A Lonely Believer’s Story

In The Lonely Man of Faith, Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik summarized the dilemma of his faith in a three-word sentence: I am lonely. The kind of loneliness he wrote about does not come from being friendless or alone; it is the result of feeling “rejected and thrust away by everybody,” even by one’s most intimate friends. The Rabbi wrote that this experience of loneliness is a paradox: painful and frustrating but also stimulating and cathartic. I am only beginning to understand this loneliness myself.

Sometimes I feel like a stranger in this world. I am surrounded by people who are focused on the material world, striving for money and fame and success. I no longer share their ambitions. I don’t even understand the values of the millions of Christians who have a completely different take on the word of God. The lack of soul connection makes me feel lonely.

In Richard Rohr’s book, Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life,  he said that spiritual loneliness is the natural result of saying yes when all your friends say no.  They are defined by what they are against. I want to be defined by what I am for: the power of God’s redemptive love.

How can I explain my loneliness?

Imagine a four-story building. There is a beautiful chapel on the ground floor where believers gather every week. Many are good, righteous people who come to worship and learn about God. Some of them are here to be entertained and some of them are here to be seen. Although most of the congregants call themselves Christians, many cling to the laws of the Old Testament. They insist that the Ten Commandments be prominently displayed both here and outside the building. Others call themselves Evangelicals, but never share the Good News. If you spend any time looking around, you’ll see that modern-day Pharisees have put locks on the doors and bars on the windows to keep undesirables out. They don’t understand that this is God’s house and the doors are open to everyone.

On the second floor, joyous believers gather, grateful for God’s love and forgiveness. They are eager to tell everyone how Jesus changed their lives. You’ll find reformed sinners of all kinds here, people who once had no hope, people who once felt imprisoned by their sins. It’s as if they have been born again! The people on this floor readily share the reason for their hope. For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16). If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9).

On the third floor, mature believers sit in groups of two or three having deep conversations about spiritual matters. You’ll also find individuals sitting in quiet, contemplative solitude – people like me. These believers have been humbled by life’s experiences. The concerns of the first half of life no longer have any appeal. They no longer feel the need to prove that they are worthy. They see the world with grace-filled eyes because they have experienced God’s mercy firsthand and know that we’re all flawed and in need of grace. Look around, and you’ll see the Jesus Creed prominently displayed: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’

The fourth floor is a very busy place. Here, you’ll find servants and activists, people who were called to put their faith into action. Some are busy caring for refugees, or the sick, or the homeless, or the imprisoned. Others are advocates for social justice. They are the hands and feet of Jesus. In this world the kings and great men lord it over their people, yet they are called ‘friends of the people.’ But among you it will be different. Those who are the greatest among you should take the lowest rank, and the leader should be like a servant. (Luke 22:25-26).

There are no elevators in this building. There is no easy way to climb from one floor to the next. It is a painful climb. The stairs are steep and unevenly spaced. Those who ascend do so stumbling and falling upward.

Visualizing the dilemma of my faith in this way helps me to understand the confusion and despair I’ve been feeling over the past year or so. I expected other Christians to see things the way I do because we read the same Bible and pray to the same God. Now I see that even if we share some common beliefs, we are not on the same plane spiritually and perhaps never will be.

When I gather with a small group of friends from my church, the difference in thinking is abundantly clear. My Christian friends are stuck on the first floor, building walls to keep other people out. They say ‘no’ to anyone who is not like them – gays, Muslims, immigrants, liberals. But I am on a different journey and my capacity for loving other people is growing. As Rohr says, “if your politics do not become more compassionate and inclusive, I doubt whether you are on the second journey.”

Changing Expectations

Richard Rohr has some good advice for people like me. “Don’t expect or demand from groups what they usually cannot give. Doing so will make you needlessly angry and reactionary. ” Groups are often not receptive to change because they are focused on protecting the group’s identity and preserving the status quo. Rohr’s book reminded me of the parable of the soils. Seeds don’t grow on a busy path or in rocky soil. If the soil is not receptive, seeds won’t grow. I used to tell myself that I could influence my friends by sharing my perspective. But now I see, that if their hearts aren’t ready, I might as well be chasing the wind.

