June 17, 2018
The Outsiders: The Lonely
– Carla Wilks
Have you ever felt utterly alone? Even for just a moment? Imagine the widow who has lost both husband and son. The pain must be almost unbearable and yet, Jesus says “do not weep.” Loneliness happens for many reasons and can create feelings of isolation, even in the midst of a crowd.
In this story of Jesus’ ministry – Luke gives us some important information. He tells us that she’s a widow, and that this was her only son. He is giving us this detail in order for us to understand how difficult her situation is. Her husband and now her son have both died.
Without a husband and now without any son to support her, which at the time was a necessity for survival, it is very likely that she is now or will soon be financially destitute. Luke’s shaping of the story suggests that her sole means of support has been taken from her. The reality of widows in the ancient world is life-threatening at worst, miserable most of the time. A concern for assisting widows throughout the Bible stems from their dire need. Jesus understands this and has compassion
I imagine she would have had a whole lot of emotions when she was living this reality. She would feel the grief of losing the two people she loved most in her life. Her feelings of grief would be significant. She would also feel the fear and anxiety of her pending financial uncertainty. It would have been scary for her to not know how she was going to support herself – how would she feed herself and keep a roof over her head? And – I think she would feel loneliness – no longer having the physical presence of the ones she loved by her side.
In this story – Jesus has compassion for her – he can see where her life is headed and then heals the son, saving the woman from the grief, the fear and the loneliness that she might feel.
Loneliness comes in many forms – as in this story, it can happen as an accompaniment to grief when we miss the physical presence of someone from our lives and from our routines. Loneliness can set in when we begin to have to do those normal, routine things by ourselves.
Loneliness also can happen as a result of social isolation. Last week I received a phone call from a friend of mine who experienced this in an extreme way. He was calling me from the mental health unit at the hospital, where he had been admitted the night before. I’m the closest thing he has to family, so I’m the one he called. As I talked to him this week on our visits, he spoke about how lonely and isolated he had been feeling and that he got to the point that he could not bear to continue feeling that way. For him, the worse he felt, the more he withdrew, and the more he withdrew, the worse he felt. Thankfully once he got to the breaking point, he realized he needed help and could not manage it alone. I visited him after work each day this week, and I was telling him about our theme this week, of the Lonely – and he gave me permission to share some of his experience. Yesterday he had a pass and he went home to get a few things. I met him there because he realized that I had his apartment key. When we were in his apartment, the feelings of loneliness and isolation came flooding back to him, and he said that he was feeling like he was physically being choked just by being in the room. He just kept repeating over and over, I need to get out of here and back to the hospital.
Since he has been in the hospital, he told me that he has found the social interaction in the hospital to be so helpful for him. Even though the people he has met in there are suffering in a significant way, like he is, he has found community. There are people around all the time when he wants to talk to them. Through their shared experience he has been able to connect with people there in ways that he has not been able to in his day-to-day life. It struck me that when he was at his lowest point, and felt so alone, it was in the most unexpected place, the mental health unit, that he found the community that he so desperately needed.
I was talking to another friend this week about this topic, and she told me that her mom always said that her most lonely time in life was after her dad’s funeral. Between his death and the funeral, they had meals prepped for them, and people stopping to check on them. Their house was full.
At the funeral, everyone said to her mom, “let me know if you need anything,” gave them hugs and walked away.
And after, she said that they barely heard from most of those people. Going back to a routine, while finding her new sense of normal, not having her dad there, not needing to take care of him, really hit her hard, and even with people telling her they were there if she needed them, she felt completely alone. It’s hard to reach out in those times, too.
Loneliness does not just happen when we are alone though. We can be in a room full of people or a house full of people and still feel lonely if our specific needs are not being met in that environment or we are feeling overwhelmed.
On my commute from my home in Burnaby to work, I listen to audio books. Usually it is a mystery novel, but this week it was a book that my sister recommended to me called Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton. It was the story of one woman’s journey to knowing herself and all her struggles along the way. Not my typical commute read, but my sister’s book suggestions to me are usually good ones, so I gave it a try. I was really struck by this one section that took me back to a time when I was home with my kids, when they were babies. I certainly had days when I felt what she describes here as a mom of young kids. She writes:
“How was my day? Today has been a lifetime. It was the best of times and the worst of times. There were moments when my heart was so full I thought I might explode, and there were other moments when my senses were under such intense assault that I was CERTAIN I’d explode. I was both lonely and absolutely desperate to be alone. I was saturated — just BOMBARDED with touch and then the second I put down this baby I yearned to smell her sweet skin again. I was simultaneously bored out of my skull and completely overwhelmed with so much to do. Today was too much and not enough. It was loud and silent. It was brutal and beautiful. I was at my very best today and then, just a moment later, at my very worst.”
I want you to take just a moment now, and think about a time when you or someone you are close to felt lonely. During that time of loneliness, what was it that brought you out of those feelings? Who had compassion on you?
What did they do to make you feel less lonely?
In today’s scripture we know that Jesus has compassion on the widow and brings her son to life. Jesus knows this pain and raises us up to be comfort for one another. How are we called to rise up and comfort the lonely? Who in our society and in our lives are the equivalent to the widow of this story? The widow was a powerless woman, without an advocate, and first thing that Jesus did was to notice and acknowledge her. She was an outsider, a normally invisible woman in society and Jesus ‘sees’ her. Jesus shows her God’s unconditional love for her and shows her that she is not alone.
“Seeing” people into our own reality and showing compassion as a result of that sight is what we as followers of Jesus’ way are called to do. We can do this by just listening, by spending time with a friend in need, by reaching out a helping hand or a generous smile, by making a phone call that we have been putting off making or even by inviting a friend to church with us. Whatever it may be and however you may do it, you are extending God’s love and welcome to someone in need, someone who is an outsider.
So this week, the practice that you are invited to participate in is to seek out someone that you know that could benefit from a little bit more ‘you’ in their life right now. You can choose a card from the basket and a tea bag from the other one. One of the cards is for if the person you have in mind is far away – and you can mail this to them. The other is one you can take with you to invite someone for tea.