-           Elvis (Roy Turk and Lou Handman)

 

Are you singing along in your head?

Songs about loneliness speak to us:

The Beatles Eleanor Rigby

sketches the lives of two lonely people

even in church: Eleanor Rigby and Father MacKenzie.

All the lonely people

Where do they all come from?

All the lonely people

Where do they all belong? – Lennon McCartney

 

Loneliness is not just being alone

when you’d rather not be.

It is not just a feeling.

Loneliness is a lack of meaningful, deep relationships.

Experiences like not fitting in,

feeling misunderstood,

or all of the sudden going through something

all by yourself,

judging that I’m different, or not worth it,

or even rejected by those

whose opinion and inclusion matter deeply to me.

Sometimes we ask more of people

than they can give,

and that creates its own isolation,

frustration, and loneliness:

whether that be between friends, fellow believers,

or even spouses.

So it is also possible to feel lonely,

even when surrounded by people.

 

In many ways loneliness is the mother

of our suffering.

Loneliness was birthed by humanity’s fall into sin,

isolating human beings from God and one another

and the grace we need when facing

the troubles of this world,

the trouble Jesus not only talked about,

but also suffered for and with us,

promising to be with us always,

to the very end,

because he knew what being lonely does to us.

 

So the sorrow of loneliness

is the first of our summer messages

on the pains and troubles we experience.

Many times we don’t know

how to talk about these things

or how to respond to those who suffer so.

 

I’m not speaking as an expert

on these very real pains and burdens.

And the point of these messages

isn’t to offer simplistic quick fixes

for what are complex and deep concerns.

Instead, as I struggle to find a way

to speak about these things

within the context of faith,

because even these hurts and pains

are held in the fatherly hands of the Lord God.

I hope we all begin to find some words

and a way to talk and pray about these things,

to be able to share our own struggles,

to ask for help,

and to offer care and empathy for one another

when we struggle so.

Frederick Buechner encourages us

in this spiritual journey,

 “What we hunger for perhaps more than anything else is to be known in our full humanness, and yet that is often just what we also fear more than anything else.

 “I not only have my secrets, I am my secrets. And you are yours. Our secrets are human secrets, and our trusting each other enough to share them with each other has much to do with the secret of what it means to be human.”

 

So who gets lonely?

Your grandpa may get lonely.

Your grandchild may get lonely.

Your teenager may get lonely.

Your spouse may be lonely.

Your brother and sister in Christ may be lonely.

Your neighbor may be lonely.

Are you lonely today?

 

Now let’s find a way

to talk about our loneliness together

and in the presence of the God who is with us,

who calls us friends,

and promises never will I leave you,

never will I forsake you.

 

It’s important because

research has shown that loneliness

is associated with worsening health,

including heart disease, diabetes, cancer, depression, suicide, and dementia.

The former US Surgeon General, Vivake Murthy, recently described loneliness as an epidemic,

and a major public health concern.

He compared the physical effect of loneliness

to the equivalent of smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

Do you know who Tracey Crouch is?

She is Great Britain’s

government minister of loneliness.

The U.K. has appointed a minister of loneliness

to tackle what Prime Minister Theresa May calls

a "sad reality of modern life" for many U.K. citizens.

 

So who gets lonely?

everybody at one time or another –

interpersonal loneliness comes

at the loss of a loved one,

or when we’re single not by choice,

or leading up to and after divorce.

I just met up with a former classmate

at a visitation this week

and asked how she was,

remembering her husband who passed away

a few years ago.

She said she knows exactly

what this new widow will go through,

because a few months after this

most everyone will move on with their lives,

leaving the widow to carry on alone.

The sorrow is still there,

now loneliness is added to her tears.

Taking care of an elderly or disabled relative,

taking care of a child,

can also bring an unintended isolation.

Some are lonely in their marriage.

 

There is a social loneliness

when your social network changes,

friends go off to college, or get married,

or you move to a new state or town

leaving friends and family and the familiar behind,

or you wind up in separate classes at school

and don’t see each other like you used to.

Some are lonely in their illness,

chronic conditions making it hard or even impossible to be social like you want to.

 

There is a cultural loneliness for immigrants

who struggle not only with a new language,

but new ways of doing things and unfamiliar settings.

 

And there is a cosmic loneliness

when circumstances and experiences

isolate us spiritually.

Sometimes loneliness causes people to leave

their church.

Most times that doesn’t help

because their real struggle is the suspicion

that God has left them.

In our doubts we wonder about the truth of God. 

Julian Barnes speaks for many atheists

when he says, I don’t believe in God

but I miss him.

