I took you from the ends of the earth,
from its farthest corners I called you.
I said, ‘You are my servant’;
I have chosen you and have not rejected you.
So do not fear, for I am with you;
do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
- Isaiah 41:9-10
“My father – a worker in a textile mill and the son of a Pentecostal evangelist – died of kidney disease when I was nine months old. At the time, we lived in a little place called Dry Fork, Virginia, just outside Danville. On the Sunday afternoon he passed away, just before he died, my mother asked him, ‘What will I do if you die?’ He replied, ‘Well, you’ll have to do the best you can.’ His advice sounds cold to me now, but the year was 1933 and probably the only thing that any person could do at that time was ‘the best you can.’ For my mother, ‘doing her best’ meant going to work immediately to support the two of us.
“Although I do not consciously remember my father’s death, I have come to recognize that the little boy in me knew somehow that my father had gone away. In the deepest recesses of my heart I had the knowledge that I had been left alone. …
“I know I am not alone in my experience.
“Although the loneliness of my childhood may be more severe than that experienced by many people, I have met hundreds – even thousands – of people through the years who have felt utterly alone, abandoned, isolated, ostracized, and thus, lonely. …
“What does our Lord say to people who are lonely?
“In the creation story of Genesis 1 – 3, we have a picture of God desiring the fellowship of human beings. He says, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness’ (Gen. 1:26) – a likeness complete with an emotional capacity to long for companionship. That desire resident in humankind to seek out God, to long for God in the deep inner recesses of the heart, is mirrored by God’s desire for humankind.”
- Charles Stanley, The Source of my Strength
My Dad did not die when I was only months old, but when I was 6 or 7 years old, he got a job on the road, and I was alone with my mother for 10 days at a time or 2-3 months at a time. In the meantime, my mother was working, and I was a latchkey kid, before that was a term and long before it was considered improper parenting, in some circles. When Rev. Stanley writes about how, at a very young age, he learned to cook his own breakfast and comb his own hair, I am almost with him. Cooking breakfast was one thing that my mother did before she left for work, but I awoke early for that to happen, and at times I was on my own in getting ready for school and catching the bus on time. For many years, she would drop me off at my grandparent’s house in town. I walked a mile between my grandparent’s home and the school.
But I sense that Rev. Stanley did not take his loneliness as I did. I was an introvert, and my behavior became extreme in that regard. I invented my own version of baseball by throwing a tennis ball against a brick wall and based on which way the ball bounced off the wall, it could be a single, double, triple, or home run – or I could make the circus catch. Maybe that was why I was able to start running in the right direction in the outfield before the batter had even made contact with the ball. I was horrible at shooting a basketball, but that allowed me to hone my rebound skills, anticipating where the ball was going as I missed the shot, the usual result. I played four-player monopoly by myself, and no, the Top Hat did not win every time. I just cannot remember if the convertible car ever won. Hmmm. I did jigsaw puzzles designed for people much older. I mastered the knack of being by myself. In other words, I found ways of not being lonely in my loneliness.
But in his book, Rev. Stanley wrote about how other boys would come by to play and when they were picked up and taken home, at that moment, he knew he was alone once more. I can still feel the knot form in the pit of my stomach when my cousins from Florida had to go back home after a couple of weeks of visiting during the summer.
But in a way, I made a compensation similar to what God did in Creation. I needed companionship, so I invented my imaginary friends. I was never really alone, although in reality there was no one physically there but me. And no, Deviled Yeggs and Mashie Niblick were not invented back in those days.
As an introvert, I have been alone in a crowded room. Preferring to not mix and mingle, I became a master at people watching. I love doing that. It is the breaking of the ice and starting a conversation that frightens me beyond measure.
Over the years, I have felt the need to have other people around, but even during the COVID lockdown a year ago, I started to feel the walls closing in – after a few months of blissful solitude. I started to realize that my intense loneliness was part of my past and not my present.
But with God, we are never alone. And what Rev. Stanley says is true. In spite of our faults, God wants to have a relationship with us.
And in my quiet place, when I am researching or writing, I feel God’s presence. I recently saw an interview with a woman who had written a book about knowing the Holy Spirit, and I can agree with her. When you do not shy away from the Holy Spirit, He can be a wonderful friend, better than any of my imaginary playmates.
And the Holy Spirit is a great guide as I stumble and bumble my way through life. He guides me to a smoother road … when I am listening.
Our emotional baggage from loneliness can give us the idea that we are not fit to be part of social society. We may have to learn some skills, especially if you are an introvert and meeting new people is not in your comfort zone. But God can guide you there. And like C. S. Lewis would say, having too many friends is a bother. You do not need more close friends than you can handle. What Lewis is saying is that for us to get friends, we must be a friend. That takes up time. If you think you have hundreds of friends, you spend too much time on social media.
And always remember that God is the best friend you could ever have.
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.