READ: Psalm 88, Joel 3, Luke 16, 2 Corinthians 7
“Loved one and friend You have put far from me, and my acquaintances into darkness.” (Psalm 88:18)
There is a benefit to being separated from friends and loved ones. Jesus sometimes rotates our attention away from what is good in order to deepen us. Sometimes that good thing (or good friends) is returned; sometimes it is replaced with another good thing.
No weaning is enjoyed by the infant. I was preaching in the bush of northern Kenya once and watched a topless tribal mother anoint her breast with cow manure in order to convince her insistent child not to suckle. The weaning worked but not without some wailing. God weans the mature from good things to deepen them, but it still hurts deeply. Obedient service to Jesus can take us away from our friends and family both physically and emotionally. Sometimes those closest to us do not understand our obedience (this was true for Jesus’ family), and a sinless but noticeable drifting occurs. We were intended to live in community and when our obedience causes relational drift, God brings us new friends and spiritual families to embrace. The process of “lonelification,” however, does something profound to our souls. The sorrow of loneliness purges, simplifies, and points us to Jesus.
Some lessons are only learned under duress. “Make me understand,” the psalmist prayed (Psalm 119:27), and behind the request is the recognition that we need to be forced to learn by adversity. Ease is good for many things, but learning is not one of them. Loneliness positions us to hear from Jesus, away from the dearth of other voices in our ears. Paul presents godly sorrow beautifully. He says in 2 Corinthians 7:10 that it is “not to be regretted” and lists the benefits of godly sorrow as diligence, clearing of ourselves, indignation, fear, vehement desire, zeal, and vindication (v. 11). Loneliness can be godly and it can lead to focus, sanctification, channeled energy, renewed reverence, appropriate longing, passion, and ultimately the Lord’s public endorsement. There is a time to be surrounded by family and friends, and there is a time to stand alone and be deepened by the sorrow–both give life.
When obedience leads to loneliness, loneliness leads to greater affection. Not only do we feel closer to Jesus in the times we feel farther from everyone else, but also Jesus has greater joy over the depth developed in us. God by definition cannot love us more, but He can have greater joy when our sorrow leads us to look, think, and act more like Him. It is by entering the loneliness of God that we encounter most deeply His companionship.