All the World's a Classroom
An experience we hardly admit. A thought we often shun. A fear we avoid at all cost. Loneliness.
Few would actually say “I’m lonely”, not jokingly or with tongue in cheek, but in a solemn and sober manner. Outwardly, snickers may be directed to such a person, but there may also be inner, unspoken admiration for the courage to admit such a private state of being.
Why are we lonely? And why are we so afraid of being lonely?
Why Are We Lonely?
There are quite a number of reasons why loneliness occurs. Physical or geographical isolation from preferred companions is one. The absence of a refreshing and vibrant social network can trigger an isolated feeling and awareness.
It must be noted, however, that loneliness differs from being alone, because it can easily occur in the midst of social interactions. Studies show that occurrences of loneliness are rampant in big cities. People can feel alone in a crowd or even in a marriage.
Thus, loneliness lies in realms beyond the physical. The cause and the solution, therefore, cannot be just physical. It is perhaps quite clear that loneliness is not about the lack of company; it is the lack of intimacy. So the discussion must shift to the immaterial realm of human relationships.
Relationships and Intimacy
The lack of intimacy in relationships could further be caused by several reasons. Firstly, it can be caused by the loss of someone or a relationship through social problems or death. The space that was occupied by certain individuals is now permanently vacant, and the void demands something to fill it back in.
Secondly, it may be caused by a quality of friendship or relationship that is too shallow according to one’s estimation, because it doesn’t satisfy one’s need to identify with another or to be understood in the innermost thought and motive. Such a relationship takes time. Moving to a new surrounding or a new place can be a source of this type of loneliness. Time, though, can potentially solve the problem given that efforts to develop relationships are expended.
The latter cause can be generally described as the discrepancy between expected intimacies with actual intimacies. This discrepancy introduces another factor into the equation, which is one’s growth as he goes through life and various life experiences. Growth in life allows the expansion of one’s concept and understanding about relationship and intimacy. Thus, something that may fulfill one’s need today may not do so a few years down the line.
Where Loneliness Comes From
Out of these few sources of loneliness, it can be concluded tentatively, that the solution of loneliness requires: (i) a person(s), since it deals with relationships, (ii) an intimate relationship with that person(s), since mere company does not suffice, (iii) an established understanding of one’s being at a deep level, and finally (iv) something dynamic and expansive that somehow would grow and expand with one’s conception about the world.
These sources, however, are mere circumstances that trigger loneliness. Can any of it actually claim as the source or root of loneliness? Where does loneliness come from?
American Buddhist monk Ajahn Sumedho says,
We suffer a lot in our society from loneliness. So much of our life is an attempt to not be lonely: ‘Let’s talk to each other; let’s do things together so we won’t be lonely’ And yet inevitably, we are really alone in these human forms. We can pretend; we can entertain each other; but that’s about the best we can do. When it comes to the actual experience of life, we’re very much alone; and to expect anyone else to take away our loneliness is asking too much.
Existentialist philosophers explain the phenomenon of loneliness as a part, perhaps an integral part, of being a human. Each person is born as a separate entity from any other person, with consciousness that is distinct from anyone else’s. Each person lives and dies alone. It is a given and a fact of life.
In other words, the root of loneliness lies in the fact that humans are individuals. We don’t share our soul and consciousness with any other person. It is a given. Yet, this fact is not a hopeless end to the problem.
Loneliness: A Christian Perspective
In Christianity, the answer to loneliness is inevitably God. There is no other Being that can satisfy such demands of the soul. Furthermore, this Answer in the Christian worldview does not only fulfill the aforementioned criteria, but explains the root of loneliness as well. In contrast to Buddhism, this ‘human form’ is not a result of endless cycles of reincarnation in which being a human just happens to be the current state of existence, and one better learn and make the most of it. To the Christian, this ‘human form’ has an intentional origin. Unlike realism that stops at “It’s just the way it is”, the Christian knows that the given facts of life have a Life Giver.
