My long loneliness and the church's love

June 10, 2014

As I prepared to be ordained recently, my mind kept returning to the people in my life who might be perplexed by this decision. I have friends and colleagues who wonder, quite justly, what the church has to offer that one cannot find elsewhere. I thought about how I might describe what pulls me toward ministry and the church in particular.

In my head, I heard two questions: Why this path? Why the church? In many ways, my choice was not obvious—perhaps especially for someone in her 20s. Among many of the young people whose voices I hear, conversation about sources of meaning in their life rarely includes the church. They mention many good, worthy things: authentic friendships, romantic relationships, family ties, political engagement, careers that are both purposeful and humane. Yet they rarely mention the church. Why did I choose it?

My answer touches on what Dorothy Day described as “the long loneliness.” Throughout my life, even with the love and care of friends and family, I have felt another kind of loneliness—one that hovers just beneath the surface, that settles into my very bones.

There is a world of people whom I do not know, whom I have not met, relationships and connections with people outside my immediate circle that I am missing. I see this lack, from one vantage point, as a tragedy. This is a source of hidden sadness for me, and I would guess for many others as well.

The church, the body of Christ in the world, is one of the few groups I have encountered that is able to respond to this sadness, this hidden loneliness. The church, at its best, is a community where we encounter the depth of God's love—the depth of God's love for ourselves and others.

And it is this love that draws us back into the world more fully. It is a love that can lead us into relationship with neighbors, strangers, and (perhaps especially) our enemies.

This is what the church is capable of being in and for the world: a community where God's love lifts the blinders from our eyes and enables us to look beyond our immediate circle and our immediate interests.

It is this kind of love that led me to ordination. I choose the church because the church is a people and a place where our deeper loneliness can be transfigured into deeper love—where God can transform our longings into love that does not fail.


disillusionment ahead

I'm sorry to say this, but I can't imagine any future for this young pastor which doesn't include tremendous disillusionment. But as Parker Palmer says, disillusionment is not a bad thing.

I'm not sure what they are teaching in seminaries these days, but churches are by and large groups of people with the same problems -- hang-ups and shallowness and all the rest-- as the rest of the world. Sometimes in even more concentrated form. You will only be able to love the people in your congregation if you can figure out a way to live with that, as Jesus lived with 12 fallible men who were more inclined to use swords against their enemies, fall asleep when they were most needed, and argue over their respective greatness than to address the pastor's "long loneliness." And of course, Jesus didn't have to deal with his own inadequacy as well. "The church at its best" -- shouldn't be confused with the Kingdom of God.

That an entire essay could be written about "the church" with no mention of Jesus is a huge sign of the problem.

thanks for the feedback

Hi Terry,

Thanks for the response. I appreciate your reminder that each of us is broken and deeply flawed. It is true. The church is composed of fallible people. We are a far cry from God's vision of shalom.

In my post, I hoped to highlight some of my experiences in the church. Though not perfect by any means, the church is a place where I have encountered the love of Jesus. It is a place where I sensed the Spirit of Christ at work -- responding to our longing and helping us become more fully alive. Yet as you said, we still have our "hang-ups and shallowness and all the rest." Both are true, and that is a hard paradox.

I hope that clarifies a bit. Thanks again for your feedback.


responding to the sadness

why this path, the church?
the church, the body of Christ
where God can transform
( haiku, drawn from word palette of essay above)

responding to sadness

The question why this path, the church? is answered for this very moment, "The church, the body of Christ....where God can transform...." A clear and excellent reflection to capture, as future meditations will be as well.

My long loneliness and the church's love

May God bless you as you continue to seek His face . wait on Him and be of good courage, and He has promised to strengthen your heart. Remember to always put Him first, and you are assured of 'good' successes for His glory and your good.

I have been in the church all of my life; I remember back to 2 or 3 years old, that I loved Lord ,and wanted to see even a semblance of the God that I was hearing and learning about from the bible, but was hard pressed to see Him. This has been the story of my life. I can remember at 10 yrs. old, resting on the limb of an old Oak tree, saying to God, "I am confused. I can't see You in these people who say that represent You, and as clear as day, (not in an audibly ) but to what I now know was my spirit this response; "if there is any confusion my child, it is not in Me." This brought peace and comfort to my soul, but I didn't know how to walk, but God never left my side. He has walked and continues to walk with me all of the time. Though at times, I have failed Him, He has never failed me.

Nothing can be sweeter than to daily walk with God. This requires DAILY STUDY( not just reading a test here and there)( but getting into a text and remaining there, allowing Him by His Spirit ,teach you, and only as you put into practice what He is etching you will He open up more of Himself to you) and prayer , not asking Him for THINGS, but telling Him how wonderful He is. He already knows what you need. Express any needs in the form of a THANKSGIVING. YOU WILL SEE LIFE FROM A TOTALLY DIFFERENT VIEW.

I sensed the presence of the Spirit of God in your testimony like I have never sensed Him in anyone's in all of my years. Put and always keep God first, and everything that you could ever need, will be provided( Matthew 6:33), add in all of your ways, acknowledge Him, and He will direct your oath. ( Proverbs 3:6). Blessings!! I might not ever meet you on thus died of the Jordan, but I will be looking for you on the other side!! * any typos, please forgive me!

thanks for sharing

Thank you for the encouraging words and helpful suggestions! Also, thank you for sharing the story about resting on the limb of an old oak as a child -- about wondering, questioning, and listening for God as you rest on the tree. It is a vivid image. It brings back memories for many of us, I imagine.