dealing with loneliness 

“The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. ” Deuteronomy 31:8

I promised vulnerability to you guys, so just know that this is farther out of my comfort zone than I think I’ve ever been online… I worry about being alone. Just writing that makes me want to snap my laptop shut, ctrl + z it away, delete the sentence and make it pretty. It feels pathetic to admit it, like I’m failing somehow, yet it’s true. Sometimes, a lot of times since moving across the country, I feel alone.

And not just in one sense of the word, either.

When the subway whooshes away behind me, when it’s a 5 minute walk home, when I hang my keys on the hook by the entryway and open the door to the empty room: alone.

When I scroll through instagram and see the adorable pictures of Eskimo kisses and forehead touches, engagement pictures and anniversary pictures and just-because pictures: alone.

When church lets out and everyone twists around pews to greet friends whom they haven’t seen in a week, and then ambles home to have dinner with their and families: alone.

When Facebook sends me reminders of where I was this time two years ago— in Christian community from every angle, working with, serving with, singing with, living life with, like-minded and incredible women: alone.

When the Skype call ends, my room quiets, and my family goes back to being thousands of miles away: alone.

When the silence is too much and I run through old texts, wondering who I can bother with small talk, before deciding all my friends must have better things to do than catch up with me: alone.

When making new friends is awkward and unfamiliar, and people don’t understand that I really don’t drink, and that I don’t want to go to bars or clubs, and it’s not a judgment but just a personal conviction: alone.

When coworkers don’t understand Sabbath, or why I don’t eat meat, or don’t think twice about my faith: alone.

And I know that one Barlow Girls song, I know I’m never alone, that no matter if I feel God or not, He’s with me. And I’ve memorized Psalm 23 and Psalm 139 with every other good SFC-er, so I know that God sees me, and hears my thoughts, and is with me no matter where I go. But blank walls are loud, and trains are loud, and acquaintances that don’t pan into friendships are loud.

Have you been here? A new city, maybe or a new job? Maybe just a new phase in life, where someone who’s always been there suddenly isn’t. You say God, don’t you see my loneliness? Can’t you feel my hurt? You are a God of community; where’s mine? Your ways are higher than mine, but why don’t yours include my being known?

Elijah felt that.

1 Kings 18 tells his story of spiritual victory—literal fire raining down from heaven, showing God’s omnipotence and the frailty of all earthly gods. Elijah stood as God’s representative and declared the Truth, defiant in the face of adversity. Then rain came, ending the drought that had kept the land in poverty for years, and it washed away a lot more than the barrenness.

And instead of continuing to stand for God, Elijah ran. In 1 Kings 19, he ran from the threats of the queen whose priests he’d just humiliated, he ran in fear, he ran to the dessert. Because after the roar of the fire and the torrents of rain, he was alone.

God, I alone stand for you. You were victorious against the prophets of Baal, but your own people turn against you. Everyone is against me. I’m done. 

And God’s response is so beautiful.

Wind roars around the mountain, ripping rocks off the side and shattering the strongholds along its exterior. Then an earthquake shakes what remains, then a fire rages. And then God comes to Elijah.

It took me a long time to realize why God didn’t just appear in the whisper first, why He had to show His power. But the wind/earthquake/fire is how Elijah expected to find God, and God just whispers I am more than you think I am. I am everywhere, yes, I am Strength, yes, I am consuming, yes. But I am so much more than you know.  

Elijah still doesn’t get it. I am so alone, God. No one is with me, just me for you.

I imagine God smiling tenderly, filled with patience and with empathy for His prophet who is so tired. Go, He tells him. Go back to the path I’d called you to.

And Elijah goes, to anoint kings and his successor. But before he goes off, God whispers one more truth.  Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him. 

Seven thousand.

I remember a pastor in a sermon, saying that “The feelings are always real, but they don’t always reflect reality.” When we feel alone, that’s not imagination. It’s a very real hurt, it’s a very real ache. Feeling is nothing to be ashamed of, please hear that. We’re so quickly to say ‘Trust God! Lean on Him! Pray without ceasing! Rejoice always!’ and we refuse to acknowledge that there is hurt. It’s there, and it is so okay that you feel it. As Christians, we don’t just find a trite verse to recite until we feel better. We have those verses and those truths to remind us, no matter how gross it feels, that sometimes there’s reality beyond the feeling.

It’s not like God is simply present in my loneliness, watching me at an arm’s length. It’s that He’s before and behind me, has every bit of it planned, can see far, far beyond the present. He can see to every other person whose heart hurts like mine, in every shoebox apartment and every crowded subway. And when I’m alone, He doesn’t just say that He’s there. He doesn’t just say that He has a path, and encourage me to get back to it. He says there’s a multitude more than me. That I am not standing alone on truth, for Him. That He has seven thousand more.

He doesn’t need me to defend Him, just like He didn’t need Elijah. But He still raises up His thousands to stand for and with Him. He lets us into the narrative, so we can see that He is not as we had confined Him, but so much more. My Jesus shakes mountains and He whispers my name. He rends rocks and guides my steps. He knows my story, and He knows yours, and we are not alone.

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