Whenever I go through seasons of hardship, I often find myself struggling with an overwhelming sense of isolation and loneliness. Some of the people who view my life merely through the lens of Facebook posts or Instagram photos might find that statement a bit odd. After all, I’m part of a caring and supportive family, I have two amazing siblings, godly parents who love me and love each other, two incredible best friends and I’m actively involved in a wonderful church body, where my father happens to be the senior pastor.
“How could you possibly be lonely or sad?” is the question you’re probably asking right now. But, inevitably, I do sometimes feel empty, alone, confused, and utterly friendless.
As most of you know, I have a neurological disorder known as “epilepsy.” Specifically, I suffer from Partial-Complex Idiopathic Epileptic seizures. (Sounds fancy, right?) I’m told by my parents that I had them as an infant. They vanished for a couple of decades and then returned when I was about 23-years-old. (Apparently this is a common thing.) I was attending a university in Georgia at the time and one evening at my girlfriend’s apartment — with her roommates watching in unsuspecting horror and dread — I had a full blown seizure and had to be taken to the emergency room. The whole thing was actually quite dramatic and intense at the time, but in retrospect, it was mostly much ado about nothing. Seizures can’t exactly be predicted and once they’re over, there’s not much else to do, unless the patient has fallen and impaled himself on a sharp object or accidentally detonated a nuclear bomb. Other than that, seizures aren’t very exciting from the perspective of an onlooker.
However, for myself and many other epileptic patients, the aura that precedes each seizure is one of the most mind-bending, memory-erasing, brain-tripping, emotion-warping, hair-raising, spine-tingling, reality-convoluting experiences that any human being can be put through. (I often refer to them as the Twilight Zone.) In fact, I once had an aura/seizure while I was in the middle of eating and it subsequently triggered such an extreme mental and emotional fear of swallowing that I went five months refusing to touch solid food. I survived on water, protein shakes, milk, tomato soup and other liquids rich in vitamins and nutrients. I was terrified of having to chew or swallow anything — to the point that my neurologist had to change my seizure medication to a liquid form and refer to me to a neuropsychologist who could help me overcome my anxiety and nightmarish trepidation. Thankfully, she did.
I tell you all of this not to be pitied, but only to say that — while family, friends and church are great things — sometimes the barren wasteland of desolation is too vast. These people simply cannot share in or identify with your anguish and loneliness. They might pat you on the back after the morning worship service. They might tell you that they’re praying for you. They may send the occasional text message or drop a random Facebook comment. (And if you’re really lucky, it will include an emoji or two.) But, the reality is that they often don’t even know what to say. So, eventually they stop saying anything at all. That’s just how it tends to go.
It’s not their fault, really. Pain and suffering are difficult subjects to discuss. They’re uncomfortable and awkward. They don’t make for good conversation topics at family gatherings or around the coffee pot in the fellowship hall. I get that. Honestly, I’m not always sure how to respond when someone asks, “So how are you doing?” I mean, do you really want to know how I’m doing? And if you do, should I actually tell you how I’m doing? (Especially if you’re having a fantastic day.) If I looked you in the eyes and responded, “Well, even though I appear fine on the outside, I’m actually dying to return to some state of normalcy,” how would you react?
Truthfully, you probably wouldn’t know how to react because, well, I don’t even know how to react. I haven’t figured all of this out. I’m still taking things one day at a time and kind of making it up as I go along, wondering what on earth God is doing. I’m still trying to discover what I want and how I can achieve my goals in the midst of what seem to be insurmountable obstacles and adversity. But, I’ve come to find that the quiet places of suffering and bleak isolation are often the best places to meet with God — to be completely and utterly alone with Him. Job knew this well. He endured intense amounts of suffering and despair — including the death of his family and abandonment by his friends — and yet he still passionately worshipped God. (Job 1:20-22)
Speaking of friends, I always try to be appreciative of those who say they “just want to help” or “share the load” (Gee thanks, Samwise). Sometimes they even offer to “carry some of the burden.” That’s the Scriptural thing to do, right? “Bear one another’s burdens…” (Galatians 6:2) This seems to be a nice sentiment. And it’s certainly true that we’re called to be supportive by offering prayer, encouragement and physical acts of kindness or help. But, the reality is that there are some burdens — some loads — that we must all bear as individuals. Paul even emphasizes this just a few sentences later when he says, “For each one will bear his own load.” (Galatians 6:5) Christ knew this concept all too well. He knew that His suffering on the cross was a personal burden for Him — a “cup” from which He alone had to drink.
So, even though I might wish that I could find true relief and answers in my friendships or in my “church life,” I know that, ultimately, no human being will ever be able to fulfill the desires and needs of my heart and my future like Jesus can. No one else can provide the help, healing, hope and restoration that He can. No one can really suffer with me like He can. No one else can meet and converse with me like He can. And — as ironic as it is — that’s the beautiful reality about this road of suffering and confusion. It’s just one continual path that constantly leads to Jesus. And what better road is there to travel?