I love this time of year–the time between Halloween and Christmas, the time leading right up to Thanksgiving. It’s a time ripe with promise–the promise of joyful days ahead, of the holiday spirit swirling through the air, so tangible I can almost touch it, taste it, feel it. Before the long list of to-dos begin, and the untangling of lights long stored in the garage or attic or basement becomes priority on the checklist, there is a moment of quiet, silent anticipation.
But sometimes, though magical for many, the holiday season can be rife with sadness. According to a ValuePenguin survey from 2020, 7 out of 10 Americans report experiencing loneliness during the holidays, with 1 out of 10 reporting “severe” loneliness.
Yet loneliness isn’t unique to the holiday season. Loneliness can strike at many moments in life–as we transition through life phases, change jobs, move homes, grow out of and into various relationships, or grieve a loss. Loneliness seems to be a constant visitor along the path of life.
As a sophomore in college, just as the promise of the holidays was on the horizon, my dear friend’s mom simply never woke up. She went to bed as a seemingly healthy woman in her 40s and met Jesus. The grief threatened to swallow my friend whole, and we rallied around her the best we could to try to help her walk through the devastation. But there is a loneliness to grief that we could not touch, try as we might. One day, overwhelmed by the weight of her sorrow, my friend crawled into her bed and stayed there. For days. And then weeks. We tried to love on her, but we also respected her need to grieve her beloved mom. And yet, in the midst of that, a young future pastor crawled up into the bed beside her, to pray with her and talk with her and comfort her. He said something I have never forgotten - I have carried this with me as a refuge since that moment. When she expressed the weight of her loneliness in grief, the shroud she felt trapped in, he said simply, “Jesus was lonely. He walked in lonely places.” Luke 5:16 says, “But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” Mark 1:35-37 tells us, “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, He got up, went out, and made His way to a deserted place; and there He was praying. Simon and His companions searched for Him, and when they found Him, they said, ‘Everyone is looking for you.’” And in Matthew 14:13, “When Jesus heard about it, He withdrew from there by boat to a remote place to be alone.”
Consider, for a moment, the loneliness Jesus must have felt. He was, and is, the lone Savior of the world. He was, and is, the only human to be fully man and fully God. Imagine a 12-year-old who understood the Word of God better than any “wise” man around Him (being 12 is hard enough without that unusual gift!). He spent 40 nights of lonely agony being tempted in the desert. On the night He was betrayed, He was literally left alone as His disciples fell asleep, and eventually fell away altogether. He ALONE descended into hell. He ALONE rose from the dead. Jesus knows loneliness.
This truth is part of what helped my friend, little by little, get out of bed and move forward. This truth has carried me through many, many life transitions, and changes - through extremely lonely valleys (some of my own making) and even in the midst of a full, happy day. Jesus KNEW loneliness, and He understands it in a way none of us ever could.
As the holiday season approaches, and in the days to follow after their end, let us cling to our Rock, our Savior who understands and loves us exactly where we are with more compassion than we could ever imagine. He walked in lonely places so that He could walk beside us in ours, and He daily gives us the strength and words that we need to walk alongside those we serve as they wander through valleys of loneliness themselves, knowing that the story doesn’t end alone - it ends in a joyful reunion of all the saints, together forever praising our newborn King.
Rachel Abijay, Orange Lutheran High School