When Kay and I were married, we received a wedding gift that we, well, didn’t know quite what to do with. It was a large, very colorful ceramic rooster! I’m sure the givers thought this was a unique and beautiful gift but, frankly, we didn’t know where to put it in our little apartment. To this day I’m not sure what happened to it! Did we “misplace” it or did we re-gift it?
When we think of gifts, it’s usually with the idea that the gift is valuable or wanted. What do we make of a gift where the giver has a wonderful idea in mind but the receiver is confused or doubts that the gift is in fact good? As many of us are following the instructions to stay at home while COVID-19 runs its course, it was met by me with with a certain level of unwantedness. I was busy doing ministry, I had good things to do, I had a schedule, a rhythm. All of it seems to be an unwanted interruption in my life.
Yet, using our imagination, could it be that even isolation is a gift from God? Henri Nouwen in his book The Inner Voice of Love wrote that we may find our, “loneliness not only tolerable” but possibly even profitable. How can our isolated loneliness profitable? It feels very unproductive, stagnant, even boring. What do we have left other than to find new ways to consume entertainment through Netflix?
We are reminded that the Lord Jesus Christ often withdrew to lonely places to pray (Luke 5:16). Our Lord was not unfamiliar with isolation and the loneliness that accompanied it. So Jesus took advantage of those solitary times as an opportunity to open His heart up to the Father’s love. We can follow in His footsteps by even reading, reflecting and digging down into some of Paul’s prayers. For instance, in Ephesians 3:16-19 we read,
I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (NIV)
It seems another gift we are given is a gracious mirror into our own hearts. Isolation feels abrupt and harsh but it’s only because we have filled the void with everything except the Giver of Life Himself. It’s in isolation and loneliness we start to see the ugliness of our own heart – crankiness, bossiness, anger, fidgetiness, inability to keep thoughts, anxiousness, bent in on oneself, and more – seem to all point to the clear fact that we are not as put together as we wanted others to believe. The question in isolation is often, “What do I do with me?”
God’s gracious gift in the isolation, even the tears that come with loneliness, are an invitation to have Him fill the deepest longing of your heart. It’s a beckoning call to believe in the gospel – that there is nothing that can remove God’s personal presence from our lives (Heb. 13:5). None of us would choose what we are going through. But given that we have the same resources Jesus had in relying upon the power of the Holy Spirit, we can take our situation and ask Him what He wants to do during this time. We might have tears of lonely sorrow but take heart because God wants to work profoundly at a heart level in all of us.
“I shall look at the world through tears. Perhaps I shall see things that dry-eyed I could not see.” Nicholas Wolterstorff, Lament For A Son