There’s a grief that can’t be spoken,
There’s a pain goes on and on.
Empty chairs at empty tables,
Now my friends are dead and gone.
(from Les Miserables, musical)
A few weeks ago Theresa May announced amidst all the Brexit negotiations that she is appointing the world’s first Minister for Loneliness. Her name is Tracey Crouch and she will be responsible for developing a wider strategy on the issue.
Tracey will have her job ‘cut out’ as research done by the British Red Cross highlights research that shows that 9 million people in Britain of all ages and backgrounds say they are always or often lonely.
There may be many different reasons for that felt sense of isolation from others and many different stories to tell. It may be related to the loss of bereavement expressed in the Les Mis quote above but there are many other reasons and causes.
It’s not just a question of being on our own and not liking it. Loneliness involves a strong emotion and a painful sense of alienation. But why should we feel it so strongly and what can be done about it?
Our recent Sunday morning series helps us to understand the why question. We are made in the image of God, we are created male and female, we are placed in families, we are in-grafted into the church which is described as the family of God. All these things tell that we are essentially relational being created to love God and live in community with others. When these connections are broken down we feel lonely.
Being lonely is a peculiarly human thing. Yes, our pets miss us when we don’t feed them and many animals like to live in groups, but surely it’s only us humans that feel that aching sense of alienation from our fellow man that we call loneliness. Only humans write songs about it and drown their sorrows in alcohol to numb the pain.
And this week in our Sunday morning series we learnt that God recognised the problem of loneliness a while before Mrs. May. In the perfect, idyllic and beautiful world that God created before man messed it up, the only thing that ‘was not good’ was man being alone. So God created Eve as a helper for Adam. In the case of Adam and Eve they literally were ‘made for each other’.
So what can we do when loneliness bites us? When for one reason or another we find we are lonely as a Christian?
We sang last Sunday that Jesus, the lamb of God was ‘deserted by God, man and friend’ and surely Jesus words on the cross ‘My God, my God why have you forsaken me?’ are a cry of a soul that is lonely. So Jesus shares our experience.
There is a sense in which loneliness is something the whole Bible narrative is all about. It envisages a fallen world where the pain of loneliness is a result of the fall and one of the purposes of the gospel is to ‘place the lonely in families’ (Psalm 68 vs. 6), to reconcile broken relationships and create a united family of God.
Yes, you can be lonely in a church, lonely in a marriage and lonely in a crowd. But the gospel uniquely tells us we are ‘never alone’ and we can find comfort that ‘even though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death’ we need fear no evil because the Shepherd is there with us with his ‘rod and staff to comfort us’. He knows how we feel because he went through it too.
Written by Stephen Nicholls