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When You Are Alone
August 29, 1982

First United Methodist Church of Modesto


It's not easy being alone. Remember the first time you left home, perhaps as a child going away to camp, and especially if you were going somewhere where you knew no one? Remember what that was like—the fear, apprehension, nervousness, the tightness in the stomach when going away to school, or moving out of the house for the first time? Or perhaps as a parent, your memories are more vivid. When the children left, when the nest was empty, do you remember those feelings? Or, when you lost a friend, or a romance broke up. Do you remember those awful feelings? Can you imagine what it's like when you lose a spouse. Many here today have lost a spouse by death or divorce. For the rest of us, it's hard to imagine what it is like to suddenly be alone. 

Lynne Caine in her book, The Widow, talked about her own experience of going through the death of a loved one. She likened the experience of widowhood with abuse. When a goose suddenly realizes that the partner is missing, the goose becomes extremely shy, pulls back from the flock and goes into him or herself. When the rest of the flock realizes the condition that's happening, they further ostracize the goose. The goose that's shy and panicky will shy away from humans.  Lynne Caine says that's how it is to be a widow. All of a sudden, there’s an overwhelming sense of loss. Something is missing. The person becomes shy, and feels ostracized from the community. It's difficult now to get along with former friends. The whole situation is turned upside down, topsy turvy, feeling aimless and lacking a sense of worth anymore. What am I good for? Perhaps some of you have gone through that experience and can relate to her.

James Michener, in his novel Centennial describes how the Arapaho Indians dealt with a widow. When Lame Beaver died, literally his wife no longer had any rights. She was no longer the wife of a warrior. The tribe tore down her teepee, took away her pole, her bison rug, leaving her with nothing on but her clothes. Her daughter went to live with the uncle, but she had no rights. It was the law of the Plains Indians that an elderly widow had expended her usefulness. And the tribe did not allow themselves to be impeded by the widow. For three days she tried to keep warm but finally died, frozen to death in a blizzard. 

Perhaps our society is not quite that cruel, but subtly, we do somewhat the same thing to one who is suddenly alone. There is a subtle form of ostracism, a subtle form of putting a person out into the cold, all alone. Lynne Caine goes on in her book, The Widow, “Being a widow is like living in a country where nobody speaks your language, a country that considers you untouchable, probably because our society doesn't quite know what to do with the one who is alone. The friends are now uncomfortable. And especially the friends who are a couple no longer know what to do with the person who is alone and the person who is now alone doesn't feel comfortable with a former couple.”

It is even more severe when a person is alone because of divorce. Even more severe and deep are the feelings of guilt. Often when your spouse dies, you have a sense of guilt—I should have done this. I should have done that. Why didn't I do that? Why did I say that? But it's even more severe with the person who's divorced and feels that heavy burden of guilt—What did I do wrong? I can't even make my marriage work—feelings of failure, feelings of shame. Society doesn't help. Society has no customs. The neighbors don't bring in meals when there's a divorce. There's no funeral. There's no public anything. The relatives don't come from San Francisco and Fresno and gather around. They don't have a lunch after the funeral with all that support, and no one sends any cards when there's a divorce, and no flowers. All of a sudden, the person is no longer married, and is left all alone. 

We as a church need to be more sensitive to what it's like to be alone. May we be more sensitive to widows and to people who are divorced. We as the church have a common commitment to Jesus Christ the Savior and Lord. We are brothers and sisters. We are family. We are the larger family. Peter wrote, “Once you were no people but now you are God's people.” And in the church, we are a community that needs to undergird, love and reach out to one another. especially in this day when community is so difficult to find. In this day of mobility, where people move so often, and where their natural relatives can be miles and miles away, how we need to reach out to one another and be brothers and sisters, parents and grandparents to one another, especially to those who are suddenly alone. 

I noticed  our church Friendship Class and our Fireside Class have done a beautiful job of including widows in their classes, activities and potlucks. Those who were formally couples come as widows. That’s how we need to reach out and be one another’s family. And we need to constantly discover and create programs and ministries to undergird and to strengthen, to sustain the widow and the divorcee. 

