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When You're Alone
January 25, 1976

St. Paul's United Methodist Church

EPHESIANS 6:10-20; 1 PETER 2:10

Being alone is often not a very enjoyable experience, especially when it is imposed by death, alienation, divorce, separation. Being alone is often a very lonely experience, a horrible, agonizing experience. Lynn Caine, author of the popular book Widow, in which she describes her experiences as she entered into the state of widowhood, likened the experience of being a widow to that of a lonely goose. She wrote, “From the moment a goose realizes that the partner is missing, it loses all courage, and flees even from the youngest and weakest geese. As its condition quickly becomes known to all the members of the colony, the lonely goose rapidly sinks to the lowest step in the ranking order. The goose can become extremely shy, reluctant to approach human beings and to come to the feeding place. The bird also develops a tendency to panic.” Lynn reluctantly found in herself a kinship with this goose, descending to the lowest step in the ranking order. Feeling loneliness is in a sense being ostracized, separated from former friends, a condition that is not too happy. 

James Michener, in his popular, recent book Centennial, describes how the Arapaho Indians in the plains dealt with the widow. When Lame Beaver, a brave warrior in the tribe, died, his wife Blue Leaf, was no longer a co-head of a family. She was no longer the wife of a warrior and had no son to take care of her. After his death, she was visited by the fellow ladies of the tribe who proceeded to tear her teepee apart. She no longer had any rights. They tore it down, they took away her favorite poles. They took her bison rug, they took her paintings, all the artwork that she had done to describe her husband’s successes. They took the bed. By the end of the day, all that was left was a pile of dust and the clothes on her back. Her daughter went to live with the uncle, but there was no one to take care of Blue Leaf. For a while she tried to keep warm by living among the horses. She was very hungry, there was nothing for her to eat. This was winter time and the third day a blizzard came. The next morning they found her frozen to death. That’s what Arapaho Indians did with widows. The law of the plain was very clear and immutable—an elderly widow who had no man to care for her had expended her usefulness and the tribe would not allow itself to be impeded by her. 

Perhaps our treatment of widows is not that different. Perhaps some widows have experienced life this way. Oh, not quite so awkward. Our treatment is a little more subtle. Lynn Caine wrote, “Being a widow is like living in a country where nobody speaks your language, a country that considers you an untouchable.” Society doesn’t quite know what to do with the person who is suddenly all alone. A widow finds herself sometimes uncomfortable with her former friends, former couples who celebrated life together with her and her husband. She finds that situation changing for she’s now single and sometimes she’s a threat to the other women. There’s jealousy. Our society doesn’t quite know what to do with this person who is suddenly left all alone.

With a divorced person, it’s even more severe. Society has no customs with which to relate to a divorced person. There’s no funeral; the community doesn’t surround the person as in a funeral. The Dinner Belles don’t send in lunch. No one sends cards. The divorced person is all alone—plus having deep and hurt feelings. The person who initiated the divorce often experiences feelings of deep guilt, second thoughts and doubts. And the person who was divorced by the mate experiences feelings of shame, and is very uneasy out with people. “I couldn’t make my marriage work. I failed.” And the divorced person is all alone. 

The church at this point really needs to be more sensitive in its ministry. We need to be aware of the needs of single persons. The church really needs to reach out and be one happy family. We are brothers and sisters. Peter wrote, “Once you were no people, but now you are God’s people.” And that should be the church—God’s people—with God as our father and each other as brothers and sister. This sense of community that we need to provide for each other is even more necessary in our day because single persons are often separated from their own natural families. Families are spread out across the country. Our larger families are not often around us, so a single person is all alone. And the secular community does not have the community identity it used to have. In ancient Israel identity was found in the tribes. Our fathers and mothers living in small towns in rural America experienced a sense of community which we no longer experience. How important it is for us as a church to reach out and to be one another’s family. 

For people who are going through separation as a widow, widower, or a divorced person, there’s a grief process that takes months. It’s very difficult to go through. We all need to reach out to help sustain, strengthen and support them. A lot of churches offer groups for single people—widows, widowers and divorced persons—where they can share their experience and help support each other. This is a challenge to us in the church. I think we’re doing a fairly good job at it. When we say we are going to have family activities, when we have our family turkey dinner, when we have a family recreation night, we don’t mean a father and mother and children. We mean our church family. Family activities should never just be for fathers and mothers and children. It should be for all of us where we can be each other’s grandparents, each other’s parents, each other’s brothers and sisters, as we develop a community based on the love of God, the forgiveness of God and his companionship, his support and his strength. That’s a challenge to us as a church—to be a community, to be God’s people. 

