For myriad reasons, from our geographical location to the realities of being an adult, I have recently been dealing with bouts of loneliness. The weight of isolation is heavy and palpable. Even though I've been living here for almost four years, I am used to having face to face access to my family and friends. My parents are an hour away. My sister and niece are clear across the country. My best friend is in Tennessee completing a doctoral program, which comes with its own kind of distance if she is to get her work done successfully. My other sister friends are spread all around the country. Sometimes the telephone—even with the technological advances in video calling—is simply not enough. While I am grateful for my New Hope Baptist Church family—with all of the love and warmth and smiles and hugs—Sunday is simply not enough. I can hear you asking, "what about your husband and daughter?" Often my husband's work and commute—a sacrifice he makes to provide for our family—keep him away for long hours. And while I relish in my daughters cuddles and smiles, engaging a two year old is very different from engaging other adults. So yes, even this married ministering momma struggles with loneliness from time to time. If we are honest, many people struggle with loneliness. Loneliness can come from isolation, but it is also possible to be in a room full of folks and feel lonely and unknown. God created human beings for relationships; Relationship with God and with each other. This relationally thrives on our senses. We need to see and be seen. We need to touch and be touched. We need to hear and be heard. This is clearly evidenced in studies of newborn babies. Babies can fail to thrive for lack of touch. Adults are no different.
The reality of loneliness, once I get over myself, has often driven me closer to God. It is living into the truth and beauty of Psalm 23, "Yea, though I awl through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me." God is present in the moments when we feel all alone. Jesus knew this and took full advantage of this. His prayer life is a reflection of knowing that God was with him through it all. When people forsook him, Jesus tapped into the presence of God. When folks didn't understand his teaching, Jesus tapped into the presence of God. When facing impending death, Jesus tapped into the presence of God. When hanging on the cross—the most lonely and isolating experience ever experienced by humankind—Jesus tapped into the presence of God. Jesus teaches me that when my family is absent, I can still hear and be heard by God. Jesus teaches me that when I cannot see my friends, I can still see and be seen by God. Jesus teaches me that when the Thursday afternoon loneliness strikes, I can still touch and be touched by God.
And all of that leads me to our hymn of the week. In the Garden speaks to me most profoundly in the lonely places. It is my prayer that is minister to you, most especially if you struggle with loneliness. Beloved, as C. Austin Miles wrote and Marvin Sapp so sweetly sings, we are never alone because God is with is—Emmanuel—walking with us, talking with us, and holding us close.
I come to the garden alone
While the dew is still on the roses
And the voice I hear falling on my ear
The Son of God discloses.
And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own;
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.
He speaks, and the sound of His voice,
Is so sweet the birds hush their singing,
And the melody that He gave to me
Within my heart is ringing.
I’d stay in the garden with Him
Though the night around me be falling,
But He bids me go; through the voice of woe
His voice to me is calling.