For whatever reason, one of the biting agonies of suffering—in whatever form it takes— is how it drives us to loneliness and isolation. What we really seem to long for are timely words of truth, for a growing closeness with others, or the answer that will align all the pieces of life’s jigsaw puzzle. Instead, I’m finding, we often get lonely hours and days of silence joined together with an unwelcome companion called isolation.
It’s been a month since Davin died, and sometimes I feel like that should be enough time for us all to see the grand portrait, to make sense of what happened. But in reality, in the late hours, I find more questions than answers. I’m faced with that dreaded confession, the one that frightens me most: “I don’t know.”
And to complicate the matter, the Davin questions get piled on with the rest of life’s glowing absurdities. Why did I come to seminary so that I could work at this job? I know God has a plan for my life and that my days are numbered, but it feels more fire-from-the-hip than orchestrated. Will this situation ever get better? And perhaps deepest of all, why do I feel so alone?
We’re all standing with our backs against the wall, Sooner or later/ Waiting on a phone that never calls, at all/ Heartbreak comes Rollin in like a storm, Sooner or later/ Trying to swim but your sinking like a stone, Alone (Mat Kearney,Sooner or Later).
Though nobody talks about it, the truth is, we’ve all felt that way, like the stone sinking to the bottom, alone. We’ve prayed and not got the answer we wanted, or for a time no answer at all. Heartbreak has thundered over our head like a raging storm, we’ve sailed furiously into the tide only to find the very wind itself is against us (Matthew 14:22). It’s a fearful and a lonely place of darkness, doubt, and despair.
But there’s something else I’m discovering in the boat of distress—it’s here that Jesus meets us. It’s here that he reaches out to us with the very words that spoke the universe and the waves and the wind into being and says, “Take heart. Do not be afraid. I AM has come to be with you.” I saw Israel through the sea, and I won’t leave you, either. I sent you into this beast of a squall; I will see you through it. In the horror we meet Jesus face to face; it is here that we see his glory.
Last night I went to bed without an answer, again. I still don’t know. This morning I awoke with a glimmer of hope. Even though I feel alone, God knows me perfectly (Psalm 139:1-6). That knowledge leads to precisely aimed mercies each day; God sends exactly what I need to survive and not finally despair. Every tear, every agony, every ounce of frustration, every lost temper, every measure of loneliness, God knows it perfectly. And he knows how to deal with the weak and wayward like me.
There are those sentences in life that give a single flame of light in our darkest moments, that make darkness itself tremble in fear. This is one of mine: “If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night,’ even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you.” (Psalm 139:11-12).
Do you realize what that means? It means that no matter how unglued, perplexed, distressed, frustrated, undone, unhinged, muttled, blinded, or battered you are by your trials, your God of mercy sees perfectly through that storm as if there were no storm at all; he is thoroughly unphased by our sufferings. Our Shepherd is clutch, he’s got ice-water running through his veins with three seconds left on the clock and the ball in his hands. He will bring us home with the victory.
So maybe the question I kept asking was all wrong. Maybe that wasn’t what I really needed to hear. Maybe the “I AM with you” is better and deeper and richer than what I could have even known to ask. Maybe the intimacy of Jesus himself in the midst of my gale is better than the answer to any one of my “why’s.”
Loneliness is being cut off from relationship, it’s the result of barriers like time, distance, death and suffering. Circumstances and trial, though varied, often have this same effect. We’re lonely after Davin dies because there’s a physical, real barrier now between him and us, and because of pain even between those of us still on earth.
But God is ever-present, even in your valley of deep darkness as you sojourn in the shadow of death. Even your deepest darkest valley is a clear path for the Lord. So take heart, I AM is with you. He will find you when you’re sinking, and he’ll bring you safely into the harbor. You are never alone.