If individuality has an origin, namely the Intellect who produces a unique design for each person, and if loneliness is the inevitable consequence of being an individual, the solution to loneliness must therefore be in the origin.
The One who creates individuals is the One who can fulfill men’s loneliness at the deepest level. Expecting anything or anyone else to do so, will inevitably result in disappointment. At the end of the day, loneliness is in the mind. Each person is all alone in his thoughts and motives, and no one else can access that space except the God who can read the minds of men (cf. Psalm 139). This loneliness is the space God creates in each person for Himself, the God-shaped void, the eternity in men’s hearts (cf. Ecc 3:11). It is felt even more by separation. While the Edenic parents could freely enjoy direct communion with God to satisfy their longing, sin has intensified loneliness in the present world (cf. Isa 59:1-2). Regardless, loneliness is an obvious sign that humans need God.
The publishers’ preface to The Desire of Ages write:
In the hearts of all mankind, of whatever race or station in life, there are inexpressible longings for something they do not now possess. This longing is implanted in the very constitution of man by a merciful God, that man may not be satisfied with his present conditions or attainments, whether bad, or good, or better. . . . It is God’s design that this longing of the human heart should lead to the One who alone is able to satisfy it. The desire is of Him that it may lead to Him, the fullness and fulfillment of that desire. That fullness is found in Jesus the Christ, the Son of the Eternal God. . . . Haggai calls Him ‘the Desire of all nations,’ and we may well call Him ‘the Desire of all ages,’ even as He is ‘the King of ages.’ It is the purpose of this book to set forth Jesus Christ as the One in whom every longing may be satisfied.
Ultimately, the Christian should not be afraid of being lonely. It is the space where God can touch a person’s soul in the deepest sense. It is a special time shared between just one Creator and one human being. It should be a joy for any two beings in love.
To conclude with an insightful quote,
The man who fears to be alone will never be anything but lonely, no matter how much he may surround himself with people. But the man who learns, in solitude and recollection, to be at peace with his own loneliness, and to prefer its reality to the illusion of merely natural companionship, comes to know the invisible companionship of God.
Ps 107:9 For he satisfieth the longing soul, and filleth the hungry soul with goodness.
 Preface to The Desire of Ages by Ellen G. White
 Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude (New York: Doubleday, 1968), 40.
I wish I could wake up and say it was all just a dream. But it’s not. My beloved father is gone and all I have left now is his memory. To many he was a great leader in the church, a supporter of God’s work. To me he was a loving father, who literally laid down his life for his children.
I was privileged to see God worked in the last few years, months, weeks, and days of his life. I see with my eyes how God worked for his salvation, calling him back into a renewed experience and commitment to serve the Lord. We say we can’t explain the will of God, and sure, there remain numerous ‘why’ questions whose answers I just have to wait for. Yet this time, I can’t help being convinced that God allowed him to rest to save him. Until the last moments, we interceded on his behalf that the Holy Spirit would work in his heart in a mighty way that even on his deathbed there would be nothing between his soul and the Savior. It is a difficult exercise, but we trust the outcome to God fully.
This is a daughter’s simple attempt to remember what God has done. After all is said and done, truly I can say the Lord is good.
Back in 2006
It was during my first summer canvassing that I started a prayer that God would revive my family. The twists and turns have been unpredictable for sure, but God indeed is still answering that prayer to this day…
End of 2008
My home church experienced God’s … should I say supernatural leading in choosing their elders for 2009. After 12 years, my dad finally let go of a particular burden he had been carrying and accepted the call on his knees. I knew God had something in store for his life then. What I didn’t know was that God was preparing his soul for his life’s end.
My dad’s heart condition deteriorated. A surgery was inevitable. With certain fearfulness, we prayed for strength and guidance as we went through the path that God chose for us. Life is in God’s hands.
