Saturday, March 26, 2016

The Long, Lonely Road

As I have fought and struggled with feelings of loneliness, I have questioned, "What is the purpose of the pain and suffering that so many of us feel from lost or non-existanting relationships?" I have wondered, "Am I having this experience because I need to learn to like being alone?

I have concluded that loneliness is not completely bad.  It can give us opportunities for personal growth and to reach out and serve others in ways that I don't think we do when we are busy with lots of personal relationships.  Loneliness can push us out of our comfort zone and can help us to look beyond ourselves with new found empathy.

But ultimately, what if the purpose of loneliness is to teach us something completely else?

What if loneliness is to teach us NOT to prefer to be alone?  What if loneliness is to teach us to finally be able to set aside personal differences and intolerances so that we can be in better relationships in the future?

The more I think about it, the more I believe that being alone is very contrary to our nature. Babies naturally opposed it.  They want to be swaddled, snuggled and embraced.  In fact babies who are void of loving contact can even cease to thrive and die.  We need our connection with others.  We crave it and desire to be deeply understood.  Yet this life experience is fraught with periods of loneliness .

Despite this deep internal desire, often it is the very things within our character that push us away from others. As we grow, our image of self emerges, and we struggle to find a balance between our desires and the desires of others.  Through experience we find that we cannot find happiness by fulling our own personal desires alone.  As much as we desire independence, the truth is, if we want to have loving relationships that fulfill our needs, we need to learn to be interdependent.

That means making personal sacrifices for the good of others that we care about.

As we struggle and feel loneliness, those feelings can increase our desire to not only have companionship again, but to be better companions ourselves.   Our losses can compel us to make changes that allow our cherished relationships to become even stronger.  Many have heard the phrase, "Absence makes the heart grow fonder." Suffering, if honed for that purpose, can help our hearts expand in their capacity to feel and express love.  In turn we become more patient, forgiving and long-suffering toward others.

Loneliness can not only improve our ability to have better relationship with people, but it can help us desire to be closer to God.  When we separate ourselves from Him through disobedience and selfishness, tI believe the loss we feel is loneliness for His presence in our lives.  That loneliness also can compel us to change, to repent and be more obedient.

Ultimately I believe our souls are lonely for God and our relationship with Him.  Like prodigal sons we all eventually come to ourselves and miss home.  We miss and long to be back with Him and that is the incentive we need to reclaim that relationship.

As it is Easter Sunday tomorrow, I have been thinking of the loneliness that Christ felt in his last days.  In His most difficult hour, one by one all of his support system left Him.  Falling on his face in prayer, he was "sorrowful unto death," and surprised by the intensity of feelings enhanced by the withdrawal of his friends and then finally His Father. Crying with feelings of loneliness and pain, He asked, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" Never before had Christ felt the absence of His Father's presence. Having been perfectly obedient, He had always enjoyed that comfort. Yet to be able to succor us, He had to experience what we feel when we personally disconnect ourselves from God.

Despite the pain Christ persevered.  He held on and overcame.  His faith propelled Him through this intense experience, and in so doing He gained the power to be able to help each of us through our own struggles with loneliness, personal sin, and tragedy.   His example gives me courage and it gives me strength to try to do the same. With His help I know that is possible.

Even when we feel alone, we can remember that Christ promised to not leave us alone.  Although the Father withdrew His presence from His Son for a moment, I do not believe He was very far away.  He did it just for long enough that Christ could push through the finish line and grab the prize. Exerting all of the faith within Him, in final triumph He proclaimed, "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit." (Luke 23:46)

We must do likewise in out moments of struggle.  We must push forward in faith and put ourselves in the hands of God.  In so doing we will find our own prize of expanded hearts.

"One of the great consolation of the Easter season is that because Jesus walked such a long, lonely path utterly alone, we do not have to do so.  His solitary journey brought great company for our little version of that path- the merciful care of our Father in Heaven, the unfailing companionship of this Beloved son, the consulate gift of the Holy Ghost, angels in heaven, family members on both sides of the veil, prophets, and apostles, teachers, leaders, friends. All of these and more have been given as companions for our mortal journey because of the Atonement of Jesus Christ and His gospel.  Trumpeted from the summit of Calvary is the trust that we will never be left alone nor unaided, even if sometimes we may feel that we are.  Truly the Redeemer of us all said:"I will not leave you comfortless: [My Father and] I will come to you [and abide with you]." (John 14:18,23) - Jeffery R Holland
I will choose to let my loneliness school my desires.  I will choose to let it draw me closer to Him.  What will you let life's difficult experiences do for you?

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

To Save My Life

This morning I was making cookies and listening to a new book on tape. A story from that book spoke to me in such a deep and profound way. The author tells of a young pioneer girl being rescued from a stranded handcart company trying to go west far too late in the season. They had suffered immensely, starvation, exposure, and even death. The rescuers brought food and clothing, but they did not have the wagons to carry all of the surviving handcart members. Anyone who was able was required to walk next to the wagons carrying the sick. Several of the children decided to run in an attempt to get invited to ride in a wagon. One by one the children dropped out, and one girl remained determined in her course. The wagon driver asked her if she wanted a ride. When she replied yes, he took her hand, but instead swinging her up into the wagon, he signaled for the horses to speed up. A little confused, she ran for what she described as several miles, and in the running she thought for sure that this driver was the meanest person that she had ever met. Then just as her strength was about to give out, he scooped her up in a blanket, all warm from her exertion, and settled her into the base of the wagon. Later she realized that this driver had saved her from freezing; he had saved her life.

The story brought tears to my eyes as I saw myself as that little girl, running with all the strength I could muster, feeling for certain that any moment my legs were going to give out, wondering why He doesn't just pick me up and put me in the wagon. Then just as clearly as I saw that picture in my mind I heard words to accompany it, "I'm making you run to save your life."

Rarely has such a simple phrase so deeply impressed my heart, and I began to sob right there in my kitchen with my hands covered in cookie dough. Finally an answer, when I have been struggling, feeling so very inadequate and tired. A purpose to my running.

Why is it when we have already been knocked down that sometimes additional adversity comes? Why is it even when we are determined to do good and right, that we feel that we are being made to run to the point of exhaustion while others may ride in the wagon?

We hear the phrase, "Life isn't fair," and that supposed to make us feel better about injustices and inequality. But maybe "fair" isn't the point. Maybe God sees in us something He can cultivate, something that's worth extra expenditure of energy to achieve, and so He pushes us. He pushes us even though we want to give up, even though we may think He is mean. He pushes us right to our breaking point, so that we can see what we are made of, so that He can bring out something that may very well save our life in a spiritual sense.

That was my answer today, and it gave me some hope. It gave me a reason to refocus my running, to not think about giving up. Someday, He may scoop me up and let me ride for time in the wagon, but there will be additional hardships ahead. The journey is far from over. He knows that I'm not done running. So each of these experiences He gives me strengthens me, keeping me warm and ready for the next run.

Today I see a little bit more purpose in my suffering. If I can just keep this picture and feeling in my heart, the running will be so much easier. So I share this with you today, in hopes that it will create in you, you're own little vision, your own hope, your own feeling of purpose to the adversity you are facing. Don't drop out! Don't stop running, the running is what will save your life.

Questions To Ponder:

How is persevering through your trials making you a better person?

Story from Hafen, Bruce C. "A Contrite Spirit."