In 1949 the legendary singer and songwriter Hank Williams recorded these infamous words as a way of dealing with the torment of love and loss;
Hear that lonesome whippoorwill
He sounds too blue to fly
The midnight train is whining low
I’m so lonesome I could cry
I’ve never seen a night so long
When time goes crawling by
The moon just went behind the clouds
To hide its face and cry
Did you ever see a robin weep
When leaves begin to die?
That means he’s lost the will to live
I’m so lonesome I could cry
The silence of a falling star
Lights up a purple sky
And as I wonder where you are
I’m so lonesome I could cry
With artistic skill Williams paints a picture with the lyrics that would under normal circumstances evoke wonder and awe from the listener, a whippoorwill, a midnight train, the moon, a silent falling star, all of which instead serve to amplify the disposition of the poet contemplating the deficit of love. It became the standard for ever “tear jerking” country song that would follow. It also serves as an illustration of how many of us feel when our aloneness is intensified by challenging seasons.
Old Hank’s sad song underscores the human reality that what we long for the most we rarely find. This is what fuels our misguided expectations of human behavior. We expect people to be reasonable, but they’re usually not. We expect people to walk with us when we make decisions, but most of the time they don’t. It’s not because they don’t want to do so, it’s because we are all humans trapped in these bodies that are frail with minds that are easily distracted. Even the most disciplined among us are prone to wander from time to time. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we all evolved and changed at the same pace? If our revelations were in synch? If we could all walk the same path, discovering the same hidden treasures along the way.
I think this is perhaps what Scripture is endeavoring to teach us when the passage in Romans challenges us to “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and mourn with those who mourn.” This is the idea of empathy, and it is in rare supply. But it is something that is needed. Desperately. We seem reluctant to show one another the compassion that is needed when it is needed.
We would hope to find this kind of empathy from those closest to us, but in my experience nothing seems to separate people like religion and politics. Perhaps this is why a common cultural refrain is that we are to avoid these topics in polite company. But even a cursory reading of the New Testament revels that Jesus never avoided difficult situations, circumstances, people or issues. In fact, He purposely went through Samaria, a region that most people of His day avoided. It was in Samaria, that Jesus had one of His most important interactions with the woman at the well, who was herself marginalized by her community.
Did you ever notice how much Jesus intentionally went to people who were alone? The woman at the well is but one example among many. In fact, many of the most important interactions Jesus had was with one person. So if you are walking alone on your journey, you are actually in very good company and it could be that Jesus has reserved His greatest attention for you in particular.
For example, as I contemplate those who were alone receiving special attention from Jesus, Thomas comes immediately to my mind. We know him as “Doubting Thomas” but he was probably more of a pessimist than a doubter. He was always negative. In every passage he is mentioned his personality is a downer. When Thomas is mentioned briefly in John 11:16 it sheds much light on his personality. This verse precedes Jesus going to raise Lazarus from the dead. Jesus tells his disciples plainly that his friend Lazarus is dead, and Thomas says “Well lets go that we may die with him” Not exactly a rousing proclamation of faith.
Thomas is like the guy that wanted it printed on his tombstone, “See, I told you I was sick.” The disciples knew that the religious leaders were already plotting to kill Jesus, and by going to Jerusalem again Jesus would literally be risking his life. So Thomas aware of the danger of the situation basically said, “Well our friend Lazarus is dead, let’s go to Jerusalem that we may die with him.” It was pessimism, if albeit heroic pessimism. His pessimism shows up again in John 14:1-6, in essence Thomas says, “Jesus if you leave, we will never get to where we are going.” Of course the most famous story concerning Thomas is found in John 20:24-29. Thomas was so pessimistic that naturally the crucifixion of Christ absolutely devastated him. He isolated himself and by doing so missed the first appearance of the resurrected Jesus to his disciples.
Jesus was tender with Thomas, because no one could feel the way Thomas felt, unless they loved Jesus the way Thomas loved Him. Thomas was wired towards pessimism, but it was an error of a profound love. It was provoked by grief, brokenheartedness, uncertainty, and the pain of loneliness. The Bible says that Jesus understands our weaknesses: Hebrews 4:15 “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” As a result we have this hope as found in Hebrews 4:16 “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in the time of need.” Even though Thomas famously asserted that he would not believe without touching Jesus, he was not rebuffed as we might imagine, but rather Jesus accommodated his needs. Thomas received a great revelation in the midst of his greatest moment of doubt, he confessed “My Lord and my God!”
I’m a lot more like Thomas than I would like to admit. Perhaps you are as well. Walking alone welcomes lots of opportunities for pessimism, with doubt and fear not far behind. But in these moments of greatest loneliness, fear, and doubt is when Jesus appears to me. He appears in the faces of others asking sincere questions. He appears in the hands of those extended to offer hope in these darkest of days.
After all, His name is Emanuel. God with us.