Sunday January 18, 2009
I lie awake; I have become like a bird alone on a roof. Ps 102:7.
The prospect of time with some of our family on a nostalgic trip back to our roots focuses my thoughts on the days before Ann and I were married. I remember the first time I saw Ann, her smile captivated me and I fell in love at once. We were still school children, 13 and 14 years of age. From then on life took its hue from her presence or absence, and the periods of separation were an empty aching void. We saw each other on Sunday during and after church services, but not again until youth night on Wednesday. Monday blues were black, with a rock in my stomach until nearly midday. The time to Wednesday was interminable.
I think that was the time I experienced loneliness, no-one else could adequately take her place, despite family and friends all around me. The Bible says that “God sets the lonely in families” (Ps 68:6): they are meant to be a hedge against loneliness. From those with no family, I hear the deep pain at Christmas time: “I wish I could go to sleep on December 15 and not wake until the New Year.” I tend to be a loner, and would fall into the same trap if it were not for Ann, the one God provided to fill that void. Not only that, but marriage provides others, an immediate family of children, grandchildren—and more—that continue that tradition. I have never had time to feel that loneliness again—and knowing Ann, that isn’t surprising!
The tragedy is that the very institution that God provided against loneliness is too often the source of conflict and estrangement that reinforces it. Watch the characters on TV shows; perhaps 90% are scripted into the pain of broken relationships and a bottomless search for companionship in all the wrong places. David knew all about that. His adultery with Bathsheba precipitated a dysfunctional family of angry and violent members. When his rule was going badly as well, he felt that loneliness “like a bird alone on the roof.” When will we learn that happiness in marriage is primarily derived from service, not satisfaction? Christ set the example, he “did not come to be served, but to serve,” and in that process “to give his life . . .” (Matt 20:28).