Updated: Jun 28, 2019
15 June 2019 - Sedalia, Missouri
When drivers have room to move over and give me a little more room along the shoulder of the road, and they do, I give them a thank-you wave. It is interesting to see what the driver does in response. Some of them:
• Do nothing.
• Keep holding the steering wheel with both hands and raise one finger in a wave.
• Keep holding the steering wheel and raise two fingers.
• Take one hand off the steering wheel and give a big wave.
• Once in a while… give a friendly honk.
Perhaps the response has something to do with that person’s personality. Perhaps it has something to do with how that person is feeling on that day.
I have been having some very big emotions during the course of this walk. Some are moments of pure unbridled joy and blessing, when I make a great connection with someone. There are moments of deep gratitude - related to joy, I suppose - especially when folks are so generous in hosting me, buying me a meal, making a donation to help children, or giving me a ride back from where I ended my day’s walk or taking me to that spot the next morning. I have experienced moments of fear and anger - when charged by five dogs at once, for example! I have had many moments of sadness - missing Julia, missing Hannah’s recent engagement to Brendan in Washington, missing friends and family and my life in Colorado. And yes, there have been moments of loneliness, which I seemed to get in touch with in a deeper way when I was staying in a hotel in Linn, Missouri last weekend. I was one of the only people in the hotel and the only person at breakfast, two mornings in a row. I felt SO, SO ALONE!
I think I did the “right” things that day. I prayed. I reached out to Julia. I asked my Prayer Team for prayer support. I called several people to connect with them. And Zach called me and I talked to him, too. And folks responded to what I had shared by sending me their favorite hymns, quotes, and words of encouragement. I know God was close by. I just felt the sorrow that comes with being alone, with not being with those who know me the best, with not being able to just “kick back” in my own house or on a trail or at dinner and do “my thing” with “my peeps.”
Yes, I think I did the “right” things that Sunday. And I felt alone. And so, I just felt it! I felt what it was like to be alone.
You might say to me, “Well, you weren’t really alone, Pete. God was with you!” And you would be right. But in that moment, the feeling of loneliness is very real. If I had been the one driving that day, and someone had waved at me, I probably wouldn’t have raised one finger from the steering wheel. I may have missed their wave altogether.
Over the years, I think there have been times when I have tried to cover up the feelings of loneliness with being busy, with doing something. I remember a dorm party I went to during my freshman year at the University of Colorado. Quiet, introverted me walked into a huge room full of wall-to-wall people, got some 3.2 beer in a red plastic cup, hung around for maybe 2.5 minutes and then high-tailed it out of there. I may have been lonely, but I knew I wasn’t going to “solve” my loneliness in that setting!
Now, not 18 but 61, I realize that loneliness is not “something to solve.” It is something to feel, something to notice, something from which I can learn. I believe that what I went through last weekend gave me a deeper sensitivity for what my parents must have gone through in 1944 when they got married and then, very soon after, my dad went off to Burma to fight with the U.S. Army. There was no email. There was no FaceTime or Zoom. There were no phone calls, at least not without huge amounts of time in between. There were prayers said and letters written and answered, and a job to do - whether in Asia or on the Homefront. There was whatever they learned about their own experience of loneliness. Probably they wrote something about that in their letters to each other.
The thing about a long project like this is that stuff comes up, and there are plenty of things - out there in the world and also in my own inner world - through which my character is being tested.
“Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” (Romans 5:1-5)
The words of Paul ring oh so true. And yet, you and I can be lonely!
How are you being tested today? What are the emotions welling up in you? What are you learning about yourself? How are you coping? Who are the people to whom you turn during your hour of need?
These are the questions that have my attention today.