Excerpt from Beyond Loneliness

Lone­li­ness touch­es each one of us. None of us escapes it com­plete­ly. Lone­li­ness is no respecter of age or rank. Whether a young stu­dent, a stay-at-home mom, a busy exec­u­tive, a retired pen­sion­er, a griev­ing wid­ow­er or wid­ow, or even a pas­tor work­ing with peo­ple every day, we all know what it means to be lone­ly. Lone­li­ness may be one of the most painful expe­ri­ences that we go through in this life. Per­haps we find our­selves liv­ing in the midst of it at this very moment. 

Strik­ing­ly, many peo­ple who live alone nev­er feel lone­ly, yet some who live with oth­ers in crowd­ed cities know only too acute­ly how lone­li­ness can infect our lives. When we think of lone­li­ness we often visu­al­ize the aged who live alone, but a young adult mov­ing to a new city, an entre­pre­neur begin­ning a busi­ness, a part­ner in a strug­gling mar­riage, or a leader in a chal­leng­ing cor­po­rate envi­ron­ment can be as lone­ly as a soli­tary elder­ly per­son in a one-room apartment. 

Only gen­uine and real friend­ship with God and oth­ers can trans­form lone­li­ness. Per­haps this is why the first Chris­t­ian book I ever read made such an impact on me. Soon after I start­ed fol­low­ing Christ at the age of six­teen, a friend gave me a book. I read it over and over, savor­ing its many insights for my new life of faith. The oth­er day I took it off my library shelf and looked through it again. Its title still speaks to me of the essen­tial gifts of the Chris­t­ian faith. The book, writ­ten by British Methodist min­is­ter Leslie Weath­er­head, is titled The Trans­form­ing Friend­ship: A Book About Jesus and Our­selves.

Weatherhead’s title empha­sizes two impor­tant dimen­sions of our expe­ri­ence with God. First, it presents friend­ship as a help­ful anal­o­gy for the inti­mate kind of rela­tion­ship God wants with us. Put sim­ply, the gospel invites us into friend­ship with God. This is a stag­ger­ing real­i­ty. The Cre­ator God who loves us, who spoke the whole uni­verse into exis­tence, and who sus­tains our lives in the imme­di­a­cy of each moment wants our inti­mate friend­ship. Absolute­ly mind-blow­ing! I hope that as we explore this good news togeth­er, we will be encour­aged to see our faith and our lives in total­ly new ways. 

Sec­ond, Weatherhead’s title clear­ly states that friend­ship with God trans­forms us. Learn­ing to trust God as our Divine Friend has a trans­form­ing effect on every aspect of our lives. It affects how we pray, our rela­tion­ships with oth­ers, and the way we under­stand our every­day exis­tence. Trust­ing God as our Divine Friend changes the way we think and feel, what we desire and long for, the way we see each oth­er, and how we seek to live in the world. Our friend­ship with God cre­ates the envi­ron­ment in which we become the peo­ple God wants us to be. 

In this book I explore these two inter­wo­ven themes of friend­ship and per­son­al trans­for­ma­tion. I have been engag­ing these themes for many years in pas­toral con­ver­sa­tions, spir­i­tu­al direc­tion, retreat set­tings, ser­mons, lec­tures, and con­fer­ences, and I am con­tin­u­al­ly struck by people’s pos­i­tive response. They often find them­selves strong­ly drawn to the pos­si­bil­i­ty of grow­ing a friend­ship with God and the ways this could change their lives for the bet­ter. I believe that the gospel idea of a trans­form­ing friend­ship with God is one whose time has come. Let’s dis­cuss why I believe this to be true. 

The Pull of Friendship 

First, I have noticed that peo­ple res­onate with the idea of God’s trans­form­ing friend­ship because the con­cept of friend­ship is easy to grasp. Most peo­ple know what a friend is. A friend is some­one we appre­ci­ate, some­one we enjoy spend­ing time with, some­one we are glad to see. More­over, a friend is some­one we trust, some­one we com­mit our­selves to in some way. He or she is some­one with whom we find our­selves shar­ing who we are, shar­ing sto­ries and ideas we might not share with every­one. A friend is also some­one whom we want to serve and help. These expe­ri­ences of human friend­ship give us an acces­si­ble way of talk­ing about what a rela­tion­ship with God involves.

Sec­ond, God’s trans­form­ing friend­ship excites our inter­est because we know how human friend­ships change us. For exam­ple, we may val­ue one of our friend’s qual­i­ties, and it begins to rub off on us. Or our friend says some­thing that real­ly hits home, and it turns our think­ing upside down. Or a friend pos­es a dif­fi­cult ques­tion no one else would risk ask­ing that leads to dis­cov­er­ies about our­selves we oth­er­wise would not have made. When friends get togeth­er, they mutu­al­ly influ­ence each oth­er. If this takes place so nat­u­ral­ly in human friend­ships, think of how much more our friend­ship with God can change the way we think and live.

Third, God’s trans­form­ing friend­ship is invi­ta­tion­al and promis­es an unfold­ing jour­ney. Friend­ships do not mature overnight. They take time to grow as two peo­ple share togeth­er, lis­ten to each other’s life sto­ries, and slow­ly move into each other’s worlds. The same pro­gres­sion is true of our rela­tion­ship with God. God does not force all of God’s self onto us at once, and we do not give all of our­selves to God at once either. The adven­ture of form­ing a friend­ship with God takes a life­time of walk­ing with God. Rather than putting peo­ple off, I have found that this pos­si­bil­i­ty draws peo­ple pow­er­ful­ly into the pil­grim­age of per­son­al growth and development. 

Fourth, the prospect of a trans­form­ing friend­ship with God attracts peo­ple who are frus­trat­ed with cold reli­gion, imper­son­al church­es, and anony­mous wor­ship expe­ri­ences that can inten­si­fy lone­li­ness. An answer to the prob­lem of lone­li­ness in our Chris­t­ian faith can be found as long as we help one anoth­er to expe­ri­ence gen­uine friend­ship with God and with oth­ers along the way. Often these two expe­ri­ences go hand in hand. Telling a lone­ly per­son that God is his or her friend can sound very hol­low. It only becomes mean­ing­ful when we make the divine friend­ship real by mod­el­ing it in our own relationships.

Last­ly, forty years as a pas­tor has shown me that a friend­ship shaped hole exists in all our lives. Lone­li­ness is a painful expe­ri­ence because we are cre­at­ed with a long­ing for inti­ma­cy, con­nec­tion, and rela­tion­ship. Most peo­ple intu­itive­ly under­stand that there is a long­ing with­in them; yet, oth­ers resist the long­ing. When we hear about God’s offer of trans­form­ing friend­ship, I hope we will rec­og­nize it as what we are real­ly look­ing for so that we can explore it fur­ther. I believe that if we expe­ri­ence such a rela­tion­ship, our deep­est lone­li­ness may be healed.

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Beyond Lone­li­ness: The Gift of God’s Friend­ship. Copy­right © 2016 by Trevor Hud­son. All rights reserved.

This excerpt was pro­vid­ed by and used with per­mis­sion of Upper Room Books, to whom we extend our grat­i­tude and acknowledgement.