It’s an altogether strange emotion, loneliness. How can a person feel the pain of loneliness when surrounded by so many friends? One hears the welcome refrain “we love you” over and over, yet it doesn’t seem to make the path any less lonely. Why?
Sometimes the journey of faith leads one through a series of narrow, treacherous, and lonely corridors. Lonely because it is a matter of personal pilgrimage – no one else is being called to walk that particular path for the exact same reasons. To be sure, one’s decisiveness and resolve won’t make sense to even the most concerned and well-intentioned observers. These we might call “family,” “friends,” or “fellow sojourners.”
There is only one who will meet us at the base camp of our ascent and provide us with the the necessary tools for the trek. Of all that we are offered by Christ, it is his constant companionship and kenosis, meaning his self-emptying example, which provide one with the necessary strength to step out of the tent and put one foot in front of another.
I’m currently reading a book called “The Mystic Way of Evangelism” by Elaine A. Heath. It’s a fantastic look at several “contemplatives” and the lessons we an learn from their own particular callings toward holiness. A particular story was told of a group of contemporary doctoral students having an eye-opening experience of sacrificial service in the inner-city of Dallas. After witnessing the outpouring of love coming from the “small in stature” sisters of the Missionaries of Charity, one student said, “I feel like I need to get smaller. I feel like I’m too big.” Elaine Heath went on to write, “We were all about to learn the way of getting small.” (p.122)
The way of getting small can be more than a little painful. After all, there is so much that must be stripped away. Security, certainty, reputation, possessions, accomplishments, even relationships. It can feel like a lonely road.
Lonely…but never truly alone.
As this year comes to a close, I pray that all who read this post will not be discouraged to take such a journey. Rather, count the cost and determine the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ, even by sharing in His suffering. He knew loneliness, too.
This is this way. I’m really not sure there can be any other way.
It will look different for each of us. That is true. But if we want to take on the redemptive mission of Christ in our world and embody his love through our words and actions, then we need to follow the way of getting small. Christ must increase and we must decrease.
May you experience the joy of the journey of transformation this next year. May it draw you ever closer to God. May Christ’s love empower you and drive you outward into the places where he is already so very present – in the struggles of the poor, the abused, the voiceless, the helpless and the hopeless. May you discover the way of getting small, even if means having to endure some loneliness in the process. Grace and peace to you!