If God Is with Us, Why Are We Lonely?
“Our two little granddaughters have a sense of community which many adults have lost; people have developed less a sense of community than a loneliness which they attempt to assuage by being with other people constantly, and on a superficial level only…The loneliness, the namelessness of cocktail-party relationships surround us. We meet, but even when we kiss we do not touch. We avoid the responsibility of community.”1
There is a steady song of rain on the eaves, the dimpling of ever-widening puddles in the yard by so many hundreds of thousands of droplets. For me, the grey skies and the heavy rain are a comfort, a friend inviting me to listen to their story, a warm mug of tea in hand. For many, though, the slashing rain and slate-coloured sky are dull and dreary. The dark of night is not a quieting friend, a place to be still and ponder, but an unwelcome enemy: loneliness.
Loneliness and Christmas go hand-in-hand in our confused culture. Stress, blow-ups, and annual arguments are the only Christmas traditions many people know. You probably find Christmas loneliness and stress normal rather than shocking. Our lives do not match up to “Christmas: Hollywood style.” When December twenty-sixth rolls around, we still live in a draughty house, the scroll-work on the bannister still comes off in our hand, and we are still working at the Bailey Building and Loan Company rather than travelling to Tahiti or going to college.
Perhaps It’s A Wonderful Life, more than any other Christmas film, shows what does make December twenty-sixth different, in spite of life circumstances remaining the same: friendship. George Bailey is given a new perspective to see that the people in his life love him, are willing to give their prayers—even their money—for him because he is part of their community. George has given his time, his own money, his hopes, his dreams, his whole life to the people of Bedford Falls. In his hour of need, his neighbours do not leave him high and dry, they give out of their meagre store. Not only is his community built of those neighbours, there is also a heavenly community that he is part of, too.
Though “community” is a buzzword, particularly in churches, our culture knows little of it. That is why loneliness is more familiar to us than community. That is why we can sit at a long table of friends and feel completely isolated. Community is not being with other people constantly—it is being with other people. It is being silent with them or crying with them when loss comes. It is walking with them through the burned out rubble of their home, or the shattered pieces of their marriage. It is feeling awkward and useless when you do not know what to say about a friend’s difficult situation, but hugging them anyway. It is making the most of the time you have with a friend who is moving away, seeking to sweeten the loss before it comes. It is giving the shirt off your back, the food out of your fridge, the money out of your bank account to serve another. It is opening your home for dinner, conversation, laughter, hugs, and tears. It is reading together. It is sitting on the floor, huddled by the heater in the arctic cold of winter, just talking. It is receiving help and encouragement whilst climbing a mountain, and turning around to give your hand to that same friend when the rocks at the top are too hard to climb alone.
That is community in practice—not letting someone climb alone. It is instead walking alongside others, being encouraged by those ahead to come “Further up and further in!”2 It is repeating that cry to your companions, and to those on the path behind you. Community is being responsible for one another—even when it means paying someone else’s debt, or bearing their sorrow, or sharing their sweaty, infected smell. It means receiving love, healing, help, and grace, too. It goes back and forth, constantly.
At the time of year when we remember that Jesus himself left the community of Heaven to wear our smudge and share our smell, how can we feel alone? Yet we often do.
The-day-after-Christmas of our whole life feels devoid of real community—we do not even know where to look for such a thing. All we see is a black gulf of loneliness that never seems to change, no matter how many parties we attend, or evenings a week that we are busy. I speak as one who cannot give easy answers to loneliness. I spent many years as a child and young adult without close friends. I found myself feeling alone at a crowded table recently. In those rare moments, however, I have also found that the Lord has not left me. He whispers—sometimes shouts—to me in those moments that I am loved with an everlasting love.
Suddenly I feel spoiled…Because even though I have known loneliness, I often find myself laughing until I cry over games with my adopted “roommates.” Or laughing with my work friends and neighbours at a gingerbread shack that will not stay together, in spite of much “gluing” with icing. I find myself blinking back tears of humility at how much I am loved and included by so many others. I am reminded that I am not alone. Neither are you alone, even if you are in search of a community right now. God himself is with us: through his word, indwelling us via his Spirit, and as he is revealed in his saints through real community.
When December wraps up, the tree comes down, and the new year sets in, remember that even in the bleak midwinter of our lives, God is with us.