Loneliness loomed over me like a heavy blanket. We knew we would be moving to a new country without a team of other missionaries. For the most part, Joel and I welcomed the challenge of starting from scratch. We didn't know just how difficult isolation would be.
For the first few months, we busied ourselves with setting up our entire lives in an unfamiliar place without the benefit of someone who had gone before us. Setting up the house was challenging yet fun! Everything took a long time... bank accounts, furniture, a car.
Once we were settled in our new home, the reality set in... You are alone echoed in every empty facet of our lives. The excitement of the new adventure had worn off, and here we were in a furnished house yet socially isolated in an unknown city.
Friends and family? Gone. Familiar food? Gone. Church? Gone.
Our nuclear family?... together ALL THE TIME. Sound familiar?
Looking back, I can see we were isolated for about 6 months. While we were not quarantined in our house, the experience was eerily similar. Where do you go when you don't know anyone? Where do you go out when you don't know what is safe or good?
Some days all I could gather myself to pray was God, I need you.
As the excitement wears off and the reality of isolation seeps into our bones, my hope is that these reflections are helpful for those feeling hopelessness and despair.
When faced with difficulty the tendency will be to run away (avoid) or try to fill up our cups with other stuff (consume). It's what we naturally do. If I can busy myself, binge watch shows, start a new hobby, scour Instagram and Facebook to see some semblance of normal, I will be okay. Doing this is a form of avoidance that eventually leads to consumption. I can tell you from experience what you probably already know to be true: all of these coping mechanisms are ultimately shallow. They leave us feeling even more vacant then we were before.
Our consumption is devoid of nutrition. We are hungry and in need of nourishment. Do not despair. Here lies a promise given to us by Creator God who ordered the stars and planets, and breathed life into existence:
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.
God placed this hunger and thirst in us. The plan? That we would seek Him.
Some days all I could gather myself to pray was God, I need you. I am alone. Be honest with God. Tell Him exactly how you feel. These cries of desperation deepened my relationship with Him in a beautifully vulnerable way. Admitting that I was not in control and needing help filled me with hope and a continued longing for Jesus and His comfort. All of my comforts had been stripped away. I couldn't hop over to my favorite food spot, find ingredients I needed to make an old family recipe, or go for a walk with a friend. All of these coping mechanisms were gone. They aren't necessarily bad things... but think of them as dessert. What we are looking for are a nutrient-dense food and life-giving water.
Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty." John 6:35
We have been given a gift, a treasure. If this statement makes you angry, I get it. I look back on those difficult 6 months of isolation with a twinge of sorrow but I marvel in the richness of a deeply rooted faith that blossomed in foreign soil.
The gift is the opportunity to completely and unequivocally practice our faith. We will be tempted to try to go around the mountain in front of us. The arduous climb is necessary to produce character in us. This is where true virtue muscles take shape and are defined.
No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. Hebrews 12:11
The other temptation when we experience discomfort is to reason and blame. We want to point our finger at the cause of our inconvenience. We may be angry with God, the government, our family, or the culture (this was my case in going through culture shock). We analyze and try to reason for the cause of our pain. We complain to anyone and everyone who will listen. This is also shallow and does not satisfy.
In due course, we admit even if we were given the answer to who was to blame and why it would not quench the insatiable desire. If we try to reason our way through a difficult time we will also end up dissatisfied.
We are not God. Our world is broken.
Believe in God or not, those last two statements can be agreed upon by souls throughout history. Some times it takes the tragedy of hardship to admit them. They are absolute outside of a person's own admittance.
Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. Isaiah 43:18-19
The Lord gently whispered these words to me time and time again:
I am doing a new thing. Lean into me. I will make a way.
This is the challenge laid before us as the entire world faces a variety of hardships and isolation for an indefinite period of time. We are all hungry and thirsty.
What shall we do?
Consume empty calories, or be filled with the Bread of Life and Living Water?
This is my prayer and hope for us all:
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:13
Jesus said: Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’ John 7:38
May it be so, Lord. May your living water fill up my cup to overflowing.
You alone can satisfy all my needs. You are my hope.