It is just 3 days to the new year but about a month and a half ago, my friend Ramesh had gone ahead to ask over dinner, “How has 2012 been for you”? I told him the year has carried much purpose and meaning with the genesis of a community in Tokyo and the establishing of a home for abandoned children in Johannesburg. These emerging journeys had not begun without a missional vision, pleading prayers, painful disappointments, unceasing hard work, generous giving, miraculous interventions and overwhelming gratitude. These experiences are not my alone but of those who have congregationally or communally, participated with us.
However, on a more personal note, loneliness had surfaced its ugly head more often in 2012 and seemed to dwarf all the challenges of this concluding year. While we are not socially lonely, Chui and I do feel the loneliness that comes from leading. Gratefully, we have discovered an antidote to such feelings, and it is the realization that loneliness is inescapable for leaders. Our South African friends, Ryan and Gerda, had popped the question to us, “Do you feel lonely?” They inquired because they identified with us, sharing stories from their own leadership journey. They related that for progression, at times a leader has to travel alone.
Our realization had climaxed through a painting, a gift couriered from Australia and accompanied by a letter from the artist who had penned a little synopsis of his work. Surpassing the excitement of unpacking the parcel and the enjoyment of appreciating the Australian outback was the painting’s title, “The Long and Lonely Road”. Those words brought much timely comfort. Not the kind that arouses a pity-party but a kind of comfort that ascertains and assures. Comfort that injects courage and confidence. Comfort that not only embraces the reality of inescapable loneliness on the leadership road but also the reality that God was, is, and will always be with us for the road. We were close to tears. It was epiphanic (well, for us).
Loneliness for you may not be in the context of leadership. It can appear because of family loss, social exclusion, cultural detachment or emotional trauma. It can ambush you or be absent for most of your life. Loneliness can be passing moments or stretches along the road. One sure thing, no mortal is exempted from loneliness. Even loners will be lonely. Owl City, a one-man band, in “Silhouette” echoes,
I’m a silhouette chasing rainbows on my own
But the more I try to move on, the more I feel alone
So I watch the summer stars to lead me home
‘Cause I walk alone
No matter where I go
Adam Young’s electronica track poetically talks about the “summer stars” whose brightness and dazzle are most distinct in the nights of summer. The first book of the New Testament too describes a star that led wise men from distant lands to Bethlehem. It was a star that ushered God’s arrival, God coming to be with us. Theologically, God has always been with us. But it is a massive cosmic difference when God goes from theology to humanly being with us. It was more than God identifying with us. It was more than an epiphany of God being with us. It was a “with us” where God went to the extremity of giving himself entirely to humankind.
What do you anticipate for the road in the coming year? We pray and hope for blue skies and lush greenery. But there may be moments of grey skies threatening a passing storm, or stretches of harsh Australian outback trying our perseverance. In those moments or stretches, remember that just like the road which promises a constant redness, God promises to be “with you always, to the end of the age”.
[“The Long and Lonely Road” is by Brian Eastwood and a gift from him and his wife, Jan.]