…or for me it was a Sunday afternoon, and it was my birthday—my 19th birthday. It was one of the worst days of my life. I was a sophomore in college, and my dad had died a few months before, at the ripe ol’ age of 51. Everyone in our family was reeling from the shock and grief. I was 200 miles away from any of them, so I wasn’t able to join in the much-needed consolation that my mother and sister were able to share. I was alone in my grief.
Birthdays had always been a big deal in our house. There was always a party, cake, ice cream, and presents. Sometimes, as I got older and didn’t “require” all the trimmings, I would get a surprise celebration anyway. “It is your day,” my mother would say. “Celebrate it!” And so we did. However, on the day I turned 19, there was no cake, no presents, no cards. I had friends. I even had a boyfriend, but we were “on a break.” Everybody I knew was out doing other things that beautiful December Sunday, none of them realizing it was my special day. So, I sat in my dorm room, looked out the window over campus, watched students come and go, laughing and talking, and I sank lower than I’d ever been emotionally. Then I realized that I didn’t have to be alone if I didn’t want to. In fact, in true Scarlett O’Hara (from Gone with the Wind) fashion I said out loud, “As God as my witness, I’ll never be alone again.” And for the next year and a half, I stuck to that creed. Whatever it took, I would never be without friends, boyfriends, party pals, destructive behavior friends…ever again.
The late holocaust survivor and author Elie Wiesel said, “The opposite of love is not hate, but indifference.” (I find this a little odd since Wiesel and millions of Jews like him were victims of hate which is often thought to be the opposite of love.) I, however, in my prodigal years bought into Wiesel’s definition even though, at that point, I had never heard it. To be ignored was to be unloved and unloved meant unlovable. And as the old song says, “You’re nobody ‘til somebody loves you.” I felt unloved. I was a nobody.
Like the main character in the children’s classic The Velveteen Rabbit, the once beloved toy who had been cast aside by his owner, I felt ignored and therefore not “real.” Invisible. Nothing worse than that. During this time, I did whatever it took to make myself not only visible, but to be the life of the party. I was anything but. I was a desperate girl in a desperate, downward spiral.
Lest you think that I’m still sitting here with my lip poked out like a spoiled child because no one loved me, I must state clearly that this whole 19-year-old epiphany was a lie. Lots of people loved me then and many love me now. But even if they hadn’t, I know that I have value because God has always, will always love me. In Jeremiah 31:3, God speaks to His people (which now includes me) “I’ve never quit loving you and never will.” If only I had remembered that on that day, I could have avoided a lot of hopeless wandering and regret. I only wish that I had acted upon what I knew to be true—that God is always near. James 4:8 says, “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you…” (NASB) But I was determined to do things my way, of course.
Trying to fill an emptiness in your life, could be like trying to fill a cup with a hole in the bottom. It may be a big hole and it’s obvious that the container is spilling its contents. It might be a small, almost imperceptible crack that leaks the contents one drop at a time. Obviously both are metaphors that speak into our lonely lives and that both examples “don’t hold water.” However, the last example is the most dangerous since you can’t see what’s happening right away and the damage cannot be assessed until it’s almost too late to fix the problem.
Paul the Apostle warns believers to avoid being “unequally yoked with unbelievers.” (2 Corinthians 6:14) This is another metaphor that goes back to agrarian societies when animals (oxen, in this case) pulled plows and wagons. Ideally, two animals were used to not only pull heavier loads, but also to make the cart or plow roll evenly. The animals were “yoked” together by a harness that kept each one from running away or traveling farther than the other, that would make the carting disastrous. Farmers wanted to avoid tipping over the vehicle that the animals were pulling. So, how does this apply to relationships? For believers, this says that God is not pleased when we date (and especially marry) those who are not Christians. This isn’t to say that we should never associate with non-believers, but that we shouldn’t be linked in a relationship that could have us pulling in opposite directions.
This mandate is not just so you can avoid unnecessary frustration, but it is for your protection as well. It is not to say that relationships with two believers won’t have problems and conflicts, but that those who are unequally yoked can pose more problems than if both are solid believers.
There’s a story in the Bible found in 1 Kings 19 about the prophet Elijah. Elijah had been working hard to do God’s work, but nobody was listening. No one seemed to care. He didn’t have even one friend. He was pouting. He was lonely. He was ready to give up on his calling. Then an angel told Elijah to go up on a mountain and wait for God to tell him what to do. So, a bit reluctantly, the prophet did as he was told. Then when God asked him what he was doing there (like God didn’t already know), Elijah said, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God of Armies, but the Israelites have abandoned your covenant, torn down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are looking for me to take my life.” (CSB)
Abandoned. All alone.
Then God showed up in a mighty way, but not in a way the prophet had expected. While Elijah was waiting for God to speak, “A hurricane wind ripped through the mountains and shattered the rocks before God, God wasn’t to be found in the wind; after the wind an earthquake, but God wasn’t in the earthquake; and after the earthquake fire, but God wasn’t in the fire; and after the fire a gentle and quiet whisper.” (1 Kings 19:11-12)
Sometimes God shouts. Sometimes He whispers. If I had been listening to Him that lonely day on my 19th birthday, I could have heard Him say, “I didn’t forget your birthday. In fact, I remember you well. I placed you inside your mother and was there when you were born. And every day since.”
One thing that the Bible and science agree on is that we are social creatures. God created us for each other. When Adam was created “God said, ‘It’s not good for the Man to be alone; I’ll make him a helper, a companion.’” (Genesis 2: 18)
STOP: Have you ever felt as though God has abandoned you? You call out and He doesn’t answer? Have you ever entered into a toxic relationship just so you wouldn’t be alone?
LIE: No one cares for me, not even God.
I must have someone in my life, no matter who it is, to keep me from being alone.
TRUTH: You call out to God for help and he helps—he’s a good Father that way. But don’t forget, he’s also a responsible Father, and won’t let you get by with sloppy living. (1 Peter: 1:17)
So be content with who you are, and don’t put on airs. God’s strong hand is on you; he’ll promote you at the right time. Live carefree before God; he is most careful with you. (1 Peter 5: 7-8)