“Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted.”
Henri Nouwen, the great Catholic priest and author, once reflected on this verse. He wrote,
O Lord, why is it that I am so eager to receive human praise and human support when experience tells me how limited and conditional is the love that comes from a human heart? So many people have shown me their love and affection; so many have given me words of affirmation and encouragement; so many have been generous and forgiving toward me, but no one could touch that deep, hidden place where my fear and my loneliness dwell. Only you know that place, Lord. It is hidden even from me, and only in moments of great anguish and pain do I become aware of it. Then I realize how very lonely I am.
Mr. Nouwen was a well-known and beloved Christian during his lifetime. His writings were read by millions of people throughout the world and continue to inspire people nearly 20 years after his death. He received continual praise and encouragement for his work. Everyone loved what he had to say about God. And yet…he couldn’t help but feel lonely at times. All the people, all the praise, and all the recognition couldn’t keep him from feeling lonely. We hear in his reflection that no one could touch that deep, hidden place where his fear and loneliness dwell. That deep, hidden place is in each of us too. Nothing of this world can ever reach that place in us. The praise and love we receive in this world only goes so deep. This is because the praise and love of this world lasts only so long. Eventually everyone and everything that gives us praise and love passes away. Nothing of this world will praise and love us forever.
Mr. Nouwen was keenly aware of how the love of this world is very temporary. Fame and recognition are ever so fleeting. The love that people give us can leave us in a heartbeat. The human heart is a fickle, unstable thing…it can change so quickly. People can love us one second, hate us the next. We can feel abandoned, wondering why there’s no more love. Loneliness comes upon us when we least expect it. It dwells in that deep, hidden place and on occasion will rear its ugly head in our lives. For many people, loneliness can be a scary time. The monster that comes from the deep, hidden place can unnerve them and keep them from enjoying life. Should loneliness be considered a scary monster to be avoided?
Our God doesn’t consider loneliness a monster. It is in the loneliness that God likes to meet us. Yes, everything that provides love and affection in this world will eventually pass away. But God is not of this world! God was here long before we were and will be here long after we have left. God is always with us and God will always love us. God never tires of loving us. God isn’t swept up in the winds of change like the human heart is. God’s love is everlasting. When we know God and God’s love, we know we are never alone. God meets us in our loneliness, when everything of this world falls away and we’re left standing alone. God meets us and keeps us in His everlasting love.
As we walk our Lenten journey, let us embrace the times of loneliness and aloneness. Let us welcome them as opportunities for God and God’s love to boldly shine upon us. God’s love is so much stronger and so much brighter than anything of this world. We can realize this in our loneliness. Praise God for allowing times of loneliness!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.