I spent the last two days largely alone. I thought I liked being alone but this was different. Waking alone, eating alone, wiling away a sunny day alone, spending the evening alone, hitting the hay alone… None of these are things I haven’t done alone before but this felt different, like a foreshadowing of lonely days to come–of an empty nest, of noone needing me, of endless discretionary time to manage, yet without a clear objective. But this post is not about garnering sympathetic advice for a case of pre-empty nest syndrome. Something else caught my attention in my aloneness. Just this, that I never feel entirely alone, and that’s what makes being by myself tolerable and even enjoyable. The knowing that God is very much with me, always, makes all the difference. At least it has in the past.
But this time there was a difference. Rather than luxuriating in some time to myself, and sweet opportunity for fellowship with my Father, I found this niggling sense of shame going on in the backdrop of my mind—even reinforced with Scripture—like: “Love your neighbor as yourself”. Hmm… do you? What would that look like? Nevermind, you’re clearly too selfish. Look at so and so, what he did for that other widow lady… why don’t you ever do things like that? You’re so selfish—should be ashamed of yourself. How can you pretend to be walking in fellowship with the Father when you’re obviously bringing no credit to His Kingdom? What are you doing anyway?! Nothing but your own business, thinking about your own household, enjoying yourself when other people are lonely…
OK, so it looks like accusation when I spell it all out here, certainly condemnation. Unfortunately I didn’t take time to spell it out while it was going on and it certainly wasn’t THIS obvious, just a subtle undertow of my being ‘bad’, disobedient to the Word, and therefore presumptuous to pretend that I could just walk through the day in happy fellowship with the Father. This dull nagging undertow squelched my enthusiasm for being alone. (After all, being completely alone is more like the definition of hell than of serenity!) Mind you, there was no particular aspect of disobedience or any obvious action that I was balking at taking. Just a sense of my not measuring up and therefore not having a right to enjoy the Father’s fellowship. Bummer.
The day passed productively in other respects. Got all sorts of bookwork done and all manner of weeds whacked! And before ‘lights out’ I made these points in my prayer journal:
1) Maybe I don’t like being alone that much after all, but this day has given me greater empathy for some sisters in Christ who live this way much of the time.
2) Yes, I’ve been feeling guilty about my lonely neighbor. What would loving her as myself look like, Lord? Yes, I’m selfish besides, but selfish can get lonely.
3) I truly don’t want to live in disobedience (can’t stand this alienated feeling!) no matter whether it’s due to fear or indecision or plain old selfishness. Show me what to do, not merely to assuage guilt but to love as You love me, because it’s what I’m designed for!
And so the day ended. No brilliant insights. No clear-cut strategy for loving my neighbor better. Nothing to show I was heard, but I was. Strike one for my wily foe.
I found myself in Ephesians the following morning, ironically, praying for my kids to realize who they are and whose they are and to learn to walk in a manner worthy of their calling. Ha! I see in retrospect that the prayer time was as much for me as for them! Here clearly drawn out is the antidote to accusations of unworthiness. I paraphrase:
You WERE dead in sin, walking like the rest of the world, following the prince of the power of the air
(who currently works in the disobedient),
living according to your own passions–
your mental and physical desires,
“by nature children of wrath”.
BUT GOD MADE YOU ALIVE, seated you in the heavenlies! You’ve been saved from death and its lifestyle
as a gift from God,
created afresh for good works
that God prepared ahead of time for you to walk in… (Eph.2)
The passage goes on reminding the Ephesians (and me) where they’ve come from—once enemies, strangers, outsiders to God’s covenant—but that they are now RECONCILED, fellow citizens with the saints, members of the household of God, part of the ‘holy temple’ God is building to dwell in!
There’s not a hint of accusation, or of implication that these believers are sub-standard Christians and ought to be ashamed of themselves. They are ‘called out’ ones, chosen ones, alive, reconciled, belonging to God’s own household! Any word to the contrary is nothing more than a delusion from the prince of this world preying on the child who feels unworthy, for whatever reason. So this is where I stand. Selfish? Yes. Unloving at times? That too. But reconciled to God and seated in the heavenlies, very much alive, without cause to hang my head or avoid His gaze. I am no longer a child deserving His wrath. Strike two for my accuser.
Then comes that glorious prayer! (I paraphrase):
Strengthen their inner beings with power through Your Spirit so that Christ may dwell in their hearts by faith,
so that being rooted and grounded in this incredible love they may comprehend this vast love of Christ’s for them and may know it even though it is beyond comprehension.
Why? So they’ll be filled up with God Himself. (Eph.3:16ff)
And all this is asked of the God who ‘is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us’ to His own glory throughout all generations. That includes my generation and beyond! Amen!!
When Paul resumes his letter he addresses the living out of this magnificent calling as God’s own child, urging the Ephesians to ‘walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which [they’ve] been called’. It’s not a matter for heroics on their part, mind you, but of humility and gentleness and patience, extending love to fellow believers, supplying their part as joints in a Body that is gifted and directed by Christ Himself.
It seems likely to me that the church at Ephesus hadn’t yet ‘arrived’ (any more than I have) at the pinnacle of a ‘worthy walk’ because Paul goes on to say ‘you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds.’ He takes pains to explain that for the unbeliever this is a necessary default, but not so the believer! The unbeliever’s understanding is ‘darkened’. He is actually ‘alienated from the life of God!’ His ignorance stems from a calloused heart, unwilling to respond to God’s grace, given over instead to satisfying his impulses. For a believer to live like this is to live a lie. He may walk in a way unworthy of his calling but he has nevertheless been called, reconciled, brought into God’s family. It makes no sense to continue living the old way, brainwashed by deceitful desires (desires that promise what they can’t deliver) when there is a new ‘birthday suit’ to be put on, one that resembles God’s beautiful righteousness and holiness (Eph.4:24). There are many particulars of what this new suit will look like (and how to put it on; first, a renewing of the mind) but they can be summed up in: “Therefore be imitators of God, as dearly loved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us…”(5:1,2)
Here’s a glimmer of Strike Three… we are dearly loved. It is natural as children to want to imitate our Dad. And when we fail, when we walk as if we belonged to darkness, when we feel we have been ‘alienated from the life of God’, it is not so. (If our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart and knows all things–I Jn.3:19) God is in fact jealous for our friendship. He’s given us His own Spirit to be with us forever so that we can have this kind of relationship! I read it this morning, in James. “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us” (James 4:5) He even supplies the grace when we are ready to admit our failure. “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” And the steps to take: Submit yourselves therefore to God (shortcomings and all). Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. (Aha! Strike Three!) “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you…” (James 4:6-8)
So whether the accusations coming at us are justified or groundless, the solution is in drawing near to our greatest Ally. He’s committed to our welfare and nothing can separate us from such love. Such are the things one learns in aloneness.
“Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ ( We’re no longer aliens!) and love one another ( We begin to act like dearly loved children!) Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.”
“He will give you another Helper, to be with you forever.” John 14:16
“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love.” John 15:9
Awake, O sleeper,
and arise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you! Eph.5:14