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The Human Condition was once perfect and free of adversity. But after the fall of man in the Garden of Eden the human condition became characterized by flaws and failures. We became prone to sin. And with the emergence of sin, we also saw the birth of adversity.
Adversity, which is now a part of our human condition, challenges us on mental, physical, and spiritual levels. There are many sources for the adversity that we face in our lives. These adversities could be a result of our actions. It could be an attack from the enemy. But it could also be the call of the Holy Spirit leading us towards a wilderness that draws us nearer to Him.
Our response to adversity is important. Because it's our response to adversity that determines whether or not we draw closer to God and overcome, or drift further away from him and fall to adversity.
The good news is there is an example to follow. Throughout the Bible we see numerous examples of people just like us who have faced adversity. Their struggles with adversity shed light on how we can biblically respond (or not respond) to adversity and overcome the trials and tribulations that mark our human condition.
This is the 7th week in a series I've entitled "Responding to Adversity" in which we will look at how these Biblical characters responded to adversity, and key takeaways from their struggle with adversity that we can apply to our day-to-day lives. This week's study on responding to adversity will be a look into Jesus' response to the adversity of Loneliness (see link below for last week's devotional, Responding to Adversity - The Anxiety Struggle).
The CDC released a study in 2021 that showed 48,183 people died from suicide that year. That means 1 person took their life every 11 minutes that year. Suicide Data and Statistics | Suicide | CDC
An article in the New Yorker that was released after the suicide of Robin Williams states this “Suicide is a crime of loneliness” (Solomon, 2014). Suicide, a Crime of Loneliness | The New Yorker
And while we can’t say for certain that it was loneliness that directly led to all of the suicides in 2021, it is unmistakable that the adversity of loneliness is a leading cause of suicide because loneliness leads to loss of peace, loss of joy, and worst of all, loss of hope.
It’s when hope is lost that our perspective becomes grim. Our minds are consumed with thoughts of “why” and “what’s the point?”. We lose sight of the potential for good and become immersed in the life draining feeling of defeat.
But loneliness doesn’t just cloud our judgement and break our spirit. Loneliness is a pain that can be felt. There is a condition known as broken heart syndrome, which can be experienced by individuals who suffer a great loss or experience extreme emotions. For those who have experienced the adversity of loneliness, you might have thought or said, “it feels like my heart is breaking”. And it’s because, according to a study by Ray Hainer, “lonely people have also been shown to have higher levels of cortisol, a hormone released in response to stress, and this persistent stressful state produces "wear and tear" that can affect the cardiovascular system”. This wear and tear described by Hainer can produce an effect known as the broken heart syndrome. Why Loneliness Hurts the Heart (health.com)
But, despite it’s mental, spiritual, and physical implications, probably one of the most astounding facts about loneliness is that can affect us all. Loneliness can be felt by all people irrespective of their age, gender, race, income level, education level, and even social network. And it’s because loneliness is not assuaged by having someone nearby. Loneliness occurs when we feel like there is no connection to another person. We feel lonely when we feel like we’re the only one in the world who can relate to us or understand us. We feel lonely when we don’t have someone by our side to share in the joys and sorrows of life. The existence of this adversity illustrates that we were not created to be alone. It illustrates the importance of human connection and intimacy.
I believe that Jesus faced this adversity the most out of anyone that’s ever lived. Jesus, who came to the world as both God and man, experienced a divine nature as well as a human one. There was no one that could share in His divine nature, and even in His human one, He was rejected and betrayed by those closest to Him. But even in His loneliness, Jesus never gave up His obedience to God. From His testimony in John 17, we see that we can also respond to this adversity of loneliness by 1) drawing near to God 2) praying for others.
The Adversity of Loneliness
A look into Jesus' Story...
Jesus was born in Bethlehem. He was the son of a carpenter and also came into that trade as He grew. But something was extraordinary about this seemingly ordinary man, actually more than extraordinary, rather divine. This is because Jesus was the Son of God. He was sent by God the Father and conceived by a virgin so that He could live a sinless and blameless life here on Earth and pay the ultimate price for the salvation of the world.
As Jesus entered into His ministry at the age of 30 years old, He developed quite the following. But there were 12 men in particular that Jesus considered His disciples and closest friends. These men were ordinary people, just like us. They were fishermen, doctors, and tax collectors. But despite their ordinary origins, God called them into His divine plan and purpose.
