At a moment’s notice, chaos can erupt in my home. This day was no different. Although every day is difficult with my son’s illness, some stand out as ones that will forever be etched in my mind. And this was one of them.
Something triggered him, as had happened countless times before, and a two-hour-long episode began. As chaos went on around me and he suffered at the hands of his illness, my adrenaline pumped within me and I leapt into action, buckling down for the long haul. By the time it had passed, he had melted into my arms in tears, and I was left with an aching heart and an exhausted body.
But worst of all, I was enveloped in an overwhelming sense of loneliness.
Unseen and unknown in loneliness?
Not only was I physically alone, but the longer our son’s challenges lasted, the more isolating it became. Very few could relate to our specific circumstances and most barely knew they existed. Even countless doctors were at a loss as to the cause, let alone the solution. As the years have gone by and the challenges have increased over the past decade, the loneliness has grown exponentially.
I now sat on the floor, holding back tears as the other kids chased each other around the house, blissfully unaware of all that had just transpired. Even with noise all around me, the loneliness grew louder.
A knock at the door interrupted my runaway thoughts. I gathered myself and opened it to find on my doorstep a small box containing a small, clear bottle. No note, no signature, just a little bottle with a tiny scroll rolled up inside. I slowly unrolled the fragile piece of paper and read these words:
You have kept count of my tossings;
put my tears in your bottle.
Are they not in your book?
. . . This I know, that God is for me.
I stood there for a moment, still perplexed by the unexplained box on my doorstep with no one in sight. But a small wave of comfort began to wash over me. In this moment of incredible heartache that no one could see but me, I felt seen and, somehow, less alone.
Is God really for me? I wondered. Does he really keep track of every sorrow that causes me to toss in bed at night and every tear that falls when no one else can see? As I thought back to all that I had endured over the years and all that still loomed in front of me, these few words carried so much weight. To be seen and known — we all desire that, don’t we?
And yet, when grief or pain take up residence in our lives, we often feel unseen and unknown as the life we knew comes to a halt and life around us goes on as usual. We can walk into a bustling group and feel lonelier than when we’re alone.
Loneliness comes in all shapes and forms. At times, physical illness or a child with special needs prevent us from typical life activities, forcing us into isolation. At other times, we experience a loss or trial to which very few relate. Even if they’ve experienced something similar, our different personalities, temperaments, and unique aspects still create a feeling of loneliness. Sometimes, we may act like the life of the party on the outside, but feel utterly alone on the inside — and we may not even know why.
For me, loneliness has come and gone in intensity, but the nature of our circumstances has often forced me into some level of isolation. Even when I’m with others, there is a large part of my life that I’m unable to share due to the complexity of our situation. If I try to explain, I’m often met with blank stares and awkward silence.
The One who sees and knows
Relationship and community are important, and we need to pursue them as much as possible. However, if you’ve dealt with true loneliness, you know that sometimes that’s easier said than done. But what if there is Someone who sees and knows us like no one else ever could? Could it be that there’s a God who wants to draw near in the messiness of our grief and loneliness, unlike those who shrink back in discomfort? Could it be that he sees us in the dark of night when painful and anxious thoughts rob us of sleep? Could it be that he sees the tears that come when no one else is
As I’ve had to learn the hard way, no matter how much I want to feel seen and heard by family and friends, there’s only so much they can understand and so much they can endure. The longer our suffering lasts, those willing to stick with us become few and far between.
But the Bible says that “there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Prov. 18:24). Even if everyone else abandons us or can’t see and understand our pain, there is a friend, Jesus, who promises to never leave or forsake those who put their trust in him. As the Bible also states, “The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged” (Deut. 31:8).
Whether you know it or believe it right now, God sees you personally. He knows your deepest fears, greatest desires, and heaviest heartache. You may be carrying sorrows and burdens that no one else can see or carry at the moment, but you can be comforted knowing that Jesus loves you so much that he gave his life for you and wants to come near to you with compassion. And he not only sees you, but he came to give you a hope that loneliness cannot steal. When we trust Jesus as our Savior, he promises our lonely tears are held by God himself.
Whenever I glance over at that little bottle sitting by my kitchen sink, I’m grateful it showed up at my door. To most people, it probably looks like nothing more than a strange choice of decoration. To me, though, this little bottle carries far more meaning than anything it could physically hold.
Whatever tomorrow may hold, that bottle will forever be a reminder that the God of the Bible knows and profoundly loves me (and you). Out of a world full of people, he personally sees and comes close to us in our loneliness. He is strong enough to hold what you and I cannot. If you trust him, he will draw near to you and fill you with a hope and comfort that cannot be taken.
You may not feel seen by those around you, but with Jesus, you’re never truly alone.
*Adapted from “He holds our tears in loneliness” (Ch. 2) of Tears and Tossings: Hope in the Waves of Life (10 Publishing, 2021), written as a resource for non-Christians and Christians alike who are walking through pain and suffering.