Guest Blog by Elise Karis (with Janet Aucoin)
“Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted.” (Psalm 25:16).
Can you relate to the feelings David expressed in this Psalm? I certainly can! During the social distancing guidelines that have been established as a result of COVID-19, loneliness has snuck into my heart as an unwelcome visitor.
We were created by God for community and fellowship. Throughout Scripture we see how God intends for us to live as one body of believers and experience life together. When the physical gatherings were halted, it changed the ways we currently relate and experience life together. These changes have created a newfound loneliness for many of our brothers and sister in Christ.
Maybe you’re a student who is now finishing the school year from home — you didn’t have the opportunity to say year-end goodbyes and now you’re unable to stay as connected with your friends. Maybe you’re parenting alone — your support systems have changed drastically and your community isn’t as easy to connect with. Maybe you’re a single adult (like me!) — the lack of interactions with others means the time you have alone has increased greatly. Maybe you’re a faithful servant — you may now be unable to use the gifts God has given you in the same ways and are eagerly awaiting the opportunity to go meet needs and serve again.
Where is God in all of this? Surely He hasn’t forgotten us in these hard times! So, what is He trying to do in our hearts and lives? What is He trying to teach us?
God alone is my refuge
Whatever your situation, whatever degree of loneliness you may be wrestling with, believers can find our hope and comfort in the fact that God will never leave us, He will never forsake us, and absolutely nothing can separate us from Him. He is ever-present in our lives. He wants us to pray boldly and authentically in our weaknesses and loneliness.
Jesus demonstrated an authentic prayer in Mark 15:34, “At the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” which is translated, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” Jesus understood loneliness on a deeper level than we will ever have to feel. Jesus Christ willingly endured separation from God the Father and true loneliness so that we would not have to face this life truly alone. Friends, what hope that brings!
Jesus understands and sympathizes with our loneliness and trials. If we have trusted in Christ as Savior and Lord, we can once again look to the cross and know that we are not truly alone, though at times we definitely feel the pain of being alone and separated from our community.
I believe one of the ways God is using this isolating time is to draw us nearer to Himself. This is a sweet opportunity to lean into our Savior – to grow in our knowledge of Him and to deepen our faith as we seek to trust Him more fully with all of life’s changes and disappointments.
Personally, this isolation has really intensified the feelings of loneliness in my life. As a result, I have (imperfectly) sought to kill the lie that I am alone by embracing God’s Word, reminding myself of God’s promises that He is with me (Psalm 145:18) and that nothing, including a world pandemic, could separate me from Him (Romans 8:38-39). A lot around me has changed, but He hasn’t. He is the same faithful God I read about in Scripture. Additionally, with the help of great reading resources, I have been using this time to develop a deeper prayer life. I have specifically been growing in lament (Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy), because let’s face it, this pandemic has resulted in loss, unfulfilled longings (Dealing with Unfulfilled Longings), and disappointments. It’s vital to be evaluating my heart to determine where I’m placing my hope, and then taking all of that to the One who loved me enough to experience true loneliness so I wouldn’t have to.
Loneliness isn’t the only intensified struggle that I’ve been wrestling through during this quarantine. To spare you the details of my ugly flesh, let’s suffice it to say that the idols of my heart have been surfacing what feels like every two minutes (if there are even a full 120 seconds in between). Instead of giving into prideful thoughts where I’m telling myself I shouldn’t be wrestling with these things or giving into self-pity, despair, or you fill in the blank, I must recognize this as God’s grace. He is revealing areas I need to change and opportunities to grow, just as I’m sure He’s revealing these same things in your life, too.
If the goal is to look more like Christ, why would we fight that? He could let us stay miserable in our sin and continue chasing after these futile, unsatisfying idols, but in His grace, He is revealing them to us. Even though it’s humbling and often painful, it’s such a good thing. We need to recognize this as a gift from our Father. Since we don’t have the distractions, which can even include the God-honoring activities we participate in outside of social distancing, we are forced to look at these idols, repent, and actively fight to put the flesh to death.
When I see my sinful flesh and wrestle with the loneliness, it provides me an even greater gratitude for the fact that God has chosen me to be His forever. He knew exactly how I’d fight against this isolation, and He still chose me. How humbling it is. How thankful I am. And how gracious is our Father.
If it’s through the loneliness and exposure of idols that God is going to grow me in this quarantine, I want to humbly submit to His plan with open hands so my relationship with Him can grow to new levels of trust and dependence on Him. I don’t NEED all the wonderful people God has brought into my life. I don’t NEED the activities He’s allowed me to be a part of. I don’t NEED freedom to go where I want when I want. I do NEED Jesus. And He is still here with me, with you, in the middle of this quarantine. Jesus is enough. Is that the tune your heart is singing through these challenging weeks?
Grow in Gratitude
As I see my own heart more and more, with all of its ugliness, and God’s unrelenting love – I’m drawn to gratitude. Yes, even in the loneliness. That’s the turning point. Will I continue to focus on what I lack right now or will I use this season to grow in gratitude fo so many undeserved blessings?
Because Jesus was separated from His Father, I never will be!
Because of Jesus, I can BOLDLY approach the throne of grace for mercy and help!
I have a wonderful roommate and puppy who are keeping me company!
I have special friends who stay in contact in some way daily!
Because of the work and faithfulness of my pastors, worship and tech teams, I’m able to continue gathering with my church family virtually. This has been a sweet reminder that we are still a church body and that even while we are physically distanced, we can rejoice together that the tomb is empty.
Loneliness doesn’t win, COVID-19 doesn’t win… Jesus has already won.
Though painful at times, I am thankful for the ways the Lord has been using this isolating time to draw us nearer to Himself. The loneliness may not fade and our idols will certainly continue to be revealed, so if the Lord is going to use this time of social distancing to deepen our relationships with Him and transform us more into the image of Christ, let’s echo Psalm 119:71 and Romans 8:28, trusting that this is for our good!