Friday, November 16, 2018

Serving in Loneliness and Isolation

It’s pretty common for our colleagues serving in the role sports chaplains or character coaches to confess their feelings of loneliness and isolation. While surrounded by coaches, competitors, and support staff, we can still feel the numbing effect of loneliness. We are often geographically isolated from our colleagues and friends in ministry. At other times we’re rather distant from other ministry leaders by virtue of our peculiarly narrow niche of service. Who else is serving the sporting community? We’re out here by ourselves and it takes an emotional toll, even on tough guys.

The psalmist, David, powerfully expressed his sense of loneliness and isolation, even abandonment in Psalm 22.
My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?
Far from my deliverance are the words of my groaning.
O my God, I cry by day, but You do not answer;

And by night, but I have no rest.
We, on this side of the crucifixion, associate this psalm’s first line with the Lord Jesus as He quoted it from the cross. The psalm perfectly expressed His own emotions of abandonment, loneliness, and isolation. Whether due to broken relationships, a coach’s firing, players being traded, our service being terminated, or any other factors, many of us groan with loneliness, find no answers to our prayers, and find no rest for our isolated souls.

The psalmist’s heart rebounded, as ours generally do as we remember the Lord’s faithfulness to us and to those who preceded us in the faith.
Yet You are holy,
O You who are enthroned upon the praises of Israel.
In You our fathers trusted;

They trusted and You delivered them.
To You they cried out and were delivered;
In You they trusted and were not disappointed.
Both we and the psalmist remind ourselves of the Lord’s trustworthiness, His flawless track record toward those who trust Him.

The psalmist goes on to list countless expressions of his unworthiness, his pain, and loneliness. His attention turns on a dime at verse 19.
But You, O Lord, be not far off;
O You my help, hasten to my assistance.
20 Deliver my soul from the sword,

My only life from the power of the dog.
21 Save me from the lion’s mouth;
From the horns of the wild oxen You answer me.
The complaints turn to prayers of petition for the Lord to be near, to hurry to his aid, to deliver him from violence, and from life consuming enemies.

As the psalm concludes from verse 30, the psalmist has raised his sights to a more joyous and vigorous future.
Posterity will serve Him;
It will be told of the Lord to the coming generation.
31 They will come and will declare His righteousness

To a people who will be born, that He has performed it.
David’s former loneliness seems to be put away by a clearer picture of the Lord’s faithfulness, not only in the past, but projected into the coming generations of God’s people.

I find that many of us experience a similar pattern when we encounter loneliness and isolation. We start in abject despair and often a little self-pity. We retreat to our Bibles, our private hours of prayer, to worship, to contemplation, and we soon recall the Lord’s faithfulness. Even when we fully embrace our weakness and the pains of our situation, we soon find our complaints turn to supplication. Our hearts shift into prayer and our minds look to a brighter future. We renew our engagement with our friends, colleagues, and those we serve. Soon our souls are refreshed and our vision for the future is restored.

I pray that Psalm 22, usually recalled in moments of loneliness and isolation, encourages your heart with reminders of God’s faithfulness - past, present, and future.

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