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A Pastor In Peril

Overcoming loneliness

lonelinessBy common agreement, loneliness is among the greatest of the social challenges that our country faces: a recent (2023) report revealed that over 9 million UK citizens are afflicted by it at any given time. And arguably the worst time is when we are old.

I have not been old for very long; but loneliness is far from a recent experience with me. I have battled with it, on and off, for most of my life. In my younger days, when school friendships should have been numerous…they weren’t. I felt like an outcast, isolated from all and sundry. Especially on Sunday. I was the son of that most elevated of figures, the village clergyman. It didn’t help.

Born in 1948, I was socially inept throughout my primary school years. But at least I could come home to my loving parents every night, and the rejections of the day were forgotten. And then, when I was eleven, I failed the crucial 11-plus exam – thereby excluding myself from grammar school. And then those same loving parents – for what they undoubtedly considered to be good reasons with impeccable logic behind it – sent me to boarding school.

It was a nightmare. Every form of isolation and failure that I’d felt at primary school was multiplied by ten (or possibly fifteen – I was no good at maths either!)

And yet…something about that boarding school changed my perspective. I was, perhaps, able to use the distance from home in order to reflect on the example that my father, the vicar, had set. Never a man to “ram home” his religiosity, he had, rather, provided a quiet and sincere example of personal spirituality. And his was the influence that I drew on when, in July 1959, desperate and distraught, I invited Jesus Christ into my life.

Subsequently, I discovered this marvellous hymn, written in 1866 by George Stebbins:

“I found a friend; oh, such a friend!
He loved me ere I knew Him;
He drew me with the cords of love,
And thus He bound me to Him.
And round my heart still closely twine
Those ties which nought can sever,
For I am His, and He is mine,
Forever and forever!”

When I re-read these finely-wrought lines and rhymes today, I feel anew the same emotions, the same spiritual blossoming that I experienced on that July day in 1959. You can see, can’t you, why this hymn has been such a comfort to me during the subsequent years?

Well. Spiritual comfort is one thing; but loneliness in the temporal realm doesn’t necessarily end if one’s life-mission is leadership. Indeed, very many persons adopting the position of pastor, mentor, coach, colonel, captain (of ship or industry)…all of these may experience profound loneliness for want of peers to share their minds with. Most of them just daren’t admit it. If they do, they may be seen as showing weakness, or pulling their followers’ heartstrings, or trawling for recruits. And yet their pain is no less real than that of the millions suffering similar isolation.

Most people who have any brush with Christian Ministry see only the glamorous side of it. They may feel an inner glow at the idea of being respected; of standing on a platform and influencing others with the power of their rhetoric. But achieving the status of figurehead may come at a great cost. To be a Christian pastor is to be called to serve God and His people. It isn’t just preaching; anyone can do that. No: the hardest thing of all is to live a life that is pleasing to God – and that means a life imbued with Christlike character!

Have I achieved that? Well, not yet…but it’s my constant prayer. There are many perils – spiritual and temporal – of being a pastor. Loneliness is only one of them.

Anybody who takes a stand for any kind of truth is not going to be popular with the whole world; and, if you’re a Christian who sincerely seeks to remain true to the teaching of the Bible in an increasingly secular world, you can, in fact, end up being rejected by the world in general. To protect themselves against this uncomfortable condition, some religious leaders try to lessen the pain of their loneliness by compromising the tenets of their faith.

I, personally, never have, and never will.

Will you?

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