At this very moment a certain belief is tangled up in the threads of your heart. It’s woven itself insidiously into your consciousness. You’ve seen evidence around you suggesting this belief is true. As the evidence piles up, your heart has gotten heavier.
Maybe this belief was the birth of your cynacism. Perhaps it’s taken the wind out of your sails just when you were launching a new project. For others, it’s been the gateway into depression.
What is this belief? You are alone.
This idea comes in so many variations.
- You’re the only one who has felt this way before.
- You’re the only one who is putting in any effort.
- You’re the only one caught in this trap or addiction.
No one else will understand you. They certainly won’t feel compassion for you. Why? Because you are the only one. You are alone.
That feeling—being alone, unseen, misunderstood—is painful. We were made social creatures. We need the reflection of love and care from the people around us. Living without is isolating. It erodes creativity. It whispers that all our will-power and effort are pointless. With the scourge of shame, it pushes us into isolation, more and more afraid to be truly known.
Our hearts cry out for an antidote to this infection!
How do you act when you think you’re alone?
This belief works powerful magic in the daily choices of our lives. We hold this idea in our hearts where it gives rise to attitudes. Those attitudes shape our response to the world around us.
- My spouse isn’t in this with me, not fully. Why put in the effort? I’m not going to be appreciated for it.
- Nobody in this company values this project. Why should I be the only one investing so much time to make it successful?
- Is this just one more blog post that no one will read? Why bother writing at all?
- I’ve done the right thing for so long. Look what integrity has gotten me? Left behind. No sign of God at all! Why bother?
The choices we make impact the people around us. Inevitably, those choices create the very thing we’re afraid of. We become more alienated, more isolated, more de-motivated. More alone. Then we find even more evidence to support our belief!
Yet this belief is a lie.
Even in the darkest spaces, even when we’re the only one rowing the boat, even when our circumstances seem unfairly stacked against us. We are not alone.
In the Gospel of Matthew, we hear the telling of a turning point moment in the history of humanity. Everything before this had been leading to this: the birth of Jesus. God created humanity in the beginning with the intention that we would participate in God’s joyful, other-centered relationship of love.
But human history is the story of alienation. Sin means separation. We build tribes to avoid being alone. We play relational Chutes and Ladders with the people around us, trying to measure our worth. All of this separates us further from others and from God. It’s been so since the beginning. But God was intent that we would see! So into our foggy, fear-filled world came God-made-flesh.
In the first chapter of Matthew, we find these words: (Matthew 1:23)
See, the virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and they will name Him Immanuel, which is translated “God is with us.”
In Hebrew culture names carried deep significance, far more that we give them today. A person’s name was a window into their character and purpose. Matthew 1:23 gave Jesus a name. In the Hebrew it was Imannu El. Literally, it means God-among-us.
God with us.
What did this name say about the character of Jesus? Jesus is God among us, God walking with us in the middle of our journey.
Human religious history includes prescription after prescription of how we might find our way to God. There are countless sacred places, guarded by special sacred people. There are numerous sacred texts. There are more kinds of prayer, sacrifice, and ritual than can be counted. All having emerged in our effort to find our way to God, where hopefully if we’ve done all the right things in the right way, we will find acceptance and value.
But God was working a different plan. Instead of setting up a labyrinth or a ladder, God came to us.
In John’s gospel, Jesus claimed that if we’ve seen him, we’ve seen the Father. That means that what we learn about Jesus is true about God. One of the first things we learn about Jesus in the Gospels is this name: Immanuel. Jesus tells us that our desperate quest to find God is over. Now, and forever, God is with us.
Living in Light of God-With-Us
In the rush of making ends meet, trying to tame the daily obligations and navigate our current personal crisis, this statement can seem like an abstract theological idea. A nice thing to say in church, but something distant and alien from our daily lives.
But if we are to be apprentices to Jesus, that means we commit to learning what Jesus teaches us. We commit to applying and practicing what Jesus teaches. And so, even though our circumstances seem to prove the belief that we’re alone, we chose to trust Jesus and apply this lesson to our lives. How?
1. Trust that God is with You.
Begin with an act of faith. Trust that Jesus is telling the truth. Trust that you are not alone, that through Jesus Christ, God has crawled into the middle of our mess (as Paul Young so beautifully puts it), and through the Holy Spirit, is present with us now.
God is not distant. That means you don’t have to make some arduous quest to find God. God is has already accepted you. That means you don’t have to build up a resume of accomplishments to gain God’s approval. God has already included you. That means you don’t need a tribe. You don’t need to be an insider. You don’t need to compare or compete. You are already an adopted child given an inheritance and a home. This is all true, waiting for you to accept it.
2. Talk to God as if God is with You
One of the simplest ways to begin living out the trust you place in Jesus’ words is in how you talk to God. The way we pray reveals our belief. Do we pray as if God is somewhere far away? As if God might show up, might bless, might provide—if we say or do the right things? Or do we pray as if God is present with us in our circumstances, able to lead and provide here and now?
Whether in formal prayer or in the running dialogue in your mind and heart, talk to God as if God is with you in your circumstances.
- Sometimes we pray for “God to show up.” That imples that God is distant. Instead pray for eyes to see God at work in your circumstances.
- Sometimes we pray for God to bless us, as if God is far away raining down favor on certain people. If you could only get in the right place, you might catch some. Instead thank God for the circumstances you are in, expecting that God is going to use those circumstances for your good.
- Sometimes we pray for God to “be with” us or someone else. Instead, pray that our hearts and minds will be open to knowing God’s presence. Or, even better, pray that someone else might experience God’s presence through us today.
When you talk to God, try talking to God about what the two of you are up to today. Include God in your thoughts about your daily obligations. None of this is a formula. God isn’t a machine that will provide certain outcomes if we know which levers to pull. This is about changing your own mind in regard to your belief about God. Shifting how you pray will begin to shift how you believe.
3. Look at your life circumstances with an expectation of God being with.
When we hold ideas in our minds, our brains evaluate the world around us for evidence that either supports or discredits those ideas. You’ve been holding the idea that you’re alone in your mind. It’s not a surprise that when you evaluate your circumstances, you see evidence to prove that belief right. That evidence is just an interpretation. It’s you making up a story using the people in your life as supporting characters to prove your point.
Faith is an opportunity to choose a different story. Jesus has suggested something new: God is with us. It’s hard to see, if you’ve not been practicing it. It’s easy to discount when your heart is heavy, or friends are unsupportive, or your marriage is in a hard place. But Jesus told us that we are no longer alone. God is with us. As we hold that idea in our heart and minds, we can begin to look at our circumstances differently.