Loneliness carves out hollow places in our beings, but sometimes we find friends in unexpected places to be sentinels of hope.
I knelt by my bed, hands clasped, and began to pray.
I have adopted the practice of kneeling while I pray because I want the posture of my body to echo the attitude of my heart in prayer. I started this night by praising God for who he is and what he has done. To praise God better in my prayers, I have been praying through the prayers in The Valley of Vision.
Praise waiteth for thee,
and to render it is my noblest exercise;
This is thy due from all thy creatures,
for all thy works display thy attributes and fulfil thy designs;
The sea, dry land, winter cold, summer heat,
morning light, evening shade are full of thee,
and thou givest me them richly to enjoy.
Thou art King of kings and Lord of lords;
At thy pleasure empires rise and fall;
All thy works praise thee and thy saints bless thee;
Let me be numbered with thy holy ones,
resemble them in character and condition,
sit with them at Jesus’ feet.
May my religion be always firmly rooted in thy Word,
my understanding divinely informed,
my affections holy and heavenly,
my motives simple and pure,
and my heart never wrong with thee.
Deliver me from the natural darkness of my own mind,
from the corruptions of my own heart,
from the temptations to which I am exposed,
from the daily snares that attend me.
I am in constant danger while I am in this life;
Let thy watchful eye ever be upon me for my defense,
Save me from the power of my worldly and spiritual enemies
and from all painful evils to which I have exposed myself.
Until the day of life dawns above
let there be unrestrained fellowship with Jesus;
Until fruition comes, may I enjoy the earnest of my inheritance
and the firstfruits of the Spirit;
Until I finish my course with joy may I pursue it with diligence,
in every part display the resources of the Christian,
and adorn the doctrine of thee my God in all things.
On this night, I made my way through the prayer rather quickly because my heart wanted to talk to God about other matters. I finished the prayer and started talking to God extemporaneously. After a few words, however, tears choked out all other thoughts.
I didn’t really know why I was crying at first, but I did welcome the release of tears.
These weren’t ordinary tears; I was crying to God, finding comfort in knowing that he saw and cared about my grief. These tears were my prayer as I relied on the Holy Spirit to express to my Father the emotions and struggles I did not yet understand myself.
Yet as the weeping continued, I began to recognize some of the emotions behind my tears, and the one that surfaced first and most powerfully was loneliness.
I have become friends with a tree over the past few months.
I have passed the same tree for years as it is situated along a road I travel almost every day when I am living at home, but for some reason, I don’t remember noticing it until this summer. It stands alone in the middle of a field and greets me as I pass.
As I have watched it throughout the past several months, I have seen its hearty mane of thick green leaves toss in the wind. I have observed these leaves ignite into a flame of gold before withering into a parched, brittle shell of veins and dead tissue and falling to the ground. Presently, it stands naked—a lonely sentinel amid a barren field.
I have been struggling to come to terms with my loneliness for some time, and I have keenly sensed a lack of community over the past several months. Entering a new season of life as a young adult working a less than ideal job with very few friends nearby has been a challenge for which I was not prepared, especially after the friendship-rich years of college.
The space in my life that was filled by the constant unmediated society of friends is now mostly empty as nearly all of my friends live far enough away to make seeing them regularly impracticable. I have transitioned from cherishing time alone to wishing I didn’t have so much of it.
But perhaps even more suffocating than the lack of nearby friends is the paucity of people who share my passions and interests. I have no one to sit across the table from, sharing a three hour long conversation about literature, theology or philosophy, Tolkien, and Hearthstone with, while our forgotten coffee (or tea) grows cold. No one to sit and paint with. No one who likes to live life in just the same way I like to live it. All the people who would do these things with me, through no fault of their own, are too far away or too busy. I’m not asking for pity; I’m simply describing the way things are for me right now.
I left my core friend group behind perforce when I graduated from college and moved back home to save for grad school. Little did I know last May how difficult the transition from college student to graduate would be.
It’s hard to say exactly how, but this tree has provided a sort of camaraderie since I noticed it last June. We lonely individuals must stick together.
And yet, for all his loneliness, this tree has never complained. He has never decided he could no longer bear the weight of his responsibility as Sentinel of the Field and left to lament his loneliness by the side of some melancholy stream. He has stood there throughout all these months and years doing what he was made to do—glorifying God simply by being what he was made to be.
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves—goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying Whát I do is me: for that I came.¹
In this way, he does what all true friends are willing to do; he rebukes me. How often have I complained to God about my circumstances, asking him to change them rather than change me—seeking comfort over conformity to Christ?
My sense of loneliness and sharp lack of community had been growing on me for some time, but it all came to a head that night when my tears could no longer be restrained. And as I quite literally cried to God, I asked him to fill me. I longed for him to pour himself into my void. I wanted more of God because he was the only one left to support me.
All my life, I’ve been surrounded by people who supported me. Growing up, those people were my family, and we are knit together with an uncommonly strong bond of love and affection. In college, I had my classmates, people who were there to study and immerse themselves in the very same things I care about.
Now, it’s easy to feel like I have no one.
Both of my sisters are off to college, one preparing to be married this summer. My parents and I all have jobs and various other pursuits that limit our time together. We all still love each other dearly, but we are simply unable to spend the time together we are accustomed to. I still keep in touch with my college friends and see some of them fairly regularly, sometimes every other week, but I miss the late night conversations about our spiritual growth, the enthusiastic discussions after a particularly engaging class period, the laughter-filled meals together in the dining commons, the impromptu coloring parties, and the drives to and from church together—activities made possible by our constant proximity.
Things aren’t the way they used to be, and I miss them.
God has gradually made it impossible for me to rely on these people to support me in the ways I have been accustomed to. Not that they don’t still offer support, encouragement, and prayer, but things aren’t the same, and I still don’t know how to explain it. I just know it feels different and more lonely.
As these means of support have been slowly and painfully removed, I have begun to understand that God is the only one who can replace them—he is the only one who can truly fill my void.
I have known that truth for a long time in my head, but I felt it that night through the tears that wouldn’t stop, and I found that these words from Amy Lee’s beautiful piece, “A Longing Rooted in Loss,” rang true:
“Grief and heartache and wrenching honesty have their place in the Christian life. If we open ourselves up to tears that scald our faces and carve aching hollows in the bottoms of our hearts, it is in faith that God truly will wipe every one from our eyes. . .
. . . In this way, The Wanderer reminds us of the freedom we have to weep outright. To spread our empty hands so that we can take up what is to come.”²
As I knelt next to my bed, the pile of tissues mounting and my legs falling asleep, I felt the tears would never end. But I welcomed the release and clarity they brought to my situation. I knew God cared. I knew this emptiness was there to show me my need for him. And I finally drifted off to sleep feeling closer to God than I had in a long time.
My friend is still standing in that field—a thousand tiny promises of spring swelling in each twig’s tip. In this way, too, he is my friend, reminding me of God’s promises for the good things to come.
I never thought I would number a tree among my friends, but this one has rebuked, encouraged, instructed, and inspired me—as all the best friends do. And in my loneliness, he has reminded me that I am never truly alone.
1. Gerard Manley Hopkins, “As Kingfishers Catch Fire.”
2. Amy Lee, “A Longing Rooted in Loss,” published Feb. 24th, 2017 by the Anselm Society.