This is the manuscript of the sermon I preached at Freedom Fellowship on October 8. In order to overcome loneliness and find community, we must first acknowledge the loneliness we feel. This is Part 1 of a 3 week series.
Do you know when I feel the loneliest? Sunday morning during worship. Everyone is happy. Everyone is smiling. Everyone is looking good. And some days, that’s okay.
But some Sundays, that is almost unbearable. Because not only do I not feel that way, but I feel like I can’t tell anybody that I feel that way. I feel like everyone else gets to go write a Prayers for the People card and they will get it answered! But mine will just go unnoticed.
Let me say this again: it’s not true every week. But some weeks, some days, some Sundays there is something going on in my head, my heart, my soul, that is pulling me down until I feel like I can’t go any further. If something is off between my wife and me, I look at other married couples and wish that our marriage could be like theirs. If my children and I have argued during the week, I look at other parents and kids and wonder why my children aren’t as perfect as theirs.
And here’s the thing: I know they are having problems, too! I know because they have shared their struggles with me before.
But in that moment of my despair, it doesn’t really matter. In that moment, all I can think about is how awful I feel and how good everyone else looks. I take what is going on inside of me and compare it to what I can see on the outside of others, and I always come up lacking.
So some Sundays, I show up feeling great. I sing, I pray, I smile, I laugh, I am moved to tears, and through it all I feel closer to God and God’s people.
But other Sundays, I feel alone. I feel hurt. I feel like I have to hide what is going on inside of me. I still sing. I still pray. I still smile. I still laugh. I am still moved to tears. But through it all, I feel isolated and alone. And it bothers me that everyone else is doing so great.
Ever feel like that? Ever feel upset at or jealous of other people?
So have I.
So have God’s people for a long time.
By the rivers of Babylon,
we sat and wept
when we thought of Zion, our home, so far away.
2 On the branches of the willow trees,
we hung our harps and hid our hearts from the enemy.
3 And the men that surrounded us
made demands that we clap our hands and sing—
Songs of joy from days gone by,
songs from Zion, our home.
Such cruel men taunted us—haunted our memories.
4 How could we sing a song about the Eternal
in a land so foreign, while still tormented, brokenhearted, homesick?
Please don’t make us sing this song.
5-6 O Jerusalem, even still, don’t escape my memory.
I treasure you and your songs, even as I hide my harp from the enemy.
And if I can’t remember,
may I never sing a song again—
may my hands never play well again—
For what use would it be if I don’t remember Jerusalem
as my source of joy?
7 Remember, Eternal One, how the Edomites, our brothers, the descendants of Esau,
stood by and watched as Jerusalem fell.
Gloating, they said, “Destroy it;
tear it down to the ground,” when Jerusalem was being demolished.
8 O daughter of Babylon, you are destined for destruction!
Happy are those who pay you back for how you treated us
so you will no longer walk so proud.
9 Happy are those who dash your children against the rocks
so you will know how it feels.
“So that you will know how it feels.”
That is a painful, vengeful, spiteful statement and I hate to admit it but I have thought it before.
I want to explain a little bit about what is going on in this Psalm. This is not one we read often. If ever. I only know of one song based on the Psalm, and it is a relatively recent one. But it will likely never be sung in worship. This is not a passage we are going to hear read before the Lord’s Supper or the offering. It is violent. It is angry.
But it comes from a certain time and place. Israel has been cast off into Babylonian captivity. They no longer live in Israel, the Promised Land. They are now captives, exiles, living in a foreign country. And as if that’s not bad enough, their captors are taunting them:
“Hey, you Israelites. Play those songs you used to sing! Strum the harp, sing out loud! Sing about Zion and Yahweh!”
And their response is, “How can we sing? Those are songs of joy. We have no joy, only despair.”
Please don’t make us sing these songs. It hurts too much to be reminded of how good things used to be.
God’s people. Maybe they still believe He exists. Maybe they still believe He is the Creator. But they certainly feel abandoned. Isolated. Alone.
And so they call out in vengeance: No. We won’t sing those songs. We won’t entertain you. But we will remember. And we will hope you get what’s coming to you. We hope someone comes and takes everything away from you, even to the point of killing your children.
Now I know that’s extreme. But listen to what is at the core of what of what they are saying: “So that you will know how it feels.”
And on my worst days, I want others to feel as bad as I do.
On my worst days, I feel like Elijah. And not the “best of the prophets” or “defeat all of Baal’s prophets” Elijah, but run away and hide and say, “I’m the only one” Elijah.
You know that story, right? Elijah has this contest against the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. They call out to their gods to send fire to consume their sacrifice and nothing happens. They begin doing all sorts of crazy things trying to get their gods to respond. And this whole time Elijah is taunting them! “Maybe your god is asleep. Maybe he is using the bathroom. Try harder!”
And then Elijah digs a trench around his altar, covers his sacrifice with water until the trench is filled, then he calls out to God, and God sends fire to consume the sacrifice, the altar, and dry up all the water in the trench. And shortly after that, God sends rain for the first time in 3 and a half years.
Elijah was riding pretty high.
Until a day or two later. When the queen said she was going to kill him. And so Elijah runs and hides and when God comes to him, God says, “Elijah, what are you doing here?” Elijah’s answer is: “I am the only one.”
And there are days when I feel like Elijah: I am the only one.
And sometimes, I don’t want people to show up and tell me it will be all right. I don’t want people to remind me of how good God is.
I want someone to tell me they know what it means to be in my shoes.
I have heard that Bob Strader has told kids at the Youth Leadership Camps at Abilene Christian University that sometimes the most powerful words we can here are, “Me, too.” On those days when I am feeling really lost, lonely, and dejected, I don’t always want solutions. I want to hear someone say, “Me, too.”
Because I think the thing we forget is that the first step in overcoming loneliness is acknowledging that we experience it. There are days I am angry. There are days I am confused. There are days I am hopeless and in despair. There are days when I do not want to turn to God. There are days when I do not want my community to surround me.
And on those days, I don’t need solutions. I just need to the strength to say, “I am hurting.” And I need to hear you say, “Me, too.” That is a powerful message to hear.
Tonight, we are going to take some time to acknowledge our loneliness in a couple of ways. There will be people standing around that you can go to and ask for prayer. And I am going to ask all of you to do something for me. Up front, there are cards and pens/pencils. Please come and write what that thing is in your life. Write it on this card, with or without your name—either way is fine, and put it in this box. I am going to take these and pray over them. So come up, write those cards, and then go back to your seat, or go and ask someone to pray with you, or go and pray for someone else.
Also, there are several cards up here that say, “Me, Too.” Take a few of them with you. Know that there are people here tonight who can speak those words to you, but throughout the week, maybe you will run into somebody else who needs to hear those words. Hand them one of these cards. Take several.
The band will play during this time of prayer and we will be close our time together with a prayer after a little while.