Being a church mouse is a lonely business. Sometimes our pastor opens the worship service with the words, “The Lord is in his holy temple.” That may be, but when the people go home and the custodian locks the doors and leaves, I don’t sense the Lord anywhere. An empty church is a spooky place. The church is people too. Where there are no people, there is no church.
Is loneliness the number-one problem in modern society? I heard that statement from the pulpit too. True? I found an old cartoon in which someone asks Charlie Brown, “What are you going to be when you grow up?”
His answer: “Lonely.”
Abraham Lincoln once said that inside himself was a loneliness so deep he couldn’t scratch it.
I used to listen to The Beatles. I remember the song “Eleanor Rigby”:
Eleanor Rigby, died in the church
and was buried along with her name
Father McKenzie, wiping the dirt
From his hands as he walks from
No one was saved
All the lonely people
Where do they all come
All the lonely people
Where do they all belong?
Some came from the hills of Moab. Naomi and Ruth without their men. So many lonely people in the Bible:
Job lost everything, including his
Abraham climbed that lonely
mountain to sacrifice his son.
Jacob slept alone under an open
sky, fleeing his brother.
Jeremiah was the loneliest man in
John was banished to the isle of
Jesus cried, “My God, my God, why
hast thou forsaken me?”
(To be abandoned by people is one thing. To be abandoned by God is quite another.)
You can make a distinction between loneliness, which is a burden, and solitude, which is not. People sometimes seek solitude. But never loneliness. Barbara Streisand sings, “People need people.” That’s solid theology. In Genesis God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone.”
So why do I write about loneliness? Because living alone most of the week in an empty church building is the essence of loneliness. Sometimes people in the pews sing, “How good and pleasant is the sight when brethren make it their delight to dwell in blest accord.” That is a fellowship I know nothing about. But even as they sing, I look at the widows—widowers too—who are the reason for this essay which flows from my paws.
The Bible says that God has set the solitary in families. Widows and widowers having known that bliss are devastated without it. So, being lonely myself, I have a special
sympathy for those in the congregation who are also alone.
I am thinking of one who doesn’t even weigh 100 pounds (45 kilograms) soaking wet, who cannot come to church on the first Sunday of the month because she has to work at the local hospital as a cleaning woman, yet she shows up every Monday to bring her envelope containing her weekly contribution—the widow’s mite. I think of another who tells her friends that her only son calls her long distance every Sunday afternoon. It’s a lie. He never comes, and he never calls. I overheard it from the pastor who said to an elder, “He’s rolling in it.” I think he meant money. A mother protecting the reputation of a son who doesn’t deserve it.
So, my salute to all the widows and widowers in the church. So many of them sit in the back pews. I hear them, including the one who always mumbles a prayer for an errant daughter.
No wonder that Jesus mentions them so often.
About the Author
Rev. Jacob D. Eppinga was pastor emeritus of LaGrave Avenue Christian Reformed Church, in Grand Rapids, Mich. He went to be with his Lord March 1, 2008. This column concludes his popular “Cabbages and Kings” series, which he wrote for 40 consecutive years. Watch for It’s All Grace, a collection of his best and more recent columns to be published in book form this fall by Faith Alive Christian Resources.