Lately my wife and I have gotten hooked on a reality TV program entitled “Alone.” The premise of this show is that a group of individuals is helicoptered into different remote locations in the wilderness of British Columbia where they have to survive—alone— without any contact or help from anyone else. The winner of the competition is the person who stays the longest without “tapping out” via satellite phone or being evacuated because of injury or health concerns. Even though the contestants are skilled and trained in survival, they all encounter difficulties finding food, making shelter, fending off animals, and staying warm. Incredibly some of these people stayed nearly three months in the harsh, cold conditions.

The worst, most underestimated enemy in this show is—wait for it—loneliness. The show is a study in the psychological cost of living in isolation, apart from all human contact.  Some of the hardiest of the contestants on this program have broken down in tears over their prolonged separation from loved ones and friends.

In the real world, I know people who are alone because of the loss of a spouse. Others are alone because they serve in the armed forces or mission field in a distant, isolated location. Still others are alone by their choice to live as a single person. I’m sure all of them have struggled with loneliness at some point during their journey.

The Bible states that at the beginning of his earthly ministry Jesus was led by the Spirit to spent time alone fasting in the wilderness for 40 days. This was a time of severe temptation by the enemy, who unsuccessfully tried to derail Jesus’ mission. I imagine that loneliness was never far away as Jesus walked his journey alone. Yet Jesus stayed true to His divine nature by remaining in relationship with the Father and holding fast to His Word.  The biblical account stated that angels attended to Jesus at the end of his wilderness time. God was always with Him!

There is a lesson in this for all of us, especially when we go through seasons of life alone: God is always with us. Always. Even when we feel alone, we are never alone.

It’s my experience that there are times in ministry when God calls us to serve apart from the people we love. The first month and a half in my new ministry in Florida has been exciting, challenging, and fulfilling. I am convinced that God called Terese and me to our new church. It is a vibrant, growing church filled with people who love God and love other people with the love of Jesus.  One of the challenging adjustments for me has been the separation from my children, grandchildren, siblings, relatives, and friends back in Minnesota. It has also been a season where Terese commutes from Florida to Minnesota, so there has been some extended time alone and apart from her.

As I reflect on this time alone, I believe God wants to teach me to drink even more deeply of His presence and love. He longs that I experience even more fully the satisfaction of experiencing Him— with or without the people I love around me. He has also sent several “angels” from our new church who have attended to me.  A few couples from our new church invited me to dinner when they heard that Terese was out of town, and I was blessed by their presence and great food!

Early this spring as I prayed for discernment about whether or not to come to this new ministry in Florida I thought about this question: What would I say if someone asked me why I would leave my family and friends to go to a new ministry in an unfamiliar place? Don’t I love them?

As I prayed, the answer came to me like a wave. I love them. I REALLY love them—

—And I love Jesus more.

So much that when he calls me to go, I say yes, even as I entrust my family, friends, church, and loved ones to Him, because He loves them even more than I do. I also pray and trust that God will continue to provide more times together with family and friends, which He already has done through phone and video conversations!

In the television program “Alone” the contestants were asked why they chose to go through this endeavor.  Their answers almost always had to do with the quarter-million dollar prize that went to the victor.

Unlike the TV show “Alone” there is a prize for everyone who follows Jesus Christ all the way to the finish line of life. Jesus promised that  “everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.” (Matthew 19:29)

The real prize is God’s presence, now and forever. Even in our times alone, God is with us and wants us to be even more aware of His never-ending presence.  He will never leave us, whether we are alone or with other people.

God bless you!

Chris Atkins