Our reading from the book of Genesis this week holds before us a poignant image of loneliness, and deep isolation. Maybe for the first time in his life Jacob finds himself completely on his own in a vast, empty desert. He has run away from the security of his home: the comfort of its familiarity and the loving care of his mother. He had taken what was not his to take. He had deceived his father and his brother big time! Now he begins to feel the weight of what he has done, and starts to gauge the ramifications of his actions.
The desert can be a lonely and frightening place, especially at night, but the ancient story-teller hones his words well when he speaks about Jacob taking a stone for a pillow.
That seems to sum his situation up very well; it’s cold, it’s hard, it’s uncomfortable!
One of my school friends often seemed under a cloud. He didn’t take much interest in his appearance, he wasn’t involved in sport, or really anything except fixing his old motorbike which he was always tinkering with, and looking back I guess that he was depressed! He had a low self-esteem and kept a lot to himself.
However, when he turned up the following year he seemed a completely different person. He stood straighter, he combed his hair, took care of his appearance and took the initiative to run in the school Cross Country race. It was a huge change and we all noticed it. What had happened to him over the holidays? He told us that his father had sent him on an Outward Bound Course, and he really hated the idea, resisting and arguing with his father, but to no avail. He went on the course and he spoke about the time where – toward the end of the course – he was taken out into the bush and was told to stay there for 48 hours on his own. He had provisions but he wasn’t allowed to move more than 50 metres from his tent. He didn’t have a mobile phone in those days, and if he had it would have been taken away. He didn’t have a book to read, or anything else to distract him from his situation. However, in his isolation he came to see that he had been taught the skills he needed, and found he had the stamina and resilience of spirit not just to survive but also to thrive. He came to see himself in a new light and value what he saw – it made all the difference.
Jacob and my school friend found that there can be a movement from loneliness to solitude, as Henry Nouwen describes in his book, Reaching Out. Loneliness is one of the most universal human experiences, and in this time of lockdown where we are physically isolated from one another we can feel it intently and find ourselves restless and insecure. At times like this our faith leads us to prayer. To sit quietly with a Bible verse which assures us of God’s promise to be with us always can help us to know that we are not alone, and certainly not unloved.
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart,
and you will find rest for your souls.
One of the most powerful messages of our faith, is that we are loved and cherished by God, and placed in community where we experience the care and comfort of God through one another. Our faith teaches us that we carry the image of God within us; that we are people of worth, valued by God.
You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people…
Savour those thoughts in this time of solitude, and if you ever want to talk about how you are coping or not coping, I’m only a phone call away.