This is the continuation of a series I started two years ago and hope to finish throughout this year. Earlier posts can be found under “Changing My World – Notes to Self.” – Shelly
Look for a lonely heart.
Seek out the lonely. I have to give myself this directive. Set it down in writing … etch it into the stoney places of my heart.
Some lonely people scare me. The ones I’m thinking of aren’t just lonely, they are hurt … angry. It’s like they’ve wrapped barbed wire around their soul and if you get too close, they charge at you, screaming, “Back off or I’ll stick you full of holes”. I’m sad to admit that works on me. I don’t like anger. It comes from an ugly kind of loneliness that puts me on the run.
I remember a man, years ago, who came into my place of work. Friendly enough at first, he soon jabbed at me in terse little barks that locked up my heart. “You’re the the one in charge here! How did you not know about this?” “I’m really surprised you can’t answer this. It seems simple to me.”
His tone … abrasive … critical … cruel, even. I felt like a child. Stupid. Demoralized. How could I be so dumb? I found myself agreeing with him.
He doesn’t deserve excuses, but physical pain screamed from the way he hobbled through the door, leaning precariously forward on his cane, huffing like a bulldog climbing stairs.
I’m sure of emotional pain too.
His story told on him … the key players in his life were gone … dead … moved away … out of the picture for various reasons like divorce. There was a woman he was currently pursuing … but he was so much like a lost puppy chasing a disinterested person that it was uncomfortable to watch.
He’d hobble up the street and I’d freeze at the sight. How can I avoid him? Shut him down? Put him in his place? Those thoughts of self defense speed my heart rate … even now.
But was hiding from him the answer? Was it what I … who’d like to leave my spaces in this life in better condition than I found them … should do?
I’m working on this … still … today. There seems to be packs of mean little bulldogs strewn all over this world.
Stop seeing them as mean … see them as lonely. Don’t take it on myself to be their new best friend, but do be kind. Interrupt the loneliness for just a moment. Notice them. Be willing to listen.
It’s okay to stop them when they cross the line into rudeness. I’m not their punching bag. Boundaries are permitted … just don’t make mine out of barbed wire and snarls.
Don’t retaliate … don’t step into the dangerous waters of becoming a snapping bulldog myself. Then nobody wins.
I didn’t do it very well, but I did interrupt that first man’s loneliness a few times. Didn’t I see at least a bit of softening? Hear more pleases and thanks yous? Rejoice when he told me to pray for him for his surgery?
Not all lonely people are mean and reactive. Some lonely people isolate and withdraw. Others bump my shoulder in a crowded room. They’re just quieter … surrounded by people, yet still lonely inside.
Don’t overlook the quiet ones. Don’t assume they must be okay because they’re not acting out or they’re at least among people. If she is in my path, she just may be my “love-like-God-assignment” today … the assignment being to simply notice … simply connect.
Jesus did things like this … like He did with that woman at the well … there alone and lonely because her life choices left her rejected by other women.
Jesus interrupted her lonely escape from the judgment of others and asked her to help Him. How truly healing.
What a perfect way to encroach upon loneliness … by reminding her that though broken, she was still needed …. that sin and brokenness doesn’t mean the end of a story but is instead … quite possibly … the turning point of any and all stories.
Even with a stained heart and reputation there is hope. Not only did Jesus give her messed up, lonely life value and hope, He revealed Himself fully to her. It was something He rarely did, but He let her know that He was the promised Messiah. (The Gospel of John Chapter 4)
In her loneliness, through a small touch of human contact … she found her way to God Himself.
Maybe my encounters with lonely people are meant to shove me out of the picture all together and reveal, instead, what another may need most … an encounter with the love of Christ.