“For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”
Friends are an indispensable part of growing in Christ. So why do many of us have so few?
Women drive me nuts.
Some years ago, following an act of civil disobedience, I spent several days in a makeshift jail with hundreds of women protesters. Before long, a couple of them approached me where I lay on a hard Army cot, trying to get comfortable enough to read the copy of Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa my husband had managed to deliver. What better opportunity than jail time would I ever have to read the longest novel in the English language?
It was not to be. Instead I was asked to step up as a leader to address the squabbles and discontent arising among so many women of diverse personalities in such cramped conditions. Suck it up, ladies! I wanted to scream. But I didn’t. As requested, I played the role of diplomat.
I emerged from jail with greater gratitude for God’s creation of two sexes than I’d ever had before or since. To this day, I avoid to just this side of causing offense nearly any event preceded by the label women’s: conferences, Bible Studies, retreats, Home Interior parties. I was even a bit skeptical at first about writing for a women’s blog.
My difficulties with women go further back than this experience. Because I married young and went directly to graduate school from college, I had a hard time finding real peers. The other women in my graduate program were hostile toward Christianity, something I was ill-equipped to handle gracefully. And while my church included other young women who worked or were going to school, most of the married women did not. I spent a lot of time declining invitations to jewelry and kitchenware parties and softball games, not because I wasn’t interested in those activities, but because I felt stressed and guilty about spending time on anything besides writing papers and reading books and journal articles.
I wanted women friends, badly. I tried to find them. I prayed for God to bring me to them. And, in his time, he did.
Of course, in all fairness to God, I didn’t make it easy for him. I am pretty picky. On the other hand, in making friends, I seem naturally to follow the advice of Socrates: “Be slow to fall into friendship; but when thou art in, continue firm and constant.” I don’t form friendships quickly or often, but when I do, they stick.
Friendships come in many forms, but nothing can replace friendships with true peers. Because we are both physical and spiritual beings, I see as a true peer one with whom we share both of these aspects, physical and spiritual, of our being—in other words, people of the same sex and of the same spiritual identity and belief. While certainly one can be good friends with members of the opposite sex, or of different beliefs and values, such differences tend to be a barrier to the sort of kid-gloves-off treatment necessary for iron to sharpen iron. In fact, I’ve often noticed that those who resist deep friendships with true peers—women who say they simply “connect better” with men (well, duh!) or with people not their age or religion—tend to be avoiding the unique accountability that genuine peers offer.
“For my father and my mother have forsaken me, but the LORD will take me in.” Psalm 27:10
It’s a feeling that every human will experience from time to time. Loneliness. The feeling that you have no one and can turn to no one and that no one notices how lonely you truly are. I’m there now. My head knows I’m not alone; I live with my husband, our three children and a house full of animals. I belong to a church where the people love me unconditionaly and whole-heartedly. I just spent the whole holiday weekend with upwards of 150 people; worshipping, testifying, sharing, praying with each other. And yet I still feel alone and abandoned. My heart just can’t seem to connect with my head and get on the same page.
I find myself knowing the answer in my head; I’m not alone, God is always there. Maybe my feelings of loneliness are God tugging at my heart, telling me He wants more time from me. God approached Adam in the Garden of Eden and said, ‘It is not good for man to be alone,’ not because Adam was lonely, but because he was making a statement about himself. He was saying, ‘It is not good for man to be alone, because one man cannot glorify me by himself.’ God creates an entire race of people to glorify him. . . . The panoply of gifts is essential if the church is to function as God intended. Image bearers are not lone rangers, and we see the great scriptural truth that God has not given us people to complete us, but to complement us as we seek to glorify him together in community.
So how do I connect my head back to my heart and feel connected with my world again? That’s the million dollar question. Let me know when you find the answer! Maybe taking it to God and offering it to him as a gift in worship? Saying, ‘I’ve tried everything to fix it, and I can’t. I’ve tried filling it with the world. I’ve tried filling it with people. I’ve tried seeking you. I don’t know what to do with it. So I’m just going to offer it up to you. Can you take this ugly thing and make it something beautiful?’
Elizabeth Elliot said
“Loneliness is a wilderness, but through receiving it as a gift, accepting it from the hand of God and offering it back to him with thanksgiving, it may become a pathway to holiness, to glory and to God himself.”
