What’s a good Christian gal like me doing writing a headline like that?!
Well, my idea that Jesus should meet every need in my life at every moment has shifted. And apparently, I’m not the only one who thinks this way! After writing this blog, I did a little googling and surprise, my headline wasn’t as creative as I thought it to be.
The question most asked of me “What’s it like being back?” can’t be answered with one word, but one word that is part of my answer is “lonely.”
After having experienced a tight-knit expat community in China, living life seemingly more purposefully than now, and having a team to work together with on a common focus, it was a culture shock to my system to find myself, among other things, lonely.
Just getting groceries used to be an adventure for me. I’d team up with another friend and we’d hop on my scooter and weave in and out of crazy traffic to find our most coveted imported items. Now, I (alone) hop in my minivan, drive in an orderly manner to my super market and walk out with a cart load to get me through my week. I love the simplicity…I hate the simplicity!
In the scenario above, the thing that strikes me more often than not, since returning, is that almost every activity I do in America, I can easily do alone. I don’t need anyone to help me translate, I don’t need anyone to help me brave the crowds, to help me carry my things home, to taxi me somewhere, or to commiserate with me when I was having what we nicknamed a “China Day.”
Couple that with how much social media, the use of cell phones, and our independent striving has taken over in America and I am left finding it is hard to make friends, get into a community, and dig deeper into relationships.
In this place of loneliness, I realized, Jesus is not enough.
Now before you call me a heretic, I do want to say I believe that ultimately, Jesus is enough.
I like how Rich Lusk says it:
Obviously, the claim “God is not enough” is hyperbolic. This should not be understood in an idolatrous fashion. Obviously, in an ultimate sense, God is enough for man. We can and must still speak of the absolute adequacy of God.
But please hear me out as I make my case:
In the lonely moments of this past year, I felt myself feeling like less of a Christian because I yearned for more than God. Sure, I missed speaking in Chinese, the local food, and bicycling, but it was much deeper than homesickness; I missed the community of believers we left behind and having face-to-face conversations that were deeply rich.
But the worst part is I felt like in my emotions of missing these relationships, I was somehow not being a good Christian ‘cause a good Christian knows how to be satisfied with Christ alone, right?
Think about this:
“Social isolation kills more people than obesity does—and it’s just as stigmatized.” Jessica Olien
Loneliness has doubled: 40 percent of adults in two recent surveys said they were lonely, up from 20 percent in the 1980s.
The increased mortality risk is comparable to that from smoking. And loneliness is about twice as dangerous as obesity. Kendra Cherry
In the lonely moments of the day, as I would pray and ask God to help me be content with just Him and to fill me up in every way, I would walk away feeling guilty because there was still a part of me restless and empty.
I wanted friends: girlfriends and families to hang out with and do life together, single friends to share meals with and encourage along life’s journey.
I wanted to be completely satisfied through Christ alone but in all honesty, I wasn’t satisfied in my relationship with Christ alone. It was irritating to me in so many ways. I wanted flesh and blood, talk to me face-to-face, walk beside me type relationships!
In those moments of prayer and petition to God, I would remember all the times God so wonderfully helped me to know we were supposed to be here in this place right now. I would gain strength from remembering our past journey, but it didn’t stop there.
Verses also sprang to my mind. Verses that set me free from feeling like Jesus was supposed to be enough for every aspect of my life. Verses that made me realize I was unsettled because I was craving the very thing God made me for: relationship.
Jesus said to him, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. The second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’
Not only are we to be in a relationship with God, but also with our neighbors. Not just a wave and nod, but LOVING them!
If God alone were enough for man, then why do we read account after account of relationships outside of God that were obviously great encouragements to both parties. God himself is three in one! Here are a few verses to explain what I mean:
Genesis 2:18 The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”
I chewed on that verse and thought, “If Jesus was enough, why did God create Eve? Sure we know there is procreation needing to be done, but the verse doesn’t say, “man needs to procreate so I will make him a helper.” No, it says, “It is not good for him to be alone.” This was Adam. The man walked and talked with God and yet God said he still needed someone else!
