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Monday, August 31, 2015

The Opportunities of Being Alone


Years ago, there was a song popular by the rock group Three Dog Night named “One,” and the chorus of that song proclaimed that “one is the loneliest number.”  

Probably loneliness is one of the hardest things to face after a divorce, and it comes in many different forms.  Loneliness can be felt at night when you turn off the last light and hear nothing but emptiness in the house.  Loneliness can be felt when you are caring for a houseful of children and suddenly realize there is no one there to help.  Loneliness can be felt when you go out to eat and see tables filled with couples, or groups of couples…or maybe you are even with a group of couples…but you are there alone.  Loneliness can even be experienced by a glance at an empty seat in the car or at the table, by the smaller loads of laundry or the meals prepared that you realize are way too big for just yourself.  It can be hard when, after years of marriage, you walk up to the ticket box at the theater and respond to the question of, “how many?” by simply saying, “One.”

Even church can be a lonely place.  

Most churches include a lot of individuals who have been widowed, and those who have never yet gotten married, but sitting by yourself because your marriage has fallen apart is an entirely different kind of experience.  A friend of mine liked to remind me during my times of loneliness that there is a huge difference between being lonely and being alone, and that as a Christian, I was never really alone even if I felt very lonely.  He was, of course, right.  It’s just that it didn’t always feel like he was right.

Somewhere along the way, I picked up the notion that it is probably best not to get into another serious relationship, until it is okay to be alone, to not be in a relationship.  I have long loved the verse found in Mark 1:35—

And in the morning, a great while before day, he rose and went out to a lonely place, and there he prayed.”  (RSV)

Jesus was comfortable being alone.  In fact, there were times he clearly relished it.  He never married (despite fictional accounts in popular movies), and so his life was a life of solitude and friendships, not the life of a married man.  He never seemed to be concerned about whether he would ever find that “perfect girl” or not.  He clearly felt whole living his life single.  

We are most healthy when we are able to feel whole, even if living alone, the kind of wholeness that only comes from a relationship with God. 

Jesus, it seems to me, understood that there are opportunities that come with singleness that do not exist in marriage.  

Let’s consider the idea... Jesus, married.  Let your imagination go for a second...  (and I'll ask ahead of time for forgiveness...).

“What did you say, Jesus?  You have 5000 friends out on a picnic with you, and you didn’t even think to pack the picnic basket?  Do I have to think of everything?”  (Of course, if he WERE married, there would have been a picnic basket…the opposite gender tends not to be as forgetful about those things.)

“Okay, Jesus, I get that you feel called to be at travelling evangelist - but can’t we at least get an RV?”

“Yes dear, I understand that male bonding time is important.  But don’t those disciples have a home to go to once in a while?   I’d like some time with you just for the two of us.”

“Now Jesus, I can’t just have you running all over the place like that.  One morning you’re up way before dawn, wandering who knows where in those mountains and what if a lion attacked?  And you said you were going off to pray, and the next thing I know you are halfway across the lake walking on the water leaving me and kids to take the subway….and it hasn’t even been invented yet!”

I used to go to the all night store at 2:00 in the morning once in a while.  It was quiet there, and the lines were short, and I did not have to explain it to anyone.  Sometimes I ate breakfast food at supper and would change lunch plans at the drop of a hat…because I could.  I didn’t have to worry that my getting up to pray or turning on the lights to read was going to wake up anybody, because I was the only one there.  Being single means you can spend as much time alone with God in the Word and reflection as you want, without worrying that it is robbing time from your marriage partner.  Some of those silly things were part of what made being single okay.  And knowing I wasn’t really alone, made the loneliness more bearable when it hit. 

If you are alone these days, don’t let the loneliness be the only things you experience in this time.  Relish the opportunities that come with the gift of being alone for a while.  Jesus seemed able to do that, you can, too.

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