As Webster defines it: "the quality or state of being without company."
As you or I might define it: "the feeling of isolation and emptiness when faced with a task or situation."
Believe me, I know that feeling. Some of the loneliest times during my 31 years of pastoral ministry occurred when the heaviness of the moment seemed to rest on my shoulders, when it seemed I was the only one who could make the decision. And, sometimes, I didn't know what to do either.
I am sure, for example, that most of you who read this have felt loneliness when, for some reason, a parishioner rejected your love and decided to walk away. Most of us have stood beside the bed of a terminally ill child or young adult and felt the burden of their mortality. We wanted to do something — anything — to change the outcome, but could only stand helplessly and watch and pray.
Then there are the times when loneliness occurs because of personal failure. We say the wrong thing. We do not fully count the cost of our decisions or actions. We attempt to mend a wound, but find out too late we can't.
And, of course, we often experience loneliness as we travel our own spiritual pilgrimages, frequently feeling estranged from the God we love so much. Our prayers seem hollow, the Word does not radiate and our message to those around us is tepid at best.
The issue is not so much whether we will become lonely. That is a given. It happens to us all. The real question is what we do when we are lonely?
Here are some guidelines that I have used during my ministry and continue to use. They have helped me clarify the cause of my loneliness and have often led me out of it.
There will be times of loneliness and isolation in your life, but they need not cause you damage that cannot be altered. The psalmist has written, "Hear my cry, O God; listen to my prayer. From the ends of the earth I call to you, I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I. For you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the foe" (Psalm 61:1-3, NIV). May that be your prayer as well.
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