‘But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.’ (Luke 5:16, NIV)
I used to wonder … a lot… about Jesus choosing the lonely places. As a flaming extrovert who sucks in all the energy from a room and has about 500,000 words to release on a daily basis, I could not comprehend Jesus seeking out ‘lonely’ places. Oh, I know that in translation, the ‘lonely places’ are really just out-of-the-way, no-one-around, I-need-solitude-to-recharge-because-I’m-an-introvert places. But, I love the Bible translations that call those wildernesses ‘the lonely places.’ Now that I’m not as much of a flaming extrovert and crowds can actually tire me out, I appreciate solitude more. Now that I’m older and have more awareness of the bigger issues and cultures in our world, many of our debates in the political, social and religious realms leave me exhausted. I find, more and more, that I crave solitude when my heart breaks over others’ pain. I actually enjoy feeling lonely when the alternative involves entering the fray of treating people like issues.
I loved Pope Francis’ quote this week: “The proclamation of the saving love of God comes before moral and religious imperatives…A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality, I replied with another question: ‘Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?’ We must always consider the person” (emphasis mine). Pope Francis had to have come to that wisdom from time in his own ‘lonely places.’ That level of compassion and grace are forged in our loneliest times when it’s only us and God.
So this self-acknowledged extrovert begins to ask, “How do I steer conversations about gut-wrenching subjects–gut-wrenching because they involve people’s lives, souls and spirits; yet, people try to debate them at only an intellectual level–back to the humanity of people? Back to how God views their existence? Away from the issue and back to the person?” I find those answers away from the noise of society and in solitude, in the lonely places. In the lonely places, I understand that these ‘issues’ are not issues, they are people. In the lonely places, I focus not on the intellectual arguments, but on the heart of God. In the lonely places, my attitude and responsibility become clear: Jesus emerges as my standard of how I relate to everyone–with respect and awe that we are all created in the image of God.
I have felt lonely often this year, and definitely haven’t appreciated it most of the time. Now, I have a different perspective. I may make Luke 5:16 one of my ‘life’ verses and say, “Maggie often withdraws to the lonely places and prays.”
Have you encountered God in the lonely places? How have those experiences influenced your perspective?