"You believe at last!" Jesus answered. "But a time is coming, and has come, when you will be scattered, each to their own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me." After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed, "Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you."
~ John 16: 31-32; 17:1
Recently someone described themselves as being alone, but never lonely. It's one of those things that we all have encountered at some point and time in our life. God created humanity with the understanding the need for community.
I remember nearly ten years ago when my daughter left to go to college, I suddenly realized that for the first time in over twenty years I was living alone. I must admit, the definition of "empty nesting," took on new meaning for me. It took several months of living alone before I began to feel comfortable about many things. Even the simplest grocery list had to be re-thought because I suddenly was cooking for only myself. I did learn that if I wanted to come home and eat cereal for dinner, and spend the whole evening watching television in my pajamas that I could do that. If I wanted to go to the movies, I did. Even by myself, and sometimes, early in the day on the weekend, or even late on some weeknights.
It wasn't an easy transition. Even now with another season of graduations upon us, I spend some of my time listening to friends who are parents embarking on this new chapter, and I remember what those initial months felt like.
After three years of living by myself, I remember one Christmas my daughter being home for the holiday, and suddenly wondering when she was going back to school. It was at that time that I had grown accustomed to living alone, and that I actually "liked," my independence.
When we encounter aloneness, or the times that we feel lonely, it can often be accompanied by grief and the feelings of loss. When someone dies, then there is a new understanding feeling alone. This week I was with a woman who had just lost her husband, and she shared, "I just keep expecting him to call to let me know he is on his way home."
I remember talking to my grandmother several years after my grandfather died. She said, "The first year is full of all the 'firsts.' First holidays without him. The birthdays, and annual events that you would do. The second year you are still looking at the door, waiting for the person to walk in."
She then went on to say, "But I have to think that the third year was the worst, because I suddenly realized that he was 'never coming home again.'"
I have often wondered about how the disciples were handling things with Jesus weeks after the resurrection. His random appearances seemed to bring comfort to their loneliness they encountered with their grief, but he continued to remind them that he would soon be leaving them again. Our mind struggles to understand when we feel lonely, or loss.
For the first few months after my stepmother died, I remembered picking up the phone and dialing her number to talk to her about something that had happened that day, only to realize that she was no longer there to answer the phone. The same could be said about how lonely I would feel on Sunday afternoons after my grandmother died. For years, it was her habit to call me Sunday afternoon to ask me how my sermon went that day, and whether I brought the people, "Closer to heaven or hell," and "Why?"
Jesus reminds us that he will always be with us, but our human condition focuses on our aloneness.
God invites us into relationship, but it is often in times when we encounter loneliness that we begin to know of God's presence. Sometimes we must turn off everything around us to hear our own thoughts. It is the same when it comes to knowing God's presence as well. Sometimes we need to encounter aloneness to realize that we are never alone.
Stay in God's grip!
G. Todd Williams (c) 2019
Rev. G. Todd Williams lives in the Houston metro area and is a Hospice Chaplain and ordained Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) pastor.