Remember the lonely!


The holidays are upon us once again! A season filled with Christmas on every hand—music and lights, gifts and family, excitement and joy.

But not for everyone.

Just as the virus is pandemic in our world, so is loneliness. Some are facing devastating personal loss, some are navigating the painful waters of bereavement. Divorce, singleness, and broken relationships all bring their own brand of desperate aloneness. Young people and children have found themselves trying to cope with new models of isolation with varying success. We’ve all heard the stories.

And if that weren’t enough, we now have masks to hide our smiles and rules to keep us safely apart. Don’t touch! Don’t get too close! Protect yourself! And sometimes we even use these as an excuse to not get into the uncomfortable world of someone else’s pain.

Jesus understands our pain

I remember a season of loneliness in my single days that threatened to undo me. I had moved to a new town, hadn’t made friends yet, and looked hopefully to my new little church to fill some of the emptiness. But week after week, people smiled, said hi—and went their way after service. I  desperately wanted someone to say, “Hey, come on home with us for lunch.” But it never happened. One particular Sunday I remember crying my way through the afternoon, fairly certain I could drop dead in the church aisle and no one would even notice.

A bit dramatic, I know. But the pain was real. Eventually God brought good friends my way and life mellowed out. But it was a lesson I never wanted to forget—remember the lonely!

Jesus understood this kind of pain and went to lengths to reach out with tender love and understanding to such sufferers. He healed lepers who knew the excruciating loneliness and isolation that awful disease brought. He reached out personally to all manner of those whose conditions had plunged them into despair and hopelessness.

He charged His followers to do the same.

Jesus taught that reaching out to the lonely is tied up with our eternal inheritance in the Kingdom. He told us to bring strangers into our homes, to care for each other’s needs, and visit those in prison. When we do that, He said, we are actually doing it to Him. (Matthew 25:34-40)

Wow, what a pressing truth! We can go to church every Sunday and not see the grieving widow or struggling single, greet them with a quick “Hi, how are you?” and be on our way. What would it mean to them to take a few minutes, really find out how they are, listen, pray for them—and follow up next week? Even in a crowd, we can be lonely. The reality is, we want to be seen and known.

What can we do?

This holiday season, as never before, opportunities to reach out to the lonely are legion. How can we do a better job of that? 

The ideas are endless, but it begins with awareness of those around us. We can start a conversation or make a phone call. Invite someone out to eat or to your home for a meal. Sit with them, listen with engagement and patience and heart. Introduce them to others. Include them in a family activity or service project. Follow up later or next week, let them see that someone cares. 

Visit the elderly or shut-ins if it is allowed. When we're in the store or workplace, give an offer of help, or make a point to give a word of encouragement and appreciation. Those moments of personal interest might be the lifeline someone needs that day. 

And, if course, pray. We are privileged to be partnering with God in His passionate concern for people. I pray He will direct and bless each of our efforts. It might be that your outreach will change a life!

(Photo by Alex Green, Pexels)


Someone is watching you

As we settled ourselves in the church pew that Sunday morning, the faces around me mirrored the barely controlled emotions and teary eyes I was struggling with. The unbelievable had happened: Kim, the pastor's daughter—our worship leader and my dear friend—had suddenly passed away the previous Wednesday, leaving behind a loving husband and five school-aged children. She had overcome cancer earlier, but we did not know it had recurred. 

Here we were only four days out from her passing, and there was her father, Pastor Jack, quietly greeting everyone at the door with his never-failing gentle smile. His wife, Mary, was there too, hugging us, giving the little children's Bible lesson at the beginning of service as though their lives had not just been cleaved in two. 

How do they do it? I wondered. This was not just a brave show of emotional control. They were truly at peace. In their rawest moment, the bedrock of their faith in Jesus Christ held them strong. They knew where Kim was. They had work to do, people who needed them. The imponderables of this devastating loss were left in God's hands. Their wounded hearts were obviously not the primary thing, the Kingdom was. 

That's what I saw. It was stunning and deeply affecting to me. When grief had visited my doorstep in past years, I pulled in, closed off, and wrestled with God. It had taken me many long months to come to peace and renewed trust, and with a later perspective I wondered why I had struggled so. It seemed a discredit somehow to my Lord and His love for me. 

I watched them through the following difficult months as they closed ranks and carried on. Mary picked up the kids’ homeschooling with another friend, and the many ministry hats Kim had worn settled on other heads. Each day brought fresh challenges in lives that were reshaped by such a loss. Yet, in all that time, I never heard a word of complaint. Rather, Mary’s cheerful and loving smile continued to greet us, and she met the daily challenges with unflagging courage and faith. 

I cannot overstate the impact that experience had on my life. God allowed me to see up close what Christian faith looks like under fire. When I saw how Mary trusted the Lord through that deep time of loss, and kept on doing the right thing in worship and trust and love for the Lord, it became a reference point to me: how could I do any less in my own difficulties? Her example became my new benchmark of faith. I asked the Lord to help me walk out my own trials with similar grace, that I too could be a help and not a hindrance to someone else's faith. 

We never know who is watching us. They see how we handle crises, if what we say we believe agrees with what they see. What I saw in Jack and Mary’s lives was the quiet, unshakable faith that had come through a lifetime of knowing Jesus. Theirs was a Kingdom view that not only helped keep them steady, but set an incredible example for those of us who watched. 

(Photo by Priscilla Dupreez on Unsplash )