April 16, 2019
The Hidden Gift of Loneliness
"The first time I was brought before the judge, no one was here to help me. Everyone had run away ... But the Lord stood with me ..." 2 Timothy 4:16a, 17a (TLB)
She was unusually quiet as we drove home from school - no reports of lunchtime jokes or girlfriend giggles, gym class amusements or classroom adventures.
I knew there was a story tucked beneath her sagging shoulders, so I prayed I could hear what wasn't being said by the sullen 8-year-old in the backseat of my minivan.
My prayer was answered at bedtime.
"I felt sad at recess today ..." my youngest one whispered, as I pulled the blankets to her chin.
"What happened?" I asked.
"I couldn't find my friends by the purple slide where we usually meet, and the monkey bars were busy and the swings were all full ..." Her lips quivered as her recess woes spilled between sniffles and sobs.
"So, what did you do?" I asked.
"I just went and sat on the buddy bench," she answered with a solemn sigh.
I pictured the red wooden seat that was planted on the edge of the playground, the designated place for kids to go when they need a friend.
"Did anyone see you sitting there?"
"No," my daughter replied as her pillowcase grew damp with tears. "Everyone was busy playing, I guess." She exhaled a jagged breath and murmured, "I felt so lonely."
My stomach lurched with empathy, and I thought about my own lonely seasons: the months we lived abroad when the language barrier left me wading in shallow relationships and constant confusion, the years we changed addresses like stability was going out of style, the decade I was hemmed in at home with wailing babies, demanding toddlers and precocious preschoolers.
Of course, loneliness isn't always the result of being isolated. Some of my loneliest times have been spent aching in the presence of the ones who love me most, alone in difficult circumstances that others can't fully understand or fix. Loneliness doesn't just plague us when everyone steps out; it also strikes when no one knows how to step in. Whether we're 8 or 88, loneliness cuts deep.
As we prepare our hearts for Easter this week, we're reminded that Jesus understands. Abandoned by His friends and betrayed by the masses, His walk to the cross was paved with lavish love - and unspeakable loneliness.
Maybe that's why my eyes burned hot with tears when my daughter reminded me of a tender truth that I'm quick to forget: Loneliness can be more than a deep cut to our souls; it can also be a shortcut to our Savior.
"What did you do on the bench all alone?" I asked after listening to my second grader.
"At first, I felt sad. Then I felt mad," she admitted. "But, after a while, I remembered I wasn't really alone. So, instead of waiting for someone to come talk to me, I just started talking to Jesus ..."
I nodded in the dark, my tears giving way to unexpected gratitude. My little girl had discovered the hidden gift of loneliness.
It's often in our loneliest hours that we realize we're not really alone. And suddenly, that gap that no one can fill becomes a gift that no one can steal.
Loneliness may feel like a dead end, but it can lead us to the One whose love never ends. Loneliness may make us feel unseen, but it can shift our gaze to the One who sees us.
In 2 Timothy 4, the Apostle Paul writes his last letter from the depths of a desolate prison cell. As he awaits impending death, he tells of friends who have forsaken him and believers who have failed him.
"The first time I was brought before the judge, no one was here to help me. Everyone had run away ..." (2 Timothy 4:16a).
Yet, in the very next breath, he pens this tender truth: "But the Lord stood with me ..." (2 Timothy 4:17a).
Each time I read those six simple words, I am awash with humble awe. Even when nobody sits beside us, the Lord stands with us.
When everyone else is everywhere else, God is right where He's promised to be - beside us and within us - through the power and presence of Jesus. (Matthew 1:23)
My daughter's eyes drooped in the dark, and her quivering shoulders stilled.
"Sounds like you found a buddy on that bench after all," I said.
"Yeah," she conceded with a sleepy slur, "Jesus was there all along ..."
I murmured in agreement and pulled her close for one last hug. Then, with a whisper and a wink, I said, "Maybe tomorrow you should meet Him on the monkey bars."
Dear Jesus, thank You for never leaving me alone and for standing by the whole world, beginning at the cross. Use my lonely moments to drive me closer to You. I don't want to miss the hidden gift. In Jesus' Name, Amen.
TRUTH FOR TODAY:
Hebrews 13:5b, "For God has said, ‘I will never fail you. I will never abandon you.'" (NLT)
Psalm 25:15-16, "My eyes are always on the LORD, for he rescues me from the traps of my enemies. Turn to me and have mercy, for I am alone and in deep distress." (NLT)
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REFLECT AND RESPOND:
How has God stepped in for you when others have stepped out? We'd love to hear your story in our comments.
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