Jesus’ ministry lasted 3 years before He was betrayed by one of His 12 disciples, Judas Iscariot. And as a result of this betrayal Jesus was beaten, humiliated, and then crucified without having bent or broken one rule. Despite His sinless existence, Jesus was sentenced to the most grueling condemnation of His time. And all because of His love for us. It was through His sacrifice that the sin which entered the world, through the first man Adam, could be rectified and defeated by the only blameless man, Jesus, the Son of God.
But His death was just the beginning. Three days later, Jesus rose from the grave that housed His earthly body and ascended into Heaven.
This is a cliff notes version of the greatest story ever told. And one thing we don’t often talk about is the loneliness that Jesus must have felt during His time here on Earth.
We often lonely because we feel like no one can understand or relate to us. Imagine being Jesus and having the divine nature and knowledge that He did, and not being able to have anyone you could share that with or that could relate to you. Not only this, but at Jesus’ greatest time of need in the Garden of Gethsemane, the night before His crucifixion, He was alone. His mom, dad, and siblings were not there. Even His disciples fell asleep on Him. Jesus was faced with a sorrow so great that it caused Him to sweat out blood. And what’s more, He was left to face it alone. Keep in mind that Jesus sorrow didn't just stem from the knowledge that He was going to die. It was a sorrow rooted in a burden so great that no mortal could ever bear it. It was the sorrow of having to feel all of the broken heart syndromes of all the lonely people that were at that time and were to come. It was the sorrow of having to bear the full burden of sin that ever was, is, and is to come.
How We Can Respond to Loneliness
Below are two ways we can respond to the adversity of loneliness -
1. We can respond to the adversity of loneliness by drawing near to God.
In John 17:1-5 we see that Jesus' first response to loneliness was to cry out to God the Father.
"Jesus spoke these words, lifted up His eyes to heaven, and said: “Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son, that Your Son also may glorify You, as You have given Him authority over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as You have given Him. And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do. And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was." John 17:1-5 NKJV
In crying out to God the Father, Jesus illustrated the most important relationship and greatest connection we could ever find is the one that comes from drawing near to God.
Why? Because it is only God who can love us unfailingly and unconditionally. As powerful as the love we might feel from our parents, spouse, or friends, it is prone to the weaknesses of body, mind, and soul. No matter how much we love someone, we still fall short of displaying perfect love towards that person during times when we feel hurt, wronged, in need, or complacent.
But unlike our changing emotions, which are prone to error, God's love never changes or weakens. Regardless of how many times we give up on God or reject Him, His love for us remains constant.
And so, during the times when we feel lonely, unseen, unheard, and unloved, our first response should be to run towards the greatest love that exists for us - God.
2. We can respond to the adversity of loneliness by praying for others.
Loneliness is often rooted in thoughts towards self. We think about our situation, how we feel, and wonder why we are alone.
But Jesus shows us that one of the most powerful ways of combating this perspective is by shifting our thoughts and object of affection to those around us. This is also supported by research studies. According to an article in the Harvard Business Review "Research shows that one can feel a sense of purpose when we help others, as it reminds us that our actions can matter". How to Be Alone Without Being Lonely (hbr.org)
And so, in our times of loneliness, when we feel like we don't matter, by praying for the people we wished would think we mattered, we can find purpose and greater sense of meaning for ourselves.
Jesus Prayer for His Disciples
In John 17 we see that Jesus’ prayer for Himself turns into a prayer for His disciples, those who were closest to Him, and then into a prayer for all believers.
"But now I come to You, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have My joy fulfilled in themselves. I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified by the truth." John 17:13-19 NKJV
Just like Jesus turned His attention off of Himself onto others, we can also overcome the feeling of loneliness by shifting our attention to the ones we love and praying for them to be safe and sanctified by truth.
The word sanctified in this passage comes from a Greek word ἁγίασον (hagiason), which means to "Set them apart (for holy service to God)". Jesus is praying that His disciples would be set apart from the world by the truth that Jesus bestowed unto them. And to be set apart from the world in this use case, also means to be set apart unto God, and into the fold of the greatest purpose, intimacy, and love that one could ever experience.
Jesus Prayer for All Believers
After Jesus finishes praying for those closest to Him, He then prays for all believers.
“I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me. “Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father! The world has not known You, but I have known You; and these have known that You sent Me. And I have declared to them Your name, and will declare it, that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.” John 17:20-26 NKJV
In His greatest sorrow and loneliness, we see that Jesus prays for all those who believe in Him to be filled with love and abide in the perfect love that He has for us. Jesus' focus was not on self or the love that He wished He had in that moment, it was on the love He knew existed in God, and His love for others.
And so, may we pray, even during our times of loneliness, that those who are near and far, those known and unknown by us, may be unified and filled with the greatest love that ever existed or ever will exist - the love of God.