Thoughts from a former spiritual leper
There have been multiple occasions where I felt extremely lonely in a crowded room, and I realize that many others have felt the same way. Personally, I don’t think it is a struggle of personalities (e.g. introversion or extroversion) but rather a void of separation from what truly makes us whole — Jesus. In the recent months, I have been pondering about it deeply because I don’t feel like I belong anywhere. And, sometimes, the feelings are difficult to shake off.
There is a man in Matthew 7 that I relate to, I consider him one of the loneliest man in the Bible — the leper. He probably travelled alone and was emotionally hurt. After all, how would you feel if everyone shut their doors and closed their windows when you entered a city? When his lips uttered “unclean” while he rang his bell, I imagine his heart sinking. No matter how many times he has done this, he knew that no one would welcome him, even his family. No one was there to support him as his fingers and toes became deformed, oh how he probably longed for an advocate. Then one day, he heard about a man named Jesus and searched for him. I imagine what was going through his mind when he said, “Lord, if you want to you can make me clean,” as if he was familiar with rejection. What Jesus does is more than just healing. He reached into the leper’s pain and touched him when no one else would. Jesus was his advocate. Jesus is also my advocate because I was once an object of wrath and my nature unclean. To me, the leper illustrates my redemption into the kingdom and the restorative power of Jesus. Yet the thoughts of spiritual leprosy still linger in my heart.
Finding healing in other things
Even in the process of redemption, I recognize that I do not fully release my hurts to Jesus, and they then turn into bitterness. While I was driving to meet some people, a question popped into my mind. The question was how long it would take for people to recognize that I was gone. His reply was it would not matter in heaven because I would be in awe and worshipping him. That reply made me feel livid and I told him that it implied that no one cared. After saying all that I wanted to say, I realized that my worldview was misshapen and that I treated God like my consolation prize. Instead of finding ultimate joy in Jesus, I placed my hopes in my friends, my family and the approval of coworkers, thinking that they could provide me a sense of wholeness. The saying that “at least I have Jesus” really took root, instead of believing that Jesus is and will be everything I need. It is what C.S. Lewis described as the “ignorant child making mud pies in the slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the holiday at the sea.”
In moments of loneliness, I caught myself believing that if I had better friends or a better community that these feelings would disappear. In my heart, I had somehow believed that they could heal me. It is difficult to wait in the quiet place and seek Jesus, when immediate satisfaction can come from someone consoling me or counseling me. A large part of me understands that it is a lack of trust in Jesus; seeing him as undependable or untrustworthy when it is impossible for him to be contrary to who he is.
As I reevaluated where I stood with Jesus, I realized that separation is part of sin, which made so much sense because the Father turned His face away when his Son bore the weight of sin. Jesus was familiar with loneliness as the Father and Holy Spirit felt distant while He was an object of scorn on earth. When I read Isaiah 53: 2-6, it clicked in my head of the cost of redemption, and I began to understand that I should seek the one who understands the pain of loneliness the most.
Isaiah 53: 2-6
“He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
and like a root of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by mankind,
a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.
Surely he took our pain and bore our suffering,
yet we consider him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
It is a reminder that Jesus is not a lofty ideal but he is real; he understands our pain. Sometimes, we are brought into pains of loneliness to see the prevalence of brokenness in this world and the realization of our savior. He needs to chip away the things that consume us in order for us to live in fullness. It is in the quiet, dark places that we are able to hear him most evidently. There is a reason why he has set eternity in our hearts. As we wait, let him show us that darkness is not dark around him and that his grace is always sufficient.