A cosmic loneliness.

 

If you feel no one understands you here

you may be partially right,

partially,

because we don’t understand each other fully,

but this is the ongoing work of the Spirit among us

as we give, pray, serve and honor one another

Matthew Kim says, people in church

don’t have the requisite training

to understand each other.

Here we learn,

so let us give each other the grace to learn,

for we learn thru trial and error,

to know each other, understand each other,

love one another, in order to better love our neighbors in Christ’s name.

 

Psalm 25 speaks generally for the human condition

and personally for you, maybe even today:

Psalm 25:16 - 16 Turn to me and be gracious to me,

    for I am lonely and afflicted.

Loneliness can lead to affliction of the body or soul.

 

So simply know: if you are suffering from loneliness this is not abnormal,

it is a broken condition of life that most everyone suffers at some time in their lives,

but also know it is not forever

 

God did not create us to be lonely.

From the beginning he ordered creation

in the divine knowledge and wisdom that said,

it is not good for humans to be alone.

Loneliness is a result of the fall of humanity into sin.

This is not to say you are lonely

because of the sins you committed.

Being lonely is not a punishment from God,

it is the result of all that is broken

and has gone wrong because of sin.

God’s will does not include you remaining lonely.

Psalm 68 declares that,

God sets the lonely in families.

The grace of the Lord God is for us to belong

to the Lord and his people.

 

God responded to our loneliness when

Jesus came as God in the flesh,

to share in human life,

and to redeem us from our isolation

by suffering for and with us.

He even suffered loneliness for us

in order to defeat its power over us.

Jesus suffered loneliness as he carried the cross.

One disciple, Judas Iscariot, betrayed him.

Praying to the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane

all His friends fell asleep.

Matthew 26:40 Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter.

When the soldiers came and arrested him,

all His disciples fled.

Then Peter denied Him three times.

From the cross Jesus cried out,

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? —

Jesus understands loneliness.

 

The scripture reading today tell us that Jesus

came to be with us, God with us,

God one of us,

in order to restore us.

In the gospel episode from Luke 5

Jesus first stops to take time for

and then bring healing to a man with leprosy.

Leprosy was not only a deadly disease,

it also isolated and separated the sick

from their families and community of care.

 

The story makes it sound like Jesus was interrupted:

While Jesus was in one of the towns, a man came along who was covered with leprosy. When he saw Jesus, he fell with his face to the ground and begged him, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”

Jesus was doing something else,

going somewhere else,

when this man intrudes upon Jesus.

And not only is this an interruption,

this leper shouldn’t be there.

Having leprosy meant you were isolated,

taken from family and home,

made to live outside the city,

and if anyone approached you

your responsibility was to yell out,

I’m unclean,

stay away.

 

So it’s significant that Jesus does not recoil,

or judge the man saying something like,

what are you doing here?

or, go away! Don’t get near me!

He stops for this one in need.

He responds not only to the man’s illness,

but to his loneliness.

 

Jesus is willing to heal him, he says.

And that’s a word of hope for you today.

This is God’s desire, for you to be whole.

Wholeness may mean physically being healed,

but it is sometimes other than that:

it is being whole,

in a right relationship with God,

having right purposes and healthy belonging

in our lives

no matter how physically healthy we are.

That is why Jesus sends him right away to the priest.

14 Then Jesus ordered him, “Don’t tell anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.”

The priest would pronounce him whole

and that pronouncement would allow him

to find his way back to meaningful relationships

with God, others, and as a loving neighbor.

 

Jesus orders him not to tell anyone,

because for Jesus,

the antidote to loneliness is not popularity,

but being right with God and God’s people.

 

The episode ends with this hopeful observation:

16 But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.

Luke is directed to choose his words carefully.

He doesn’t say Jesus withdrew to be by himself.

He emphasizes that Jesus sought out ‘lonely places.’

There he prayed,

in lonely places,

there he exercised his divine authority

as intercessor on our behalf,

as mediator between human beings

and the Lord God.

He sought out the lonely places

in order to confront the loneliness of humanity

and defeat it.

 

And we get reminders of that throughout the Bible:

Jesus himself promised, I am with you always . . .

I will come back to take you to be with me . . .

I have called you friends . . .

 

Jesus is with us to make us whole.

How can we respond in thankfulness?

The cross gives us the freedom

to lament our loneliness and confess it.

Don’t hide it or keep it a secret.

Name it for what it is

in the presence of the Lord and among his people,

so that we may be responsive

to accepting Christ’s merciful presence.

Erin Davis teaches,

The first step in facing loneliness

is evaluating the condition of one’s relationships. “I’m not sure we know how to form deep relationships as a culture,” she says.

