After a full day of hearing about marriage and family relationships, what appeared (on the outside, one who seemed to have all things in order) was a man who asked, “How do I overcome loneliness?”
This question was not what I expected. I thought for sure this man would have asked something more complicated like, “Explain the Trinity or from where did the Nephilim come?” But these questions were not what this man asked; what he questioned was even harder, for loneliness is difficult to overcome. I felt his pain. As I looked more closely, his eyes indicated that he was hurting.
For those of you who have not read my previous posts, my husband, Dan, and I went to the Middle East on a mission trip. Our purpose was to speak to the Iranian Refugees (the persecuted church), on the Biblical view of marriage and family. We talked to five churches in this country (for protection purposes, I cannot reveal the country). At each church, our team gave four messages: three on marriage and one on parenting. The entire conference was geared toward the family unit.
At the end of the day, we offered a question and answer panel. Our team sat in front of the church body, and they had the opportunity to ask us questions. The inquiries the Iranian church proposed were profound and thought-provoking.
A Universal Question
I believe, this one man’s question is universal. Many in America, as well as the rest of the world, have the same concern. Therefore, I want to share with you the answer one member of our team gave, along with a few more thoughts I had today.
Jeff answered this man with a revealing question, “Look around you, are you alone?” (Sometimes we don’t see the gift of friendship staring us in the face.) The man looked around and smiled at Jeff as he shook his head no. It was clear that he was surrounded by God-loving people who were his spiritual family.
Many of these people have left their families in Iran and are indeed physically alone in this country of holding. While they work hard and await a nation that will receive them; they are living without that close connection they had back home. They gather with strangers in their churches, and as time goes by, they eventually connect, and these new people become their family. But this requires waiting. And if a person is introverted, it’s awkward and creates more time to form close relationships.
Jeff explained that loneliness can be overcome through friendships. I don’t have his exact words, but in effect, he shared their experience. Because of a weekly small group that he and his wife hold, they have been privileged to minister to eighty or more people. They typically have a minimum of twelve people that attend their group each week, but because of the transient area, over eighty have come through their lives. Jeff shared the benefits that relationships offer us:
- a spiritual family
- a richer faith in God
- support in tough times
- unconditional love
- a place of belonging
Jeff and his wife work hard to provide a place where people find respite amidst the busyness and stress of life.
The Danger of Not Having Community
This morning as I recalled this experience I remembered a book I read titled Defiant by Alvin Townley. This book is about the 11Gi’s captured in Vietnam and tortured mercilessly, yet they were miraculously unbreakable. You can read the summary here on what these brave, courageous men endured.
It’s hard to put into a few words what these men underwent, so I won’t even try. I recommend you read the summary, or better yet, the book! However, what I want to point out is the value they found in their community with each other.
Staying connected through encouraging one another in forms of Morse code, written notes on toilet paper, saying prayers with and for each other, and whispering the Pledge of Allegiance saved them!
But there was one who did not survive; it was this man that my mind went to this morning. He was the one that my heart broke into pieces over because he did not make it through this hell. There is one primary reason why – four years of desolate isolation.
His name was Ron Storz; I quote from the summary.
The eleven who survived “worried most about Ron Storz, who had now been in solitary for four years and had tried to commit suicide with a razor…Of the 11, he was the only one who wouldn’t make it back. He died in captivity.”
Indeed, the torture and starvation that Ron Storz experienced were enough to kill him, but I believe that it was the solitary confinement for four years that crushed him. He was left to himself, to his despairing thoughts, to the attacks of Satan; to the hopelessness of no encouragement; he had no way of hearing, “keep going, you’re okay.”
Loneliness is an agonizing darkness. Ron Storz had no choice; solitude was chosen for him, but for most of us, we have a choice.
We were born to have relationships, as God said to the man, “it is not good for him to be alone” (Genesis 2:18). We were not created for solitary confinement. Many today die from a solo life rather than by the sword. I’m not a psychiatrist, but I believe that many who suffer from depression could trace this symptom to the lack of community in their life.
The wisdom of Solomon gives us hope and insight:
“Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12).
I leave you with this one simple step: Make room in your life for others. Community in your life is more than a “church” mandate; it is a matter of survival. Where can you fit life-giving relationships in your week?