My big brother left home to join the Navy when I was seven years old. We never lived in the same town for the next seventy-three years. For years we were separated by the Atlantic Ocean and then by the North American Continent. However, in spite of the distance, we were close. We wrote, we talked on the phone. He came. I went. As unlikely as it may seem, we were probably closer than our other siblings.
He was kind of nutty, my brother. He loved to laugh and joke. He was talented and funny, and smart. He had made a name for himself in the world of Opera both in Europe and here in the States.
A few days ago, at the age of ninety, he died leaving his sweet wife and son and grandson and me. I miss Him! Though we seldom saw each other still I miss him being there. A certain richness has gone out of my life, and I feel bereft. The world is a lonelier place without him.
In 1974, when I broke the news to my Mother and Sister that I was going to be a missionary, My Mom said, “Oh, no!”
My Sister cried, “No, don’t!”
I said, “But, Mama, all my life you have taught me to do exactly what I am doing.”
The day that I left her house to begin my missionary deputation, Mama stood in the driveway by my car. With tears running down her face, she said, “Now you’ll always be alone.” In a sense, my Mother’s pronouncement was prophetic, for I was, to all appearances, alone for many years, in my life and work and ministry.
Have I ever been lonely? Of course, I have. Occasionally, over the years, I watched families and other groups engaging with each other, and for a brief time loneliness threatened, but I had learned to deal with it. After Cecil died, however, our house was empty and my heart was empty. I kept looking for him in every room, but he was gone. Even surrounded by people I knew and loved, I suffered intense loneliness. It was and still is, perhaps, the deepest pain I will ever know.
After my sister’s husband died, she told me, “You know, I am lonelier at church that I am at home alone.” I believe that kind of loneliness is lessened only through the grieving process.
However, I have discovered that there is a great difference between being alone and being lonely.
Loneliness is a painful, negative state. It is where we feel estranged from other people. We feel excluded, unwanted, unimportant or unnoticed. We miss being with someone.
In contrast, being alone can be wonderfully satisfying. Just ask a mom with young children in the home. It is where we are perfectly happy to be by ourselves, and relish and enjoy our own company. I sometimes choose to be alone rather than go with the crowd. I suppose that stems from the years of having no choice. Truth told I like my company. Being alone gives me time to rest, relax, reflect, rebuild and refresh.
When I was a young rookie missionary, I heard the story of an elderly missionary to India. In her early twenties, Anna found herself, the only foreigner, in an isolated area of the country working with widows and children.
During the day, while she was busy, she was all right, but when she returned to her humble room at night, the loneliness was unbearable, like a physical hurt.
Finally, she cried to the Lord, “God, I can’t bear it. I’m so lonely I’m going to die if you don’t help me.”
In that moment she felt the warm, comforting arms of her Savior encircle her as though physical arms were holding her close. She was not alone in her loneliness after all. That revelation of Christ’s physical presence enabled her to stay the course. Of course, she was lonely but from that moment, Anna was certain she was never alone.
All those years ago my Mother said, “Now, you’ll always be alone.”
At the risk of contradicting my sweet mother, I must tell you, “NEVER, never in all these years, have I ever, for one nanosecond, been alone.”
Yes, my brother and I were close, but Proverbs 18:24 tells me I have a friend “who sticks closer than a brother.” He is a friend with whom I can share my greatest need and my darkest secret. He hears my cries and feels the pain of my loneliness.
In Hebrews 13:5, He Himself said, “I will NEVER leave you nor forsake you.”
Please know today, no matter what you suffer, YOU ARE NOT ALONE!
REMEMBER, THE SUN WILL COME OUT TOMORROW