Embracing Solitude

Soloveitchik found something positive and stimulating about this loneliness. Rohr would agree. He said that the confusing feelings of spiritual loneliness are far outweighed by the happiness that comes from spending time alone. Soulful people like me need alone time to “unpack” all the stuff that life gives and takes away. I am naturally contemplative and thoroughly enjoy time spent alone reflecting. At the same time, I find myself wishing I had a spiritual mentor or a small group of friends who are at the same place in their spiritual journey.


Image credit, courtesy of the National Gallery of Art:

Joseph Pennell
The Times Building, 1904

Facts are stubborn things

Facts matter. No matter how much you don’t like the facts, you can’t replace them with “alternative facts.” You can’t wish them away. If it makes you feel better to ignore the facts, you can bury your head in the sand, but the facts will still be there.

Proverbs 12:19 says that truthful words stand the test of time, but lies are soon exposed.

Jesus said that there is nothing hidden that will not be revealed, and nothing concealed that will not be known and illuminated (Luke 8:17).

Bring on the light.

Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence. – John Adams

via Daily Prompt: Fact

Social Fabric

The first thing that comes to mind when I hear the word fabric is the material used to make clothes or linens or other woven items. This kind of fabric is so much a part of daily life, I don’t give it much thought unless it is difficult to care for. But when combined with the word social, the word fabric becomes abstract and hard to define.

In its definition of social fabric, Business Dictionary lists a bunch of components that make up the “composite demographics” of an area – things like race, wealth, education level and regional values. This definition leaves me cold. You don’t weave a cohesive piece of anything with demographic statistics.

A company that uses Social Fabric as a name defines it in a way that makes more sense to me. It says that Social fabric is the glue that holds a society together. The glue is shared bonds that make it possible to “form a culturally rich and socially cohesive community.”

I see social fabric as people who are united by common values or purposes. The individual threads that make up the fabric can be quite different from each other. Some are quite colorful. Some are smooth, while others have a lot of texture. Some are more durable than others. But if the various threads agree on their mission and values, they can be woven into a cohesive whole.

Photo Credit – Engin Akyurt via Pixabay

via WordPress Daily Prompt: Fabric

Spiritual Tensions

A couple of nights ago, as I laid down to sleep, my soul was not at peace. I asked God for help. I don’t like how I’m feeling about other people. When I see how selfish people are and how indifferent they are to violence or pain and suffering, it makes me angry. Even if I don’t outwardly express my disagreement, I feel conflicted inside. I feel distressed. It’s a feeling of discord and I don’t like it.

In the book of Psalms, I find another soul who cried out to God in his distress. In Psalm 31, I read, “Be merciful to me, Lord, for I am in distress; my eyes grow weak with sorrow, my soul and body with grief.” In Psalm 55, I read that David’s thoughts were troubled, he was distraught and his heart was in anguish.

I feel conflicted about my own feelings of discord because Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.” How can I be a peacemaker if I am not at peace? How can I be at peace when the world is so broken?

Surely God understands my distress. My heart breaks for at least some of the same things that breaks his. But I am not nearly as loving and merciful and forgiving to the people who disappoint me as God is. As the Casting Crowns song (Jesus, Friend of Sinners) puts it, I am

Always looking around but never looking up I’m so double minded
A plank eyed saint with dirty hands and a heart divided

My heart is not at peace because it is divided. I am motivated by a desire to make the world a better place and that’s a good thing. But I also want people to conform to my expectations and I swing a sword that was never mine to swing.

I am learning to change my expectations of people. In Falling Upward, Richard Rohr wrote, “Don’t expect or demand from groups what they usually cannot give. Doing so will make you needlessly angry and reactionary. They must and will be concerned with identity, boundaries, self-maintenance, self-perpetuation and self-congratulation.”

This is so true. People who get their identity from belonging to a group will circle the wagons and shut down anyone who tries to get them to think differently.

So here is my prayer for today: God grant me the serenity to accept the people I cannot change, the courage to change the person I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.




Quietly Congregating

I’m not the kind of person who likes to congregate. Crowds are not my thing. If I know there will be a crowd where I’m going, I’ll wait until it is less busy.

I am not comfortable around strangers. I don’t know what to talk to them about. I don’t like it when people are loud. I don’t like it when one person dominates the conversation or when too many people talk at once. Too many people = too much stimulation.

You can’t avoid congregating when you are a member of a congregation, a group of people who gather to worship God. My church is too big for me to feel completely comfortable. So when I go to church, I stake out my space at the edge of the room where I can sit quietly and watch from a distance.

via Daily WordPress Prompt: Congregate