As Christmas break approached and I started saying, “see you in a month,” to people, I was struck with an all too familiar feeling of anxiety. I knew where this anxiety was coming from. It was coming from the knowledge that for roughly four weeks I would be away from my community, or as my heart has come to know them, the people who push me, teach me, learn from me, pray with me, sing with me, love me, and walk beside me as I walk beside Jesus. My anxiety was the anticipation of what was sure to be loneliness. I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels pang of nervousness when stepping away from the people you count on, even if it’s just for a few weeks, but in those first few days of the loneliness of Christmas break I did not reach out to anyone in our community. Actually, I still haven’t reached out, because I have three months worth of experience in isolation under my belt that I’m thankfully aware of how to combat.
If you’ve talked to me for more than five minutes in the last three months, you know that I spent my summer in China, and it was one of the most difficult experiences of my existence (so far). It was difficult simply because I made the decision to go by myself, was therefore the only American there for the majority of the time, and I had no one to talk to. I spent three months being able to truly communicate with two people at the most (lots of people spoke English, but the language barrier was significantly larger than you’d probably expect), and I kept in contact with very few people in the states (time differences are the worst). For three months I lived inside my head, and even though I’m quite the introvert (so I spend most of my time in my head anyways) it was excruciating and exhausting. Oh, and do you want to know how many Christians I met there? One. And I met her on a day trip to another city, so I only got to spend a few hours talking to her. And do you know how many people wanted to hear/talk about God, or anything deep for that matter? Zero. I was plucked from a warm, caring, loving community, and placed in what felt like a cold, spiritually dry, lonely place. For the fist few weeks I dreaded going to work where no on would talk to me, and I equally dreaded coming back to my apartment where I was completely alone, and there was no one to talk to. One especially painfully lonely night (I remember it very clearly and I have my journal to aid my memory), I was reading my Bible and I came across Isaiah 42:16:
“And I will lead the blind in a way that they do not know, in paths that they have not known I will guide them. I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground. These are the things I do, and I do not forsake them.”
I felt God speak to me in that moment through His own words. I was very much, in a way, blindly living in China, but God guided me. I felt God changing my darkness to light. Not once did I feel forsaken by Him. He brought me there, I now believe, to be alone with him; or even to learn how to love him and know him in loneliness, and know that I’m never alone no matter how or what I feel. I would go as far as to say that my relationship with God would not have the kind of muscles it has now if I hadn’t gone to China by myself. My mornings were spent with God, my breaks at work were spent with God, and my evenings were spent with God. He was the only company I had in China (minus some FaceTimes, shout out to Blythe and Al). The only thing that made me sad about God being my only company was that it took me that long to realize the kind of company He is: comfort, peace, joy. I knew that God is supposed to be all these things from what I’ve read in the Bible, but I didn’t know for myself what it was like to experience all of them. For the first time I felt strong and able, not because I had a community supporting me (even though I know you all were), but because I was finally turning to God for support. I was finally turning to Him and His Word for all the things I needed. I wouldn’t know what it meant to truly rely on Him if he hadn’t so lovingly isolated me.
This is a tale to tell because I don’t think, I know that there is eternal value in being away from your community if you steward that time well. Read and memorize scripture in your solitude, pray and pray and pray in your solitude, listen in your solitude, fast in your solitude, and praise in your solitude. The strength backing up my relationship with God was built in doing all of those things alone with God. Jesus time and time again retreated to quiet places to be alone with God and pray to his father; he also studied and memorized scripture and gives us an example of why that is so important in Matthew 4:1-11 (give it a look). If Jesus is the one we’re choosing to follow, these too have to be examples we all mimic. So I’m going to challenge everyone in our community for the rest of break be diligent in reading/memorizing scripture, be diligent in praying, be diligent in listening, be diligent in fasting, be diligent in praise, be diligent in spending time alone with our God. Yes, we were created for companionship with one another, but we were created for companionship with God first. This is the reason that even as I sit at home in an empty house over Christmas break with no one to read scripture with, pray with, or sing with, I’m going to do them anyways and know that loneliness is not the reality, because God is with me. We’re all in the same boat being away from community right now, and for some of you that’s going to mean taking time off from praying, reading the Bible, spending time with God, etc., but I want to encourage you to do the opposite of that. Don’t take time off from those things, but add time to those things every day, and watch your head and heart knowledge of God grow.
Jeremiah 29:13 “You will seek me and find me if you seek with all your heart.”