He went through a critical period of time, but thankfully he went out of it. It was such a joy and a relief. Truly it is a miracle that doctors could cut your heart open and you still live! Mom told us that he too felt that God gave him a miracle coming out of that surgery alive. The results weren’t perfect. The valve in his heart was still leaking, but he was thankful and joyful anyway. Another doctor had told him that without the surgery, he could probably only last for a year maximum with his previous condition…
My parents stayed about a week in Malaysia after the surgery and then came home. Of course life was different; Dad was under a strict diet, he couldn’t drink too much water because his lungs had problems, but at the same time his kidneys weren’t doing well either. But he was doing alright. We talked over the phone and webcam, and he looked well.
Sunday, March 29, 2009
As usual over the weekend we talked over webcam. Dad had just got a haircut and it looked cute. He was happy, and I still remember his countenance during this conversation. This would be the last time I would see his smile…
Monday, March 30, 2009
Dad got a fever around evening time and his body was all sore all of the sudden.
Tuesday, March 31, 2009
They went to the doctor and he prescribed him some antibiotics to take. His fever didn’t get better though. In the evening he started to lose consciousness. He was awake and doing things, but he wasn’t completely there when Mom would talk to him.
Wednesday, April 1, 2009
They went back to the hospital and this time they kept him there. He went into the ICU. His consciousness worsened too, and very soon he was on all kinds of life support. Mom didn’t tell us at this time, but the doctor said that there was little hope of recovering. He was basically in a coma from this time on.
Mom called me and my siblings crying, telling us Dad was in the hospital again. We didn’t know how serious it was; after all I just saw him three days ago.
Thursday, April 2, 2009
Not knowing what to do or how bad the situation really was, Mom told us that she wanted my brother to go home immediately. My sister and I would be on our toes; we could be going home anytime too.
Friday, April 3, 2009
Mom told us all that we should go home. So on this day all of us told our professors and bought our tickets. I can’t put into words what fear and all the things that went on my mind…
I went ahead to ANEW in the evening, a little uncertain whether I should just miss it and get on a flight to Indonesia right away. But it was the right thing to stay. That evening though, Mom called again and told me to talk to Dad over the phone. Even though he was unconscious, he could still hear people talk. I told him to stay strong. I would be coming home soon to see him. It broke my heart…
That night it finally dawned on me that I might be going home to say goodbye. The sadness was suffocating. I got on my knees and stayed there, refusing to get up until God would answer me. I was pleading like I never did before…
What God gave as an answer to me was a picture of Jesus in Gethsemane. If there was a Person who did not want to be separated from His Father, it was Jesus. He wanted to be with His Father always, but He said “Not as I will, but as thou wilt.” His death made it possible for us to be alive – not just now, but eternally. Jesus too had lost His earthly father. My Savior knows my pain and grief. I know that He is ‘acquainted with every circumstance of my life and all my inner thoughts and feelings…’
God knows how to reveal Himself in moments when we need Him most. He revealed this part of Him just at the right time, and I treasured it. He led me to pray for Dad’s salvation, telling me that if it was His will to save him by allowing death, then that would be the best thing for him. He reasoned with me, wouldn’t I want what is best for Dad too? Yes, of course I did. What if Dad stays alive, yet he would lose his salvation? I definitely did not want that. Gently, Jesus asked, don’t I want the same thing that He does? So I told my sweet Jesus, yes, Lord, I want what You want.
And then there was peace. I think I might have said my goodbye to Dad at this time … My prayer then that God would sustain Dad a little more so I could see him.
Sabbath, April 4, 2009
ANEW was such a blessing. This was the mission that God called me to, and I would do anything in my power to get Jesus here as quickly as possible – the true solution to all our problems.