I also thought about the disciples and how God sent them out to the villages in twos. And the verse in Ecclesiastes 4:9, “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor.” I thought of the account of the beautiful friendship between David and Jonathon, Naomi and Ruth, Job had friends, Elisha and Elijah, Paul and Barnabas, and so many more. The Bible is rich in relationship examples that include people with people, not just people with God.
Sitting at home reading my bible and having my alone prayer time and thinking I’m being a good Christian by saying “I am content with just my relationship with Jesus” is NOT enough. That’s not what God created me for; He created us FOR relationship with him and with others! After reading those verses, I walked away feeling less guilty and even more intent on seeking relationships.
Again, I like the way Rich Lusk says it:
American spirituality often treats church community as a “tacked on” extra to a personal relationship with Jesus. In other words, we often act as if God alone is enough, and other Christians were quite unnecessary. “Quiet times,” in which the individual gets alone with God, have replaced the church’s corporate gathering as the pinnacle of spiritual growth. But the Bible points us in a different direction. Remember Adam: life alone with God is not the divine plan for us. God alone is not enough, in a profound sense. We must live in fellowship as one body with other believers if we are to grow and mature as God’s people.
What a blessed life we’ve been called to. I wholeheartedly believe we were made for relationship and in this independent driven society, we need to be proactive towards receiving and giving friendship.
And that’s why I’m openly talking about it. I am meeting more and more people who are moving around a lot, saying goodbye to too many people too many times, and they’re lonesome. If you’re in that boat, maybe you can be encouraged by the fact that you are not less of a Christian because of those feelings.
My take aways:
1. I’ll keep my focus on Christ, keep my attitude good, and not stop pursuing friendships.
2. I won’t let goodbyes stop me from making new friends. After saying goodbye to an entire community of friends in China, I was hesitant to start any new relationships. I was grieving and didn’t have the energy to start over. Then after 7 months of attending a church in our new community, we made the decision to leave and switch to a different one. I couldn’t even bring myself to say goodbye to those relationships we had made in that short time. I was just too burned out and lonely. When starting over in our new church, I was tempted to withdrawal and avoid people. I’m glad I pressed on and joined a small group which has enabled us to get to know others on a more personal basis which (I hope) will create a community that my heart longs for.
3. I won’t use Christian platitudes with my single friends who want a spouse without carefully thinking about them. Of course I will encourage them to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind,” but I’ll try to be careful not to make them feel like they are being less of a Christian for wanting a spouse.
4. I’ll think often of this verse: “Be still and know I am God.” While living in McBain for those few short months, that verse was painted on our bedroom wall. That verse has settled my anxious heart on more than one occasion. It has been awesome to just be still and know God has everything taken care of: I can trust Him for all things, even bringing community into my life again no matter how long it takes.
5. I’ll use social media in moderation. I’m not going to be one of those folks with a cell phone propped next to me while talking to you, glancing at it several times. You will always be my focus. I’m also not going to bash social media; it’s how I found a moms’ play group and it helped me remain sane during the long months of nursing an infant and not knowing anyone else in the neighborhood to socialize with! It can have a safe place in life—just going to be intentional about keeping it in its right place.
6. I’ll invite others over for a meal and offer hospitality whenever I can. My home is not perfect, my cooking even less so, and it’s not unusual for us to bring out the camping chairs and Rubbermaid tubs to make more room for hosting. I’ve had to remind myself it’s not about my stuff, my home, or my cooking; it’s all about you and us building a relationship. You are more important than me waiting for my home to be perfect before I host.
7. I’ll seek out the lonely. I’m praying that God will use me to encourage, uplift, and be a friend to those who are lonely.
Looking back has enabled me to move forward. To reassure myself that in spite of loneliness, I am right where I should be and that I am ultimately loved and cared for by God.