Having said all that, when you come down it, no matter what the crisis—if you're left alone, if you've lost a job, if you have a job crisis, if you've lost a loved one, whatever the crisis, when it comes down to it, you face it alone. And the decision on what that crisis, what that situation and what that condition does to you is your decision. In the final analysis, the question is what are you going to do with what has happened to you? What will you do with it? Will you let it defeat you? Will you let it embitter you? Will you let it fill your days with sadness and loneliness? Will you let it make you hostile and make you feel sorry for yourself? You must answer those questions. 

Or, will you take whatever has happened to you and use that occasion creatively, use that as an opportunity to get to know yourself better, to restate your priorities and to deepen your relationship with God? But whatever happens to you Jesus Christ is in the midst and promises that you'll never be given a burden you can’t handle. No matter what happens to you, God will make good come out of it and that's the promise. No matter what happens to you, God is in the midst—when you're alone or whatever the crisis. The scripture lesson today gave us principles for survival, how to make it in life. These principles fit us all, whether we're alone, whether we have a severe health problem, whether we have a mental problem, whether we have a relationship problem, whatever the crisis. Notice these principles for survival. 

Ephesians 6:10-11, “Put on the whole armor of God that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.” This passage presupposes that the world is basically an unfriendly place. Life is not an easy journey down the river, or a nice boat ride on Don Pedro. Life is a battle, life is a fight. Life is a contest between good and evil. And whether you call it the devil, or the forces of evil, it's all about us, and it attacks you. It attacks your body, it attacks your home, it attacks your loved ones. Death is an enemy, cancer is an enemy and we are constantly in battle. We must put on the whole armor of God and stand. 

Our grandmothers and our grandfathers understood that, our great-grandparents understood that. They believed that the world was not an easy place. You and I expect the world to be beautiful. We expect the best. We think we have rights to peace, joy and happiness. You and I expect life to treat us right and when it doesn’t, when death happens, and crises happen, then we get discouraged, embittered and we don't understand. We say, “Why is God punishing me?” God  is not punishing you. That’s the way life is, that's the battle. Our grandmothers and grandfathers understood that. When the crop didn't fail as they expected, when there was not the plague that they expected, when their children didn't die as they expected, then they praised God and were thankful to God for their blessings. You and I expect it to be good and when it isn't, we get discouraged. This passage presupposes that life is not a friendly place, and to make it we must put on the whole armor of God. 

Verse 10, “Be strong in the Lord.” And verse 13, “Therefore, take the whole armor of God that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, stand firm.” Do not be overwhelmed or defeated. Do not be discouraged but stand, resolutely and firmly. Paul goes on, “Then therefore, having girded your loin with truth” —to survive and find the truth. Be honest with yourself, and about what happened. Be honest with the truth. 

“Put   on the breastplate of righteousness.” Live in such a way that you can look anyone in the eye. Live your life in such a manner that you can walk with assurance for you are doing your best. The breastplate of righteousness. 

“Take the shield of faith with which you can quench all the flaming darts of the evil one”—faith in God, faith in the future and faith that God works and brings good out of all situations. 

“And take the helmet of salvation.” Salvation—being forgiven of one’s sins, having one’s past erased and are able to face the future. 

And “Take the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God.” Get into the Bible and let the words and the message direct your lives and give you comfort and strength. We have opportunities for Bible study. On September 14 we are having a potluck to start new groups, new Bible study groups. Our one thrust this year is to get into the Bible and get into prayer. The last survival principle is to “pray at all times in the Spirit.” To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, salvation, faith, prayer—deepening your relationship with God. 

Let us be sensitive to one another, especially to those who are alone. Be sensitive to one another with whatever they may face and be the family of God—praying, loving and supporting one another. And whatever your personal crisis, put on the whole armor of God and stand, resolutely, firmly grounded in the Holy Spirit and power of Jesus Christ. Amen.

© 1982 Douglas I. Norris