But having said all that, in the last analysis it comes back to you who are now alone, or you who have experienced some difficulty in life. Whenever trouble comes upon you— hardship, financial difficulty, difficulty in the job, whatever kind of pressure, the question comes. What are you going to do with it? What are you going to do with this situation? In the last analysis, no one can live anyone else’s life. You are finally accountable for your own life. You make the decision about how you are going to live. No one else decides for you. You make the decision. 

There’s a two sided choice that comes to each of us. Whenever anything difficult comes upon us, we have two choices, two ways to go. Number one, will I be defeated or will I conquer? Will I let this situation overwhelm me or will I be in charge? Will I be in despair and disillusionment? Will I be devastated by this experience? Or, number two, will I find another source to be creative, another source to deepen my life? Even when you’re alone, you have the opportunity to discover who you are. You have the opportunity to really take a good, long, hard look at yourself and find out who you are, to rethink the priorities in your life, reorganize your life, reevaluate your life. And no matter what happens to you, there’s always the possibility of deepening your relationship with God and finding Christ in that event. We have a choice. Will I be beaten? Or will I win?

The Bible is quite clear. Life is a battle. In the Ephesians passage we read this morning, Paul said that in order for you to make it, you must put on the armor of God. The supposition in this passage is that the world is basically an unfriendly place, life is hard. That worldview is quite different from ours. The Bible is often hard for us to relate to because the worldview, the context out of which they have written is contrary to ours. Our worldview is that you and I look at life, look at the world as if it’s basically a friendly place. We look at life expecting it to be happy. We expect life to be easy, calm, serene, successful and when it isn’t, when it’s hard, we’re devastated, we’re thrown, we’re confused, we’re perplexed. But the people of the Bible, and even our ancestors believed the world to be basically an unfriendly place. They believed life to be hard. They expected it to be cruel. They knew they were at the mercy of the elements—earthquakes, storms, tornadoes, typhoons, droughts, famines, pestilences, the plague. They had a lot of children because they knew several of the children would die. They expected death, they expected it to be hard. And when it wasn’t, when it was bright, when it was joyful, when they succeeded, they rejoiced. They gave thanks to God. They were grateful. The psalmists burst forth in praise, thanksgiving and rejoicing. 

You and I expect life to be easy and when it isn’t, we get cynical, bitter and angry. We never do rejoice. We never do give thanks to God. We’re never really grateful to God for what we have. They expected life to be hard and when it was beautiful, they rejoiced. Perhaps we need a deeper sense of realism about life. We don’t have to go to the extreme of expecting it to be a battle on every hand with the devil. But, let’s be more realistic about life—realizing, recognizing, admitting there are pressures, there are temptations, there is death, there is illness, there is separation, there is ugliness, there is evil. Be prepared. Put on the whole armor of God. 

This passage is Paul’s final exhortation to the Christians in Ephesus, “Be strong in the Lord.” Be strong, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil, that you may stand, you may not be defeated, overwhelmed, beaten, whipped, that you may not be lost in negativism, cynicism, bitterness and anger. Stand that you might withstand the wiles of the devil. Stand and be strong in the Lord. 

Gird your loins with truth as a soldier wears armor to protect him. Gird your loins with truth. Have a realistic understanding of what’s going on. Be honest about who and what you are, for the truth will always set you free. Be strong in the Lord with truth, with faith that you may be able to withstand the darts of the evil one. 

Put on the sandals of peace. Be flexible and ready to move. Have peace within yourself, with each other and with God. 

Take the helmet of salvation. Salvation is the relationship with Jesus Christ that’s not so much past oriented, not so much a forgiveness of the past, but a relationship with Christ that gives us strength to face the future. Salvation is an experience with Christ that enables us to go into each day, into each experience with the hope that we will overcome, that we will conquer. 

Paul says to take the sword, which is the Word. Fill your mind with the Bible. Study his word. Fill your thinking, fill your ideals, fill your motivations with God’s words. 

And finally, pray. Be constant in prayer. No matter what happens to us, we can always deepen that experience with God in prayer. The strength, the courage, the power that comes in prayer in communion with God is beyond our wildest imaginations. Often these hard experiences will drive us to prayer and will drive us to God. 

Put on the whole armor of God. No matter what happens, may we in our community as brothers and sisters enable one another to be strong in the Lord, to believe, to trust, to walk and to pray.

© 1976 Douglas I. Norris