There is a saying, “Strangers are only friends you haven’t met.”
Although there may be a lot of truth to that generic statement, it avoids the obvious reality of the difficult process of making friends in new places. I say this because I recently moved to a new part of the country, a place where I know no one. Making friends from scratch is not the easiest thing to do. It takes time, patience and a lot of positive-minded determination. It includes attending events you wouldn’t normally attend, smiling at all your new neighbors, and never, EVER, saying what you really feel like saying. It requires being plastic for a period of time, until you can meet someone who says or does something that encourages you to make that first step of inviting them for coffee, just to get to know them better. Maybe, just maybe, you’ve met your first friend. Unfortunately that can take months, or in some cases, years.
Its not like I haven’t moved before. This is probably (from my best recollection) the fifth time in my adult life that I’ve made such a drastic move. (Unless you count my purchasing a vacation home eight years ago, which was also to a area where I knew no one. In which case that would be six times.) So you would think that I would be used to it by now. Unfortunately, the last major move was 18 years ago. My life has changed a lot since then. Time marches on, the body gets more frail, and the energy level just isn’t there (like when I was younger). The mind lies about the age of the body. Reality is a hard woman to deal with.
I had forgotten about the stressors of moving – how a lifetime of collecting memories adds up to piles and piles of boxes. And a love of books throws the piles even higher. I also discovered during this process, that few people actually get it, or maybe they do, because few show up to help during the weeks and weeks of preparation for the big move. So before the move, already, one starts to feel left out, forgotten. Old friends don’t say goodbye the way you think they should, because, after all, timing is everything and people have busy lives. Then arriving at the other end, there’s no one there to greet you, except an empty house full of boxes that now need to be unpacked.
The one thing that stands in full view after the excitement of the newness wears off, is the presence of loneliness. Suddenly, there I was, still standing in rooms of unopened boxes, wondering why I needed all this stuff anyway. Surely nobody else cares, since there is no one here. Self-pity starts to set in pretty quickly in these situations. Fortunately, self-pity is one of those demons I can’t afford to accompany me on my journey. I’ve done that trip, once too often. So I can recognize self-pity and command it to leave, but loneliness is a whole different battle. Loneliness is the reality of being alone. And sometimes you just have to sit with that reality and stare at it for awhile.
So I talk to God. Yep, he’s here. Right in this room, with Mr. Loneliness and me. And I pick up his word and try to find the places where the great saints of old either talked about loneliness or conquered it.
At first I thought about David, how he ran from King Saul. He must have felt both fear and loneliness. Except then I realize, he had friends with him. He felt persecuted and afraid. Not quite the same feeling. He also suffered from severe depression, but he still had friends and family with him. Still a different feeling. What about Paul and some of the other apostles and NT missionaries. They were constantly moving from place to place, trying to spread the gospel, trying to make new friends. They didn’t have telephones to call their old friends, or email or texts to get instant messages back and forth. Nope, all they had was lengthy letters and months of waiting for responses, always hoping that their letters made it to the intended friends and didn’t get ambushed on the way. Yeah. I’m sure that must have been a real encounter with loneliness. In fact much more so than my modern dilemma.
I may feel alone, and physically I may be so. But I have a telephone. I can call old friends and family. I have a computer. I can email anyone I want. And I have over 300 social media “friends”, many whom I have never met, but I can still talk to them and share our many common interests. So I’m really not alone.
Its amazing the tricks the devil plays in our heads. Anything to trip us up, lead us down the self-pity party road. We have to keep sharp, recognize the games, call them out, and see the reality of both dimensions, physical and spiritual. In times like this we need to build up our spiritual armor, and use the sword of truth against our unseen enemy.
“Therefore, take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the word of the Spirit, which is the word of God; praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance…” Ephesians 6:13-18 NKJV.
Today’s prayer: Dear God, Almighty father, king of the universe. In whom all things begin and all things end. For you created the universe and placed us in it to glorify you. Keep us from the darts of the evil one. In times of loneliness remind us that we are really never alone. Even if there is no human around who can hear us or understand us, you are there. You have sent us the comforter: like a blanket that wraps around us in love, you are there. You care about our daily lives and you wait for us to turn our faces to you, to speak to you and to wait in expectation for your voice. Thank you for proving to us over and over again that you care. Thank you for providing for us your word that we can study and know that you care. Thank you for demonstrating your love for us by sending us your son Jesus, the Messiah, who bled and died, taking our sins on the cross with him, so that we don’t have to die for our sin. May our lives ever be a reflection of your love for us. Help us to demonstrate your love by being a friend to others who suffer in loneliness. Remind us that life is not all about us, but that there are others who need friendship, who need love, who need caring and compassion. Help us to be you with skin on. Keep us from self-pity. Protect us from our own selfish nature. In Jesus name.