“my soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is; so I say, ‘My endurance has perished; so has my hope from the LORD.’ Remember my affliction and my wanderings, the wormwood and the gall! My soul continually remembers it and is bowed down within me. But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. ‘The LORD is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him.’ The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD. It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth. Let him sit alone in silence when it is laid on him; let him put his mouth in the dust– there may yet be hope; let him give his cheek to the one who strikes, and let him be filled with insults. For the Lord will not cast off forever, but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not afflict from his heart or grieve the children of men.” Lamentations 3:17-33 [ESV]
Sometimes we choose solitude, but other times solitude is unexpectedly thrust upon us carrying with it the potential sting of isolation and loneliness. I had a season of undesired solitude years ago when I was a young stay at home mother to my preschool aged children. At that time I longed for an intimate circle of friends like everyone else seemed to have, but I lacked. God used that extended season of solitude to redirect my focus to Him. During that time I learned to lean hard into Him not just to meet my every need but to be the source of my joy, hope and love. Though I went into that season of solitude kicking and screaming against it, I look back on it as one of the sweetest seasons of my life. Through solitude and the power of His Word, He drew me into His presence and taught me the richness of intimately abiding in Him.
I have been feeling increasingly isolated and lonely over the past few months. I am physically alone far more than I used to be prior to Sarah leaving, but it is a much deeper loneliness than just being physically alone. In fact, sometimes I feel most alone when I am in a crowd of people actively engaging in superficial conversation. I’m confident I appear just fine in those moments, I certainly do not look alone, but my heart and soul feel as though they are locked away behind cold stone walls of solitary confinement. I think often of Proverbs 13:14, “Even in laughter the heart may ache, and the end of joy may be grief.” I know most commentators relate this passage back to the folly of fools, but I so relate to a literal reading of it. I frequently find myself surrounded by people yet alone, laughing yet aching, and experiencing joy yet grieving.
There have been some extenuating circumstances related to Sarah’s departure that have played a significant role in my sense of isolation. However, after reading and speaking with others who are grieving the absence of their children as well, I am realizing I probably would have struggled with the sense of isolation even in the absence of the other circumstances. My loneliness in no way reflects any type of failure of Scott, family or friends. I’m suspicious a degree of loneliness following the physical death of one’s child may be inevitable. There is a staggering void in our family where she once was, and I desperately miss her presence and companionship. She is the last thought on my mind as I go to sleep and the first thought the moment I wake, both instances spurring a deep ache within me. Everywhere I go and everything I do, my mind is flooded with memories of Sarah with each location and activity. I long to step back in time to be with her there, and can easily get lost in those thoughts. I am lonely because I uniquely grieve as Sarah’s mother, and I painfully miss my child.
Additionally, in my uncertainty of how to answer people’s inquiries I have probably contributed to my isolation. Increasingly I sense in those who love us an urgency for us to be okay or better. When asked expectantly how I am, I am confronted with a choice to be transparent or to make the person asking feel better by speaking only the positives. The majority of the time I opt for speaking only the positives. While the positives are true, they are only half the story. The reality is that Scott’s and my hearts ache deeply. With each pulse we bear a throbbing, indescribable sadness. In the midst of the indescribable sadness, though, we experience God’s grace, mercy, strength and provision. While mourning our unfathomable loss through Sarah’s absence we also simultaneously celebrate God’s many rich blessings. We are painfully broken yet we have great hope and joy. I am so thankful to be able to boldly proclaim the truth of all the positives, but at the same time I recognize my failure to acknowledge the magnitude of the lingering pain contributes to my isolation.
Regardless of the causes, though, it is clear I have entered another season of solitude. As an extrovert my flesh resists and even dreads being alone, my natural reflex is to frantically fight against it. But, remembering well the sanctifying power of that season of solitude so many years ago compels me to lean into Him in this new season as well. Instead of focusing on my solitude as an additional source of pain, I am striving to set my heart to seize this time as an intimate retreat with Him. As I seek His face through His Word and prayer, I am continually hearing the same thing over and over again, “wait.” As I’ve meditated on what it means to wait, I believe there are three specific modes of waiting He is calling me to in the midst of my pain and solitude. I am called to wait on Him in His Word, to wait on Him in prayer, and to wait on Him in service.
God’s Word is living and active and speaks to my every need (Hebrews 4:12). He speaks to us through the unfolding of His Word by the power of the Holy Spirit who indwells each of us as believers (1 John 2:27). Aside from spending regular time in His Word, for me in the mornings and frequently again before going to bed, I also harness each sting of loneliness throughout the day as an impetus to meditate on His Word. Whenever the solitude overwhelms me giving way to feelings of isolation and loneliness, I open His Word and meditate on it waiting expectantly for Him to speak. As I wait on Him in His Word, He is so faithful to speak exactly what I need.
“My soul clings to the dust; give me life according to your word! When I told of my ways, you answered me; teach me your statutes! Make me understand the way of your precepts, and I will meditate on your wondrous works. My soul melts away for sorrow; strengthen me according to your word!” Psalm 119:25-28 [ESV]
In addition to waiting on God in His Word, I wait on Him in prayer, the two go hand in hand. As I wait on Him in prayer He uses the power of His Word to answer and sanctify me. I regularly pray scripture back to God, often using the prayers lifted by David and the other Psalmist as my own. Prayer is powerful because the God of the universe hears and answers our prayers. This simple yet revolutionary truth should continually drive us to our knees. I say that as the one who prayed fervently for my precious child, Sarah, to be healed and to remain with me. He did not answer how I desired that day, but as I listened in prayer He did answer, and His answer was powerful. He spoke to my heart that Satan had asked Him for permission to sift us and He had granted it, but if we would cling to Him He would carry us through. He has been, and continues to be faithful to that answer. Through time in prayer He also reveals those areas of my life that are not fully surrendered to Him, the areas where I have allowed sinful thoughts or attitudes to creep back in. As I repent and surrender those areas back to Him I am drawn in closer to Him. As I cry out to Him daily entrusting my pain to Him and asking Him to strengthen me yet again, He is faithful to do so. Through His continued faithfulness to speak and answer as I wait on Him in prayer I am learning to abide more and more deeply in Him.
“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the LORD, ‘My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’ For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.” Psalm 91:1-4 [ESV]
Most recently He has been teaching me that I am also to wait on Him in service. Previously I had viewed waiting on Him in a more passive sense, but I am now convicted that I am to actively wait on Him as well. I am called to wait on Him much as a waiter waits on a table of dinner guests. In His gentleness He has shown me my act of waiting on and serving Him doesn’t have to be an in depth, far reaching, complicated commitment, but instead continues to be simply perceiving and doing the next right thing. As I daily wait at His feet, He tenderly leads me in the next right thing moment by moment, hour by hour and day by day. If I fail to wait at His feet, shifting my gaze from His face to instead look to my circumstances and future, my heart invariably grows faint within me. But then my gentle shepherd quietly reminds me to “not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Matthew 6:34). As I shift my focus back to Him, my fears are alleviated as He faithfully comforts, encourages, leads and directs me; equipping and sustaining me to actively wait on Him day by day.
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30 [ESV]
So I thank Him today for using my solitude for good. Through it He continues to teach me to abide in Him and no other. In the silence He is teaching me to wait on Him through His Word, prayer and service. Therefore, I cry out with the heart of Jeremiah this morning, “‘The LORD is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him.’ The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD. It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth. Let him sit alone in silence when it is laid on him; let him put his mouth in the dust– there may yet be hope” (Lamentations 3:24-29).