God Sets The Lonely In Families
“We want to adopt you for the duration of lockdown!” my friends Paul and Sue said, at the beginning of April 2020.
If I’d been prayerfully seeking God, then it would have been a wonderful and timely answer to my prayers. However, I wasn’t finding it easy to talk to God at that point. I was just too angry. Angry that my comfortable, middle-class, western lifestyle had been disrupted by a virus! Angry that my skiing holiday had been cancelled; angry that I would have to be isolating alone (as I live alone); angry that I would not be getting any physical affection for who knew how long? So, I was moaning to God, rather than prayerfully petitioning the one who delights in providing for my needs. I was grumbling at my heavenly Father about the anticipated lack of touch, instead of expectantly asking for his generous provision of companionship. But here were friends from church, at the end of a phone line, asking if I would like to join them, several times a week, till… whenever. It has been God’s gracious provision for me, even when I was too moody to ask for it.
“Come on Sunday, join us for the church service, stay all day,” they suggested. “I’ll bring a cake,” I said, in acceptance.
My place at the table
So, a few days later, I knocked at their door, carrying homemade Black Forest Gateau. They both warmly hugged me, knowing my need to feel loved through physical affection. We had just enough time for a coffee and a quick chat about life in lockdown, about how unprecedented everything was, before our online church service started. We stood and sang and worshipped together. We enjoyed the contributions from many different folk as the service continued. Their ten-month-old daughter woke up from her morning nap and joined us for the end of the service. Then lunch was prepared, and it was my job to keep the baby preoccupied with toys and fun so she would stay away from the kitchen.
Paul and Sue have been married just a few years and have both become real foodies. So, meals are epic. Paul’s kitchen moniker is “Never knowingly under-catered!” There is always plenty, and the quality is high too. Some people eat to live, others live to eat, and whereas I’m more at the functional end of relating to food, the way they discuss eating and their favourite meals gives me the strong impression they’re towards the other end of the spectrum. That first day we had a sort of Swiss meal, (Swiss-German maybe?) melted cheese over griddled meat and veg. It was decided that we should attempt food from different nations each week. Later we sat and watched a programme about backpackers in the Americas, and they asked
“Which country should we cook from next week?”
“Guatemala!” I said.
I was half-joking, but they took me seriously. I knew nothing about Guatemala, except that it was in the Americas, but I certainly knew absolutely nothing about their food. The internet provides almost all the information you could need and it has been a lot of fun researching, preparing and consuming the results each week. Over lockdown we’ve done Tanzania, Fiji, Iraq, Russia, Korea, Germany, Ghana, Uzbekistan and this week it’s South Africa! I’ve always thought there was a special power in sharing a meal; a power to deepen friendships and unite lives. And I think it’s all even more so when each person contributes to a bring-and-share meal. I believe that hospitality is a form of secret spiritual warfare. The shared experience of satisfying basic needs and of delighting the senses, of listening to and contributing in conversations, is very relational. It can break any sense of feeling excluded, of feeling left out. It can smash the lies behind feeling unwanted; it is a powerful thing to know you have a place at the table.
We have all benefitted
I genuinely don’t think I would have managed very well emotionally over these months, if I weren’t visiting them each week. But they say it’s been a real blessing having me there (though I can’t quite see how). It seems to be a principle though: when doing good, often both parties gain something; when being generous, the giver shares some of the joy of the receiver and gains some freedom from selfishness and greed as well. Although it feels like I must be getting much more out of visiting them than they do about me coming, occasionally I get a glimpse of how the dynamic changes when I’m there.
“When you’re here, we can both switch off from having to be so constantly vigilant about watching the baby.”
The thought that I could be a blessing and not just a burden to them challenges my false ideas about marriage. The idea that “because they’re a couple, they’re complete and self-sufficient” and the thought that “they couldn’t need me, I’m just a spare wheel” are both challenged. I too easily forget that a couple don’t complete each other; there’s only one who completes us and fully satisfies. The well-known African proverb “It takes a village to raise a child” expresses it well. Even children and a nuclear family aren’t meant to be an isolated unit. Children need more than just their parents. We’re all meant to live in community, and we’re all enriched through these broader relationships.
Spending extended time with this family, and particularly this couple, has reminded me that healthy relationships take a lot of effort. Watching them serve each other (and me) despite how they feel having been woken by a hungry baby through the night, or far too early in the morning, is true love. Listening to them deliberately encourage and affirm one another, and at times disagree too, has reminded me that love is not something that we fall into or out of, but is a choice. A choice to put the needs of others before self a thousand times each day. I have been tempted in the past to believe that getting married would solve my same-sex attraction issues. I was, of course, deluding myself. It was totally ignoring the lives of many dear friends in heterosexual marriages, but still struggling with same-sex attractions. Marriage alone is not the answer to any of my problems. Marriage doesn’t guarantee a lack of loneliness; it’s not like only single people struggle with porn and God never intended us to get all our needs met in just one other. So, we all need to build relationships and friendships whether we’re married or single. Marriage is a different set of challenges, including a fast track way of being sanctified from my selfishness, pride and arrogance.
Family is essential for everyone. Family is the answer to my loneliness. Just as Paul and Sue’s family have helped me to feel that I’m welcome and that I belong, so God’s family must be where I feel at home for the rest of my life. God puts the lonely in families (Psalm 68:6) and I’m so grateful that I’ve been welcomed into His family. Family is not just for a moment of crisis. Family is for ongoing healthy living. So, for the future, I will be ensuring I do all I can to be at home in, and with, the body of Christ. I cannot afford any longer to be half present, to take brothers and sisters in Christ for granted. I must ensure that I’m doing all I can to welcome other members, and help them feel at home too. I resolve to give up living like an orphan.
This article was originally published in the Winter 2020 edition of the TFT magazine, Ascend. Click the button below to download your copy.
Download the Winter 2020 edition of Ascend
A conversation with the author...
Articles in Ascend often need to be ruthlessly edited down to fit within the required word count. To give space to discuss certain articles in greater depth, the TFT staff team record occasional podcasts under the banner “Ascend Higher”, covering the issues raised in a more conversational style. To hear it for yourself, you can use the audio player below