Years ago I drove three hours across Iowa from Des Moines through Cedar Falls to the tiny little town of Dyersville, just a few miles off of Highway 20. I rolled down my window and I could hear its music: the sound of gravel crunching beneath my tires and the wind rustling through the corn.
Though I’d never been there before, the place was already filled with the magic of my own memories: my grandfather eating salted peanuts at my first Cubs game, running through the neighbor’s cornfield as a boy, catching fireflies as my grandma sat on the front porch swing, the smell of 50-year-old leather gloves in their garage attic, the dust floating in the shafts of light as I picked out a mitt. Was it my father’s, or did it belong to one of my uncles?
This place had already been steeped in my own expectations; I could feel the magic.
As I crossed over Hewitt Creek, I listened for the whispering voice … I even held my breath, but I couldn’t hear it.
I parked and immediately headed for the corn, quietly following in the footsteps of Terrance Mann, Shoeless Joe Jackson, and Moonlight Graham. And like a ghost I hovered over the green grass of left center field, pausing only for a brief moment at the barrier; waving my hand just to check, seeing if the magic was real … and then I walked in.
Nothing happened. I knew nothing would, but one can dream.
I walked slowly back out, onto the outfield lawn; taking in Lansing Farm, the Field of Dreams. Previously I had been undeterred, ignoring the people and all the details, but now I wanted to drink it in.
I wasn’t prepared for what I would see next: dads and their kids, grandfathers and their grandkids, playing catch.
I was alone, and in that moment I felt the cold embrace of an encompassing loneliness. My boys and my dad were 1,400 miles away, and I didn’t have a mitt — no one to even have a catch with. Frustrated and feeling empty, I marched straight back to my car and left, not even looking back.
I’ve been all over this country — by last count I’ve been in 42 or 43 of the 50 states — and I can testify that, without anyone to share it with — without the eyes of someone else to see it through — there is no satisfaction in seeing the sites. So for the last decade or so, I’ve worked hard and long hours, seeing only hotel rooms and job sites, and I’ve rushed to make my way home.
At times nothing has been sweeter than walking through my own front door after a long journey, but even that front door has let me down from time to time.
I’ve hovered like a ghost over the gray concrete sidewalk that stretches from my truck to the front steps and waved my hand across the threshold of my home, checking to see if the magic was still real. It often isn’t.
The sad truth is, I’ve at times wanted something from my wife, my children and my friends that they could never be responsible for giving me: happiness.
The cold water of anxiety can run deep in the heart of the lonely, and what a heart overrun with anxiety needs more than anything — more than the love and affection of another individual — is peace. True happiness is a heart’s quiet peace, a soul’s deep and abiding satisfaction.
Where can our souls find true satisfaction?
Paul, knowing the end of his race is imminently near, writes Timothy from prison and says:
At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them! But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen. (2 Timothy 4:16-18)
One of the most significant mistakes I have made, both in my later adolescence and also as an adult, was expecting those around me to be enough for me — expecting them to complete me or to bring me happiness.
I’ve gone to that well too many times expecting to pull something from its depths, but the bucket’s always been empty.
Here Paul is telling us that he understands, all too well, that people will always let you down. But I’d like to go farther than simply finding consolation in the fact that someone else has felt my pain. Paul shows us there is another well that will never run dry, a cornfield we can walk through where the magic is always real. The Lord stood by me … strengthened me … will rescue me … and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. Paul isn’t crushed when his closest friends let him down, and he wasn’t embraced by the cold grip of loneliness. He leaned on his hope in the Lord and put himself to the task at hand, knowing that because of his circumstances the hope of the Gospel might be fully proclaimed through him to the whole world.
When Paul was alone, he didn’t misplace his trust onto individuals who were likely to fail him. He trusted God and went to work.
If you’re crippled with loneliness, consider these two questions: Who are you hoping will solve your deepest needs? What can you do right now to get to work, advancing God’s kingdom in this world?