We all can feel alone even when surrounded by our greatest fans.
You probably know how this goes. Moments come where we feel something unshareable, something that seems to set us apart from the gathering. For some of us, these are just moments.
For others, it’s more akin to a lifestyle. Finding someone like-minded is cause for celebration, along the lines of finding a vein of gold on your property. But they seem few and far between. Our struggles pull us toward isolation.
This is often our God-shaped hole. There are parts of us that are just too deep for any human to reach. Those needs belong on the broad shoulders of God.
However…God Himself did not intend for humans to live alone. In a stunning act of humility, He designed us to need each other as well. (It’s also one of His tools of sanctification, for in order to handle people well, we have to grow up.) The person who lives without others, is not living as God intended.
So when we find ourselves feeling alone and misunderstood even in the company of others, whether temporarily or as a habit, how do we deal?
Not the way you’d expect.
Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.” (Luke 9:23-24)
This can be a broad verse. Its simplest application is martyrdom, since Jesus is talking about His death on the cross in this chapter. It’s a paradox – our lives saved by giving them away.
But the word “daily” suggests it’s not just about physical death. The Christian life is also a paradox. Whatever you think will help your life, is not always what actually will. Jesus’ commands typically lie in direct opposition to our instincts and worldly wisdom. Fire back at people for hurting you (while Jesus says “turn the other cheek”), and you’ll only make things worse. Hoard up money for yourself (instead of sharing freely) and you’ll become a slave to it.
It works for loneliness, too. In order to break out of the invisible shell, we do the thing we least want to do, the thing we least feel capable of.
We love others.
A new command I give you: “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (John 13:34)
There’s just no room in Christ’s command for isolating ourselves. Believe me, I looked for some. I served at church for years in ways that didn’t require me to really connect with people. It didn’t sanctify. They were blessed by my service, sure. But I was still playing it safe. My cross wasn’t fully assembled.
Then one day, a pastor answered my feelings of isolation with, “Get out there and love on people.”
The directive seemed cruel. My tank is empty. I’m the one who should be getting help. How can I help others?
But the paradox was correct. Instead of hovering around waiting to be filled, I started doing the filling. I learned to check up on people, ask them about their day, when it was the last thing I wanted to do. It was clumsy and tense at first.
But years later, everything is different. I feel like part of the crowd. Loving others even when you’re down creates a counterintuitive joy that too few believers know: the two-way satisfaction of ministering. It lifts you above yourself.
Loving feels like a cross when our own needs aren’t met. But we’ve got everything backwards. The cross was Jesus’ glory. The crosses we accept will be our salvation as well. When a friend or spouse falls short and doesn’t love you well, love them better. When you’re fighting self-pity, find someone to serve. Your focus shifts from yourself to them. God takes care of the rest.
Try it. It won’t disappoint.
Jesus’ words never do.
Image credit: Caroline Cullen