A while back, I was attending a college in Orange County. I was there strictly to play basketball and to attend classes. My girlfriend at the time was attending a school in San Diego leaving us about an hour and a half away from each other. Meanwhile, my family and friends were about 45 minutes in the opposite direction. No problem, I love meeting new people, and I am never one who ignores the pleasures of “alone time”. Basketball and my studies took up most of my days. When I returned home to my campus apartment I was greeted by 4 of my teammates who doubled as my roommates. We were all from very different walks of like both sociologically and culturally. It wasn’t out of the ordinary to come home after practice and find my belongings tampered with or broken, and to smell the sedentary scent of “mary jane” from blocks away. We had “that” apartment.
As a freshman, I thought this was normal and was something that I would have to learn to expect to endure in college, or at least in junior college. As the season continued, I began to have some problems on the court specifically with the coach. I was frustrated. There is nothing like knowing for certain that you have a safe place to go to when the waters start rising. Home has always been that place for me. Now, however, I didn’t have that anymore. I didn’t have a place to unwind or to relax. Instead, I was in an atmosphere where I was so high strung, stressed and frustrated. I wanted out. I began to spend more and more time alone and long for the chance to return home on the weekends. After months of battling day in and day out on the court and in the apartment I was exhausted. I did live with some good brothers, but they did not understand my faith or my agenda per se, which sadly, leaves most people to ostracize, criticize and condemn what they don’t comprehend. I felt so alone.
In a desperate attempt for some sense of community and a chance to exhale I went to church. I tried a church in the area, which also happened to be one of the biggest churches in the country. It was college night, so I put on my, “ hope this looks O.C. enough” outfit and got to service early. When I arrived I was the only one there. The set up was nice and the whole place had a really cool vibe to it. I found a good seat in the aisle near the middle of the room. The start of service was coming closer and people were beginning to file in. Man, hundreds of students started coming in from every entrance at the same pace. People were literally running in to get a seat. It looked like Abercrombie and Finch was having a half off sale! I continued to sit and sit. I looked around and saw that people were packed in like pickles in a jar. Students were on the floor, leaning against the walls, and some were even sitting on each other. I probably wouldn’t have even noticed the extreme seating situation if it wasn’t for the fact that NOBODY, I MEAN NOBODY, had sat in my row! I started to go through the checklist questionnaire; under arms? No, “Degree” is doing its job. Smile? A little gangly but workable, Breath? “Orbit” as always! What could be the problem?! “Oh well” I said, I won’t let this affect my experience here. I was ready and excited to hear from the pastor. After all, i was still safe because the houselights were down for worship time and i was hoping that the darkness would continue. When worship ended however, the house lights went up. I had never seen lights so bright. I couldn’t tell if I was about to be preached to or pulled over. “Its ok I got this” i thought. My heart started to beat faster , and the mind games took a toll. For a freshman in college, this is torture!
The pastor walks on stage,greets everyone and says, “Please open your Bibles……….. Tonight’s sermon is on Loneliness”. I wish I were joking. I went from being a hidden soul in an empty row to now the most popular person in the congregation. I thought some of the attendee’s necks were going to snap by the way they were staring at me. Frowns turned to snickers, and smiles turned into light chuckles. This was awful. I had gone too far now, can’t get up and walk out and i sure can’t pretend to laugh with them. So i sat. Who knew that the pastor would have a real life example for his sermon?
A funny story sure, but I chose to tell it because it seems like more and more people are feeling utterly, totally, and hopelessly alone. People are feeling shut out and are therefore shutting off. We are meant to experience love through both time and affection. We need to see signs of love, and to hear words of encouragement. A tender compliment, a smile, or a soft touch can instantly turn around a mood or even a situation.
Sometimes, things as little as not receiving a warm welcome from friends or family can make you question your importance and self worth. It could be something as frivolous as working a hard and long day to rush to your phone and find zero texts and or zero missed calls, a feeling that we all know. It’s a feeling that sucks, and if we aren’t careful it can throw us into a sinking sea of heavy loneliness. This is a feeling that I am fascinated by because it is the most humble of emotions. Loneliness doesn’t know race, class, or gender. Feeling lonely is such an honest and simple reaction.
I have found that when people are presented with this emotion we typically tend to respond in two different ways. The first, we drink it in and let the sadness have its way with us. We sulk and pessimistically seclude ourselves from friends and love. We let the emotion harbor allowing it free reign to grow, while the hopeful light gets dimmer and dimmer. Thoughts like, “I am in this alone”, “nobody cares for me” and “what’s the point” type attitudes become chiseled in ink on our hearts of stone.
The second way we tend to handle this emotion is through bitterness. An empty voice mailbox and a text less phone is a precursor for me to mentally say, “screw all them, I don’t need them anyway” or my favorite “ I don’t care”. This might actually work for a while. Such reactions may even motivate you to get things done, but the truth is, we do care, a lot. If not, I would be worried about how human you actually are. This bitterness bug begins to grow into anger faster than we can monitor it. That anger turns into indifference, and before we know it we become self-serving narcissists who delight in being apathetic towards everything under the sun. The “I don’t care-ness” becomes a way of life, a lonely way of life.
These two reactions are lethal and they will never fail to separate us from the life that God wants us to live, and the attitude he wants us to have.
God’s love is real, and knowing Him means we are truly never alone, but because we are human we do have human feelings. The question is, what should our response be to the emotion of feeling small, de-valued, underappreciated, and lonely?
This week, we will have moments when the flesh will be begging us to choose sadness and or bitterness. I want to challenge you to respond to such emotions in a very specific way. To fully combat loneliness, we must develop an attitude of GRATITUDE. I believe without a doubt that the simple practice of being thankful can hold the key to a rapid and much needed breakthrough. When it comes, fight it off with any grateful thought you can think of. It can be anything! Yell it if you have to. The results will be nothing short of amazing! Next week, we will dive deeper into the practice of everyday gratitude.
Keys to Discovering/developing a Godly Attitude of Gratitude