Every time I have the opportunity and privilege to travel overseas, serve and partner with the Lord in His work, it is always a different and unique experience. And it usually has a few things about it that stand out more, or rise above the other things and become the strongest memories. Sometimes it’s the ways in which God has worked through me. Other times it is how He has provided in the times of the unknown or an unexpected time of crisis, like the time I got stranded in Paris for 5 days and had my wallet stolen from me. Or sometimes it is just simply the unique places I have found myself in to share His Gospel…remote villages…cities I never knew existed…and with people who come from an entirely different culture and world of my own. But this time, in the time I have spent serving in what has become my home away from home, Romania, it will be perhaps be remembered for something unexpected and what many might not consider that memorable. It will be remembered for my time riding the train.
I have spent more time alone on the train than in all my other previous visits here. And as I have rode across the beautiful, yet in some places difficult terrain, of the Romanian countryside multiple time, it has been there on the train, that God has moved. He began to paint a picture of who I am, who He wants me to be, and where I believe He is taking me… This is just some of the details of the brush strokes of God’s unending Grace of transformation in my life…
Painting the Loneliness
Loneliness is human emotion all human beings experience. All of us have experienced it at some point in our lives. It is something that I believe God allows us to experience for many reasons, but I truly think there are two that stand out above the rest. On a purely human level, loneliness helps us value and appreciate relationships more and better understand what they mean for us and why God has given them to us. The second reason is that it gives us a great opportunity to grow spiritually, depending on how we respond to it, which I’ll talk more about later.
For me personally, loneliness is nothing new and a place I am very accustomed and adjusted to living in. Most of the people I grew up with are married and have started families. The pseudo communities that the Church creates are still very much predominately geared toward families (even though most churches would disagree with this) and often people are either uninterested in a life like mine or the fact that we cannot relate to one another becomes painfully obvious. So even when I am with people, I often can feel alone because the life I live, the life God has me in right now, is one in which I am often alone in and feel alone in. For the most part I try to remain faithful and lather myself in work trying to honor the time I have as a single man. However, I have lived in a place of loneliness for so long that honestly, I believe I have become to numb to it as I gracefully pass through my time here on earth. Sometimes when I am around people who are married or families their lives seem so foreign to me, and often times I cannot really relate to them or their lives. Because of that sometimes I actually need to retreat and find a few moments to be alone and just peacefully observe people. That does not mean I never think about companionship or wonder how it would be to have a family of my own, it just means that right now, I am no longer able to relate to the things they relate to. Most of my days consist of driving in a car alone, or working on a project alone, or having a meeting with someone that still does not remove that feeling. I am sure there are some of you reading this that, even if your life may look slightly different than mine, can relate to what I am saying. But loneliness in another country is something different altogether and on the train God painted it in my mind to see and understand clearly. Let me explain.
Back home in the States, when you are lonely, sometimes just going to a local coffee shop can ease that loneliness. Talking with the regulars, the workers who get to know those who frequent their shops, and the occasional surprise visit from a friend or random stranger that provides a good conversation. In a foreign context those things do not exist. You can visit the local café’s but the regulars don’t know you. The attendants there often times don’t even speak English. And even though I have grown tremendously in my Romanian (Romania being the foreign context I happen to be in right now) speaking it is still not a fluent means of communication for me, therefore conversations with random people aren’t likely.
It has been on the train that I have experienced this amplified loneliness the most. Riding from one side of Romania to the other, with the slow-moving travel through the Carpathian Mountains, provides much inescapable alone time. And it was there in my train cabin, amidst the beauty of God’s creation, that I have felt most alone. No one to truly talk to…no coffee shop to retreat to…no technology to escape into…alone on the train. It was there that my work, my life and my mind was slowed and stilled allowing me to experience the fullness of my loneliness.
Now many people might at this point begin to be concerned for me after what they have just read. Feel sorry for me, or think they need to do something to help me to change something. But the truth is, is there is no place I’d rather be. Because as I said earlier, loneliness gives us a great opportunity to grow spiritually, depending on how we respond to it…
Painting the Solace
Many people in the Bible experienced tremendous loneliness. Elijah, Jeremiah, David, Paul and even Jesus the King of Kings Himself experienced tremendous loneliness. Like Elijah, Jeremiah, David, Jesus, Paul, or me on the train here in Romania a person may experience times of intense loneliness in their lives. And how we respond to it determines much about how it will affect us. We can learn much about how we should respond to loneliness and what the benefits from it are from following the examples we have in Scripture. Elijah and Jeremiah were overwhelmed with their loneliness. David, Paul and Jesus were not. The difference is Elijah and Jeremiah felt sorry for themselves while David, Paul and Jesus sought refuge in God.
So it has been those moments on the train that, while they have been the ones that have been the most lonely moments, have also been some of my most intimate times with Jesus as I sought refuge in Him. I spent time reading the Word, in prayer and meditation with Him, and read some biographies of faith heroes of which God spoke to me through. And as I did these things God began to peel the layers of who I am away and expose things in my life that He desires to shape and change. The depth of some practices in my life that need to be changed, the need for even greater intimacy with Him, the need to be set apart in greater ways from the world in which I still must live in and try and reach. All being brought forth through the Father’s Grace of allowing me to be in a complete and utter place of loneliness as He gently painted the things He wills to change in me in my heart and mind. The gentle but refining brush strokes of a work of art being conformed to the image of His Son; a picture of the peace and solace only found in a deep relationship with Jesus. So there on the train, in the midst of deep loneliness, God painted that peace and solace in my heart and began to show me things He is preparing me to do…
Painting the Future
The last part of the painting Jesus was painting in me on the train was one of preparation. And through a proper response to loneliness, and finding intimate moments with the Lord, He began to show me glimpses into what is to come. Glimpses I would have missed had I responded to loneliness with self-pity or a self-consumed attitude of depression. I was told early on in my life in ministry that ministry would be a lonely place, and it is….even for those who are married and with families. But the loneliness in which God has worked through here in a foreign context on the train I believe is a way that He is preparing me for what lies ahead. For that I am grateful and I am seeing that God providing or allowing (depending on your theology) loneliness is a different level of His unmerited Grace that only a proper response to will allow you to experience…I encourage you to consider that the next time you experience a time or a season of deep loneliness.
I will end by saying that we all have different purposes to fulfill in this life and in the Body of Christ, and in them we all will experience times of loneliness or being alone. There are different things that God uses and speaks to us through if we respond correctly to those times. This song and its lyrics have been one of those things for me during the time this blog developed and I hope it may have the same effect on you as I share it and God begins to paint your picture. Bless you and thank you for hearing my heart.