I flew home Monday, April 6, 2009, and arrived in Jakarta on Wednesday, April 8, 2009. I went to the hospital right away and saw Dad. He looked really sad. What actually happened was that the valve in his heart got infected, and because the blood was affected, it spread all over his body. There in front of me was the rotten fruit of the lie Satan told in the Garden of Eden. Look where we have come to…
The next few days we spent as much time with Dad as possible. We read the Bible to him by his bed, sang to him, prayed with and for him, told stories, encouraged him not to lose faith and hope in God. To me it might have the truest picture of ministry. Like taking care of a plant, you do everything you can, but relying 100% on the Holy Spirit to work in the heart.
Thursday, April 9, 2009
We talked to the doctor and he basically said there was no hope of him getting healed. It was a shock to my siblings …
Friday, April 10, 2009
During the afternoon his heart rate declined a little. On this day also finally all of Dad and Mom’s relatives from other towns and cities made it to Jakarta and came to the hospital. In the evening around 8 PM I asked the nurse whether we should stay at the hospital that night or not. She said not to go home. Around 8:30 PM she called us into the ICU, because his heart rate kept going down… We stayed by him… There was only surrender. When his heart rate was really close to stopping we started singing When Peace Like A River… After the third verse, my dad passed away…
When peace like a river attendeth my way,
When sorrow like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul
My sin—O the joy of this glorious thought
My sin, not in part, but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!
It is well, with my soul
It is well, it is well with my soul
And, Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll
The trump shall resound and the Lord shall descend,
“Even so” it is well with my soul.
What is man? Our life is like grass, here today and gone tomorrow. Yet God says He is mindful of us… It has been 50 days since my dad is gone. Last night for the first time, I dreamed of him. What can I say…I miss him terribly.
“Soon after this I had another dream. I seemed to be sitting in abject despair, with my face in my hands, reflecting like this: If Jesus were upon earth, I would go to Him, throw myself at His feet, and tell Him all my sufferings. He would not turn away from me, He would have mercy upon me, and I should love and serve Him always. Just then the door opened, and a person of beautiful form and countenance entered. He looked upon me pityingly and said: “Do you wish to see Jesus? He is here and you can see Him if you desire to do so. Take everything you possess and follow me.”
“I heard this with unspeakable joy, and gladly gathered up all my little possessions, every treasured trinket, and followed my guide. He led me to a steep and apparently frail stairway. As I commenced to ascend the steps, he cautioned me to keep my eyes fixed upward, lest I should grow dizzy and fall. Many others who were climbing up the steep ascent fell before gaining the top.
“Finally we reached the last step and stood before the door. Here my guide directed me to leave all the things that I had brought with me. I cheerfully laid them down; he then opened the door and bade me enter. In a moment I stood before Jesus. There was no mistaking that beautiful countenance. Such a radiant expression of benevolence and majesty could belong to no other. As His gaze rested upon me, I knew at once that He was acquainted with every circumstance of my life and all my inner thoughts and feelings.
“I tried to shield myself from His gaze, feeling unable to endure His searching eyes, but He drew near with a smile, and, laying His hand upon my head, said: “Fear not.” The sound of His sweet voice thrilled my heart with a happiness it had never before experienced. I was too joyful to utter a word, but, overcome with ineffable happiness, sank prostrate at His feet. While I was lying helpless there, scenes of beauty and glory passed before me, and I seemed to have reached the safety and peace of heaven. At length my strength returned, and I arose. The loving eyes of Jesus were still upon me, and His smile filled my soul with gladness. His presence filled me with holy reverence and an inexpressible love.
“My guide now opened the door, and we both passed out. He bade me take up again all the things I had left without. This done, he handed me a green cord coiled up closely. This he directed me to place next my heart, and when I wished to see Jesus, take from my bosom and stretch it to the utmost. He cautioned me not to let it remain coiled for any length of time, lest it should become knotted and difficult to straighten. I placed the cord near my heart and joyfully descended the narrow stairs, praising the Lord and joyfully telling all whom I met where they could find Jesus. This dream gave me hope. The green cord represented faith to my mind, and the beauty and simplicity of trusting in God began to dawn upon my benighted soul.”
Ellen White, Early Writings, p.80-81.