By Sarah Morrison
Originally Published in Be Still Magazine, Issue 15
There has been a God-given quality of mine that has concurrently been a thorn in my side and a blessing. I am a serious introvert. I would be perfectly content and delighted to be tucked away, alone. That’s where I am most easily available to think, work, and create. I’ve never been one to get lonely.
When my husband and I set out to move to an entirely new state, with no friends nor family for hundreds of miles, I knew that it was going to be a solitary endeavor, and I knew that I’d be just fine with that. I was unabashedly fulfilled and prepared to be alone in a new setting—if anyone could handle this task, it was certainly me. I just knew I could handle it. And I did. For a while.
I think I sprouted armor at a young age that benefited me in this way. I was the black sheep in my family; in many ways I still am. I wasn’t the popular one in school. There were times where I even felt witch-hunted by my fellow church members because my preferences and tastes were so starkly different than theirs.
As you can imagine, I felt more than prepared for being alone. My husband, and my dogs, and my thoughts were, more often than not, plenty for me. Nevertheless, I often was chastised for not attending more women’s events in my new city. I was critiqued by acquaintances for not being more gregarious and outgoing. But I truly was fine. I was always alone but never lonely.
Around the 1-year mark, something changed. I was angry. Discouraged. Confused. Long-distance friendships that I had worked so hard to keep up with had suddenly dissolved. People stopped calling. Stopped texting. Stopped answering. In what seemed like a blink of an eye, I was deserted, with no one near to me. I was caught off-guard, and I was terribly disillusioned. I was alone, and this time I felt it. I was beginning to understand and see the reasons why friendship and community are both vital to Christian health.
I was well-acquainted with the sensation of being overlooked, but this time something seemed different and darker. The seclusion was nearly physically painful, with abounding panic attacks and compounding fearfulness. I felt that all I’d ever known was ripped from me without the promise of replenishment. I was furious with God—how dare He not provide for me? Why would He desire this for His child? And somehow God expected me to be an effective and thoughtful servant in and for the church? No. No. No. I retreated, and I seethed for what felt like a lifetime.
Have you ever had seasons in your life where you just refuse to learn what God intends for you to learn? Because that’s exactly how I handled hitting my ceiling of loneliness. Instead of stewarding my disappointment, fear, and isolation to bring me closer to God, I chose to use it as a wedge in my relationship with Him. I stopped talking and listening to the One I needed the most.
I think what began the process of renewal for me was a quote from Francis Bacon that I’d come across when reading about the importance of church membership.
“Those that [lack] friends to open themselves unto, are cannibals of their own hearts. But one thing is most admirable . . . that this communicating of a man’s self to his friend works two contrary effects, for it doubles joys, and cuts grief in half.”
Joys that are shared are multiplied. Sorrows that are shared are halved. This is how I finally realized the necessity and the enjoyments of community, of friendship, of the church. At once I was aware that there was no one that I shared joys with (and at the time those joys were so precious and scarce), and I had no one to help cut my griefs. I was a cannibal to my own heart and soul, wayward from the community to which God had intended to me, both in fellowship with other believers and fellowship with God Himself.
By “fellowship” with the Lord I don’t necessarily mean my time spent praying or in His word, though that certainly was an anemic discipline at the time. Instead, I mean the enjoyment of my time spent with Him, the growing trust that He was cultivating in me, and the knowledge of how truly and completely known I am in Him alone.
After wallowing and weeping, I thought about the sufferings of Christ. Rejected by Peter three times in a span of a few hours. Betrayed by one of His closest friends for the sake of a few pieces of silver. Scoffers preferred the release of Barabbas, a known murderer, to the very Son of God. At once, my loneliness felt vindicated. My Savior likely felt lonely, too. Nevertheless, He pressed on. Nevertheless, He spent time with God the Father. And then, so should I.
I felt immense and incomparable solidarity with Christ when I thought on the intensity of His suffering for my sake, part of which included isolation. That solidarity that I reveled in was something I had yet to experience before, and it was entirely sweet and gentle. In God’s reminding and prompting of me to remember and think on the life of Jesus, my fellowship with Him was restored.
That’s what I had been missing the entire time—fellowship with God Himself. I’d woefully forgotten the complete and ample communion that I had in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I kept waiting on friends. I kept waiting on individuals to remember I existed. I kept waiting on earthly acceptance. None of that was going to satiate the longings I had to be completely known, utterly remembered, and earnestly loved though. But in fellowship with Christ through His Word, I am more than known, more than remembered, and more than loved. This is indelible friendship.
All of this brought me to understand the true sufficiency in Christ. To truly understand, through this trial, the adequacy of God for all of my needs was the sweetest and most tender thing He could have taught me. It is a good thing to have friends on earth who will hug you when you cry, and pray when you ask, but it is a better and more sufficient thing to have a friend in Christ, who mediates on our behalf to the Father, and knows us more deeply and intimately than we could comprehend.
Don’t mishear what I am saying: Christian fellowship and friendship is indispensable, invaluable, and immensely important, and we should all strive eagerly towards upholding and interceding for one another. One of the most real and tangible ways that God demonstrates His love for us is through the physical acts and physical care by other Christians. So pick up that phone. Pray for that person. Send that thank you note. Buy that gift. Hug that person. It is so important that we act on Christian care. However, seasons do come and go. And loneliness is very real.
Loneliness may slay us, but through it we are invited to befriend God. I leaned into the fellowship He had been offering me the entire time. We have more than satisfactory reason to trust in Him, more than enough reason to desire Him above all else. So yes, seek out Christian fellowship, but eagerly pine for God firsthand.