As I left our Senior Residence Village today, a woman was just coming in from the garage. She looked like she'd been shopping. She smiled and greeted me.
I thought, she's just lost her husband, yet she's smiling. And I thought, could I do that? If I were alone, no longer with my dearly loved partner in life, could I smile at people? Could I be happy, find useful things to do, be of good cheer? I would find that very hard, I thought.
Yet I know perfectly radiant people around me who are living happily, spending time with children and grandchildren, doing useful work, and seeming to bless the world as they go about their day and their days.
A friend gave me some weeks ago an e-mail blog to read, called, "The Deadly Truth about Loneliness," saying "we continue to underestimate the lethality of loneliness as a serious public health issue."
Below that is the picture of an older man sitting on a bench in what appears to be a subway or train station. He is balding, with furrowed brows, his mouth turned down at the ends, and a grimace just short of a snarl upon his face. His legs are crossed, one hand rests in his lap, the other on the head of a cane. His eyes look off into the distance. He is unhappy, and quite probably lonely.
I feel for him. My heart goes out to him. I want to put an arm around his shoulder and comfort him. I can only imagine what his life story may be.
As I think about him, I am sitting in the back room of the Starbucks coffee shop I love. It is noisy. I have been greeted by name by at least two young baristas, and by Heidi, the manager.
It is the Monday of Christmas week, exactly one week until Christmas Day. I went to two stunning musical worship services yesterday. Molly fed me our toast and eggs Sunday brunch afterward. I napped and then woke to what would be three hours with precious people who are vital in my family - two wonderful daughters, the easy-going unruffled husband of one, and their eager, athletic, world-travelling college senior son. They were soon joined by a beautiful daughter-in-law - and her daughter, husband, and two sweet little granddaughters.
It all was huge joy to my Molly, who had prepared food, and wrapped distinctive presents to give them. We talked and laughed. "I feel Christmas has begun, and all the possible pressures have gone," Molly said. She repeated that several times as we went to bed.
I moved into my slow today, thinking ahead to the high privilege of preaching on Christmas morning in the church I had served so long, many years ago. That too, is joy for me.
Still, the lonely man troubles me. The article cites studies and experiments in the gradually awakening scientific community to the fact that loneliness is lethal, often leading to death.
Jesus was a man alone. But, He gathered friends. He loved them and served them. And, He taught the world: "Come unto Me, all you who labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn of Me, for I am meek and lowly of heart, and I will give you rest to your souls."
Our troubled spirits, our lonely hearts, do find rest in Him. Also, He says, "You are My friends."
The children's hymn is so right, "What a Friend we have in Jesus."
Maybe the best we can do for each other is to offer the friendship of Jesus to the lonely souls around us - by being their friends ourselves, and hold out to them the Jesus Who is the great Friend of our lives.
Arthur A Rouner, Jr -
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ARTHUR ROUNER MINISTRIES