Are we truly alone in our struggles?
A dear friend who is well on in years has been bedridden and hospitalized for some months. She has led an incredibly active life, traveled to strange faraway places, met interesting people, learned at least three languages, has many friends and has a very strong faith. In one of my most recent visits she remarked in a plaintive voice, “Now I really know what loneliness is.” I was taken aback by that comment and it made me think about who and what we are. For this busy and active lady to really feel that way is itself remarkable. She is outgoing and has an active mind. She has a keen interest in many things and has friends all over North and South America. Now, though, she is going through the greatest health problem she has ever faced, is not able to walk and travel about as before and finds it hard to do much of anything. For months she has had time to think and to ponder—and come to realize that the trial she is experiencing is a path that she, and only she, must walk. She said she has never felt so alone in all of her life.
All of us have parents, siblings, relatives, and friends somewhere in our lives. Some are very close to us through association, where we live, and in the things we do. Still, we all come to realize that there are many times in our lives when we walk alone. A famous former prisoner of war, who had suffered torture and years of captivity, felt he had been broken when an understanding prisoner of war friend “told me I had fought as hard as I could—no man can always stand alone.” Winston Churchill said, “A solitary tree, if it grows at all, grows strong.” It is true that we face many trials and troubles during our lives, with others to aide or comfort us, as well as many successes and joyful occasions. We are in a crowd and we draw encouragement and strength from one another. We feel motivated and driven to accomplish things and we experience the synergy of a group. But although the support is present, we still walk a personal path of life that can make us feel we are alone. When one faces a trial such as this dear lady is facing, we can often feel as if we are all alone.
There are wise sayings in the Bible that God inspired humans to write who have lived through crises. One such set of verses tells us that two are better than one because they help each other. One keeps another warm and a threefold cord is not easily broken (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12). All of those points are important and correct. When we walk in a crowd we feel helped, supported, and protected, so life is better and easier. But the speed a group can travel at is reflected in the speed of the slowest member of the group. Each person has a responsibility, and if one fails the group suffers. What becomes clear is that there is a responsibility on each person to support the group, based on freedom of choice and ability. We all have a different understanding of what is right or wrong, true or false, or what may be helpful. Each person who walks this earth is unique and different. The dynamics of the crowd we are in are constantly in a state of flux. Sickness comes, values change and people age and die. We have no guarantee that we will walk with the same person at our side for the rest of our lives.
We walk alone
In one short paragraph of the Bible, Paul stated, “Bear one another’s burdens” and “…each one shall bear his own load” (Galatians 6:2, 5). That is what being alone in a crowd is about. We need one another, but there are many, many areas in our lives that are sacred to ourselves—no one is allowed to enter. To list a few: we think, learn, develop our own habits, pray, fight our own inner battles, fight disease and sickness, suffer pain, breathe, walk through life on paths we choose, have our own concept of God, know what our sins are and bear them, face loneliness or fear, and die alone. We may have many friends, relatives, and people who care about us and want to help. But we are often in positions where they cannot help and they have their own loads to carry.
When God created Adam, He stated that it is not good that a man should be alone, so He created Eve (Genesis 2:18). Even though they were very close, they were not completely one. Adam spoke as though they were (Genesis 2:23), but when Satan enticed Eve, she alone was enticed. Adam failed in doing his part, too, but they fell one after the other—not together. Just like Adam and Eve, we face God alone.
There are some stories about being in a crowd and yet being alone that may help us grasp this concept. The woman who was brought before Christ after being caught in adultery was alone in a crowd. After Jesus wrote in the sand, He was alone and the crowd evaporated (John 8:9-10). A person who has the incredible ability that Jesus possessed and who carries himself with authority is one who is almost always alone. People may come and be “hangers-on” but no more than that. Often those who God called directly into His service felt alone among those they came to serve.Abel, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Samuel, David, and Elijah (1 Kings 19:10) are only a few examples of those who came before Christ. Later, Paul was another and in a sense so were each of the disciples. Paul was given a specific set of instructions from God that included suffering (Acts 9:15-16). Paul would carry that burden alone. Peter was another to whom Jesus outlined a death that was unique (John 21:19). These were paths on which Paul and Peter would walk alone. They all had the prayers of others with them but no one could take their burdens.
There is One who will never leave us
Jesus Christ had a unique calling and a unique life. He was not understood by many of His own family and followers. He had nowhere to lay His head (Matthew 8:20). He was not supported by His “crowd” when He told them He would be taken and killed (Mark 14:27-31). Jesus knew His mission in life. Like all of us, He had to walk His path alone. True, He had loving followers and friends—but they could not take His place. There were times when they forsook Him (Matthew 26:56). No doubt Jesus felt this loneliness strongly. He knew what was in each man (John 2:24-25). Still, He also knew that He was not entirely alone. Jesus always knew that God the Father was with Him (John 8:16, John 8:29). Jesus also mentioned that He was not alone because He always did the things that pleased God. Still, God could not die for Jesus—Jesus had to die alone. Even in a crowd of angels and friends, witnesses to His loving Heavenly Father, Jesus felt so alone that He cried out in anguish, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46). God promises He will never leave us and Jesus made the same promise (Hebrews 13:5). God was with and in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:19). God is with and in us through His Holy Spirit. But we are responsible for our choices and actions. That is why there are consequences and penalties (and rewards). We may feel forsaken or wonder where God is in the midst of our struggles, but He is always there.
When Paul felt forsaken, he remembered the Lord stood with him and strengthened him (2 Timothy 4:17). Being alone does not mean we do not gain strength from God or those around us. It means our mind experiences the pain, sorrow or joy, fear or confidence, based upon our thoughts and all that we have become in life. All of us walk alone before God, though we are among others. The firstfruits are a crowd, but it is individuals who make the crowd. We will stand before Him alone in judgment (Matthew 12:36). Being alone is part of being human. It is part of learning to trust God. Understanding this lesson can give us strength and courage above what we think we can have. We are always in the sight of a crowd of angels and of God the Father and Son, as well as among crowds of humans in our lives. Still there are paths that you and I must walk alone and we may feel that loneliness to the point of feeling forsaken. Although we walk alone, many eyes are watching and voices are encouraging us. When we have a strong faith and confidence in God, we are able to do much more than we can imagine because of the power that works in us (Ephesians 3:12, Ephesians 3:20). Walk boldly, for God walks at your side.
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