"And he said to them, 'Come away by yourselves to a lonely place, and rest a while.' For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat." - Mark 6:31
If you continue to read the rest of the story in Mark chapter 6, you will find that the only rest they received was their boat ride from one shore to the other. The people they had been serving followed them, and out of compassion Jesus would not turn them away. In the midst of the disciples' need to rest, Jesus called them to give of themselves. Because they trusted Him, miraculous things happened.
But what was the original intention? "Come away to a lonely place..." A lonely place. Most of us would rather be frantically busy than lonely. We can hardly bear to be in silence for more than a minute, let alone feel the pangs of loneliness. The only way we can think to avoid loneliness all the time is to is to drown ourselves in everything else. Even then, we find ourselves dissatisfied - or in a fetal position surrounded by empty containers of comfort food.
You see, loneliness is a human condition.
I still remember the interior cringe and near defiance I felt when I first heard that statement several years ago. A "human condition" isn't temporary. It is not something that goes away. It is part of who we are as human beings. We cannot ever really escape it.
As many of us have, I had spent my whole life up to that point trying to find a "cure" for loneliness. The last thing I wanted to hear was that it does not go away even when I have "finally found" my vocation or the right job or whatever it was I was looking for - even when in the midst of a deep relationship with Christ.
But wasn't Jesus supposed to take away the loneliness? If I am really living His will each day, shouldn't I be satisfied? Why wouldn't God fill the void? Isn't that kind of His whole purpose?
But is that His whole purpose? Is God in existence simply to make me comfortable and make my life pleasant and suffering-free?
I think I have something backwards.
God didn't come into existence to make me happy, like a fairy godmother. As a matter of fact, HE existed FIRST and ALWAYS (something that we can sometimes forget in a culture that believes Christmas will disappear forever if we all stop believing in Santa). And my reason for being here is not to be comfortable and pain-free. God did not create me so that He could make all of my wishes come true in this life, but that I might be with Him forever in the next.
And that's why, in truth, loneliness is a gift.
"What?! Are you crazy?!"
Loneliness is God's bat-signal on the clouds that cries, "You were made for more than this!"
It might sound that way. But loneliness is kind of like God's calling card. It's so easy to get caught up in the day-to-day joys and sorrows of just being a human, that sometimes we forget that this world is only a temporary dwelling place. Loneliness is God's bat-signal on the clouds that cries, "You were made for more than this!" It draws our attention to the reality of something beyond what we currently experience, and in a strange way, gives us hope that the best is yet to come.
Loneliness is a human condition. And praise God that it is! It is a gift that can give our lives direction if we let it. It is capable of pointing us up and out of ourselves, and even up and out of this world if we let God meet us in the midst of it. Self pity can cripple us, and trying to fill the loneliness without Christ will only make our hearts sick. But if we invite the God who made us for Himself into the void, it can become a place of healing.
In the quiet stillness of Advent, as we wait for the coming of the Savior, may we not run away or try to drown out the loneliness of our hearts, but instead let that loneliness be the place where we make room to welcome the infant Christ, who is our hope and salvation.
Pause for a moment. Listen. Hear the Lord speak to your heart this Advent, "Come away to a lonely place..." and go meet Him there.