As human beings we are primarily relational, social, beings but I hope that you also welcome and treasure time alone. And though being alone can sometimes be lonely, I hope you realize that, in God, you are never truly alone.
The late Dutch psychiatrist, J. H. van den Berg, once stated: “Loneliness is the nucleus of psychiatry, the central core of patient illness.” Whether an elderly grandmother abandoned in a dirty and mismanaged nursing home, a fifth grade boy with a birth defect that limits his physical abilities and looks, a middle aged woman who found her identity in motherhood but whose children have grown and moved away, a high school girl whose reputation has been smeared by internet manipulation of cruel classmates, or a young man just diagnosed with deadly cancer, there are many souls living in our midst that feel abandoned. When The Beatles sang of the graveyard scene in which Father McKenzie buries Eleanor Rigby and nobody else was there or when R.E.M. crooned about how everybody hurts and needs to just hang on, they lament all the lonely people and how each of us, on occasion, find ourselves at the nucleus of emotional pain. At those times it seemed that nobody else was there.
The worldly reality is that, even in crowded places surrounded by throngs of others who experience similar emotions that exist at the central core of psychiatry, we suffer times of loneliness. But those who believe and have faith in the God who created us, redeemed us, and sanctifies us now, also submit to an “other-worldly reality” that reminds us that we are never alone. Because of this, we are able to seek and often find comfort in the divine presence. God knows that many of us turn to Him as a last resort. Though I suspect He wishes that we would turn to Him as a first instinct, too, He understands the loneliness that causes us to cry out in abandoned desperation.
Saint Francis de Sales, in a famous prayer, wants us to know that God is always there to guide us or guard us: “Either (He) will shield me from suffering or give me the unfailing strength to bear it.” Similarly, Thomas Merton professes: “(God) will never leave me to face my perils alone.” Yet often, like Jesus’ primordial cry from Calvary’s cross, we feel like we have been left alone, abandoned and forsaken. In Oriah Mountain Dreamer’s daring prayer entitled, “The Invitation,” the Native American spiritualist challenges us to realize that in that state of “aloneness” we sit in the presence of something much more profound: “I want to know what sustains you from the inside when all else falls away. I want to know if you can be alone with yourself and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments…” It is when we are totally alone and feeling forsaken that we come to know ourselves more profoundly and we come to accept or reject that we and God are one. If we can embrace those empty moments, we can also embrace the truth of our existence which is inseparable from creation, redemption, and, ultimately, salvation.
From students that have been targeted to helpless centenarians who think they have lived too long to young cancer victims who will die too soon to those who have lost meaning and feel abandoned in a crowded universe, we may all benefit from such prayers that reflect upon the company we keep in our emptiness. And we would do well to contemplate how blest we are when spending time alone with God.