When I was a little girl, perhaps six or seven, I remember lying in my bed and feeling intensely lonely, so much so that I couldn’t fall asleep.
“Why are you lonely?” asked my mom, kindly, but perhaps a little befuddled. Our house was full of people and love. My sister slept in the bunk above me. The cat might have been curled up at the foot of the bed – or perhaps I wished he was and that was part of my loneliness. I couldn’t explain it. I didn’t have an answer for my mom. But to this day I remember how I felt. I have no doubt I was experiencing loneliness.
“To be human is to be lonely,” writes Jason Gaboury in his newly released book Wait With Me (IVP). He is quoting a monk by the name of Friar Ugo, who wisely did not dismiss Jason when he confessed his own loneliness as a 30 year old married man with children. Instead, Friar Ugo gave Jason words of quiet advice that eventually led to this timely book.
“Loneliness is part of the human condition,” said Friar Ugo. “You can look to me…or to something else…or even to religion to try to make you feel better. Or, you could see this as the beginning of God’s work of transformation in you.”
Some 10 years later, having taken Friar Ugo’s wisdom to heart, Jason turned to Scripture to consider how loneliness can open a path to encounters with God and then, our own transformation.
There are stories of lonely people all through the Bible – of Hagar and Ishmael banished to the desert; of Elijah, fleeing for his life to a mountain cave; of Esther, torn from her family and given to a powerful king as his possession; of Mary, a teenager all alone with an angel who had quite the news for her.
Jason threads his own experiences of loneliness, and that of friends and family, into this slim, profoundly helpful, book.
His reflections remind me I am not alone in my loneliness. Others have been here before me. Their stories help me find my way, help give meaning to my experiences. They cause me to ask God to meet me in my loneliness, to ask what perspective, lesson, even what gift, I might receive.
Jason’s book was released in this season of social isolation when the COVID-19 global pandemic has amplified loneliness in ways most of us never expected. Ironically, one of my most profound moments of loneliness rose up in me when I was, yet again, surrounded by family and love.
It was on Good Friday, which also happened to be my mom’s birthday. My family had organized a ZOOM call, the only way we could ‘be together’. It was lovely – siblings, nieces, cousins, grandchildren – all of us in our little windows laughing and remembering together, celebrating with my mom even though we were all miles apart.
I sat in my bedroom in front of my computer screen, my face looking back at me from my little Zoom square. And then I noticed something. Most of my family had more than one person in their square – spouses, children, even cats and dogs. They’d all come to the party together. But four of us had come alone. I couldn’t get past that. Even though I knew I was part of this family, that I was loved, I was deeply aware of my own isolation.
In his chapter about Mary, the mother of Jesus, Jason writes about her gift for pondering. There are three Biblical stories that relate her musing over challenges she faces. Each time, she reflects. She muses. She seems to grow in wisdom and understanding.
I’ve thought about this a lot since reading Wait With Me. I have two favourite chapters in this book. I love the chapter about Hagar and Ismael because of the way God sees and speaks to this slave woman and her son. God sees them. They are not alone. And I love the chapter about Mary because she reminds me not to let the feelings of loneliness engulf me but rather to ponder what is going on for me, and to ask God to help me understand.