Loneliness, at its root, is a spiritual issue. We don’t need to merely hang out with more friends. We don’t need to merely learn how to speak love languages. We need help. We need a savior. We need an advocate whose name is Christ Jesus. And our heart cry should not merely be, ‘I do bad things because I’m lonely, so someone come keep me company, make me feel better.’ Our deep heart cry should be, ‘I’m lonely because I’m a sinner in a dark and fallen world. God help me.’
We can say with Romans 8:28, that God uses all things for the good of those who love him, even our loneliness. Because our loneliness leads us to our deepest spiritual need, who is Christ. And we can also say with 1 John 3:20, that even when we feel condemned, God is greater than our hearts, and that loneliness cannot separate us from the love of God. We have a solution to our spiritual problem, and if we will submit to the Lord and accept his solution for our deepest spiritual problem, the atoning work of Christ on the cross, God can attack loneliness at its root and overcome the pain of separation in our lives that leads to separation from him, which leads to separation from other people.
Bottom line: Feeling lonely? Plug into God and He’ll plug you into where you need to be.
Ok, here goes. This is what I realized this morning: No man has ever pursued me. Which means that no man has ever truly known me. Which means that no man has ever truly loved me. Dang.
My marriage is ending and as I walk this road these unwanted thoughts keep running up to me. Just last night I looked in the mirror and didn’t like what I saw. It occurred to me that there is no one who cares what I look like. Now, don’t email me. I know I’m not supposed to care about my appearance and that God looks at the heart, et cetera, et cetera. I get all that. But I’m a girl. I care. It’s just that now I’m the only one who does.
I still can’t believe I’m the girl who uses words like “my marriage is ending”. Maybe that’s good that it still gets to me, that it still stings. I never expected to be here, but here I am, and right here with me is this realization that I’ve been married and I have children but I’ve never really been loved by a man.
(Remind again me why I write stuff like this? I write stuff like this because I know I’m not the only woman who has ever felt this way. And I know I’m not the only woman who feels this way right now. One of you reading this feels this same exact way, I’m just sure of it. And I don’t want you to feel alone.)
So what do we do with this?
Well, I start by acknowledging that it is my truth today. It’s a longing, it’s a deficit, and realistically, it just may remain unfulfilled for the long haul, married or not. On days when I’m not a total train wreck, I take it to Jesus instead of ten million other substitute devices that fill for a second and then drain me right back out again. This morning, I did take it to Jesus.
Here’s what I said to him… When will I learn to come to you, I mean really come to you? I am asking you, again, Jesus Christ, to fill my emptiness, to heal me and make me whole, again and again, to teach me to fully rely on you alone. I want to know you as my husband, my best friend, my one true love. Please do this in my heart and life. Please fix me and fill me.
I have asked Him for this before. I will ask Him for all this again. Maybe it will happen in the next week or so. Maybe it will happen in five minutes. It will probably continue for the rest of my life.
Do I think God not answering me? Or do I think I just keep banging my head against a wall? God already promises that He’s in me, that I have everything I need, that I am precious to Him. He pursued me before I knew Him. He’s especially close to those of us who are heart-broken. God is my peace and my joy. My Maker is my husband. God has answered once and for all, and He does answer again and again.
I know all of these things and I believe all of these things and I have experienced all of these things. But I’m human, I’m frail, I’m just a little girl (as a friend refers to herself during her vulnerable moments, even though she’s in her fifties). And I forget. I forget every single day what I’ve learned the day before.
Remembering God’s love
And, let’s face it…this realization, this knowledge that a man has never really loved me is a pretty big and painful thing to sit with and carry, a heavy thing to know about myself. How did I get to be forty-one without being loved? So, yes, it’s going to hurt and sting and make me walk slower on the days when it hits me again as if for the first time.
Do you struggle to feel loved completely, just for you who you are?
- You can ask the Spirit to let truth sink into you…truth like “you are precious and honored in my sight and I love you,” the Lord says in Isaiah 43.
- You can remind yourself that his grace is enough and it’s all you need according to II Corinthians 12.
- You can remind yourself that your maker is your husband according to Isaiah 54.
- You can remind yourself that Jesus is always with you as he tells us in Matthew 28.
I’m not going to run from this pain. There’s no point in running…it’ll be here when I come back anyway. This is just part of my story. It’s what makes me love my friends better and deeper. It’s what makes me pray for my children harder. It’s the thing that compels me again and again back to Jesus, who knows and sees and understands and heals, and when I’m open, fills me. This is journey of divorce is an unfamiliar and unwanted road, but I know that Jesus walks it with me and He will always be there to remind me, every time I forget.