“We keep things on the surface because it’s safer. We want our relationships to be very convenient,

but deep relationships aren’t convenient at all.

They require vulnerability, which can be painful.

Yet if those closest to us have never seen us

take off our masks and witness our hearts break, then how close are we?”

 

“If instead of saying, ‘There’s something wrong with me because I’m feeling lonely,’

what if we viewed it differently?

What if we thought,

There’s something really right with me

because I’m lonely.

I realize that I’m made for connection,

and I need to step out, grow, and seek other people

who can help me on this journey.”

Connie Kinder counsels parents:

“So often we fall into the practice of thinking

we need to provide more things for our children

or allow them to participate

in every kind of experience or activity possible,”

she says, “rather than realizing

kids need us to nurture them,

hear them, and understand what they feel

in order for them to know we’re with them.”

One helpful thing

parents can teach their children at church

is how to talk to adults.

Teach them to look adults in the eye,

introduce themselves,

shake their hand, and call them by a proper name – Hello Mr or Mrs Adult, how are you today?

And then respond by sharing one thing

about their own life.

So that our kids begin to understand that

this is their spiritual family and they belong here.

 

That’s a helpful response,

but more often than not we engage in

unhelpful reactions to our loneliness.

So confess these and ask the Spirit

to help you repent:

One bad response is working more,

keeping yourself busy –

John Ortberg writes, “People will readily acknowledge being too busy because that makes them sound important,” he says.

“But to say ‘I’m lonely’ is kind of like saying

‘I’m a loser,’ and nobody’s going to like a loser.”

Ortberg believes one of the most effective cures

for loneliness is to set aside

regular periods of time to spend in solitude.

“Ironically, one of the things you discover in solitude is that you’re not alone,” Ortberg asserts.

“A big difference between Jesus

and most folks in our day

is Jesus was often alone but never lonely.

We are often lonely but hardly ever truly alone.

“A lot of people wonder what they’re supposed to do in a period of solitude,” he continues.

“The main point isn’t what to do, but what not to do. We don’t hurry or try to produce.

Our bodies and minds realize we still have worth

as human beings when we’re not doing anything. Eventually, our souls begin to rest . . .”

 

Another unhelpful response is to buy more,

or consume more things like drugs or alcohol,

or lusting more, trying to fill the emptiness

with pornography, or premature sexual relations,

or adultery.

Or we pity ourselves more and withdraw,

further isolating ourselves with more screen time.

TV binge watching is a thing, but it’s a lonely thing,

it adds to loneliness and it hurts us

because it goes against

being a good steward of the time that God gives us.

Robert D. Putnam in his book Bowling Alone,

writes about the increasing loneliness and isolation

in America. He said,

Most Americans watch Friends

rather than having friends.

 

Confession is a healthy way to deal with loneliness

because it is to recognize God’s forgiving presence.

Where is God when you are lonely?

He is right next to you.

Jesus said,

I will not leave you as orphans. — John 14:18

God said, Never will I leave you;

never will I forsake you. — Hebrews 13:5

So prayer is a healthy faith response to loneliness.

Not just asking for things,

but being still before God

and letting his grace speak to you.

Again, Robert Putnam, Bowling Alone makes a plug

for Americans to get back to church -

Faith communities in which people worship together are arguably the single most important repository

of social capital in America.

So here at Lombard Christian Reformed Church

we say together

there are three faith activities

that mature our faith and secure our belonging:

one, get involved in one group or activity

that nourishes you –

sportsmen’s club

or book club

or worship team

or connection group

second, choose one area to serve

out of your abilities or spiritual gifts –

serve in a ministry like sportscamp

 

and third participate in

one community event or organization:

little league

volunteer

community board

help out with the afternoon school program

at church.

 

There are other ways to get beyond our loneliness:

at school more and more are making sure

no classmates each lunch alone, you could do that

Friday Night Connect – something to do

for middle school kids in the VP / Lombard area

so they have good things to do on a Friday Night.

 

And I’m all for making weddings and funerals

community events again.

Show up for visitations,

come to the wedding ceremony if you can.

I know not everybody can be invited

to the wedding recepti0on,

but we can show up to celebrate the marriage.

 

Putting Thoughts into Action (from Rick Warren)

  1. What was a lonely situation for you, and how did you overcome it?
  2. Think of one person in your church or

neighborhood or workplace whom you know feels lonely, and consider some specific way

to help him or her dispel that loneliness.

 

Let’s not be afraid to talk about our loneliness

and together follow the Lord

in blessing one another in relationship.