“Its lonely at the top.”

Being in a position of leadership, while filled with many joys, can also come with many trials and moments of pain – one of which is the isolation that comes from being at the top. The words above have been on my mind a lot particularly during Camptoons (wow, it ended only a week ago!), as I struggled with the idolatry of friendship throughout the summer.

God desires for us to be in relationship with those around us, to not be isolated in our pursuit of Him, and to yearn for unity within the family of Christ (Gen. 2:18, Psalm 133:1, Rom. 15:5-6, 1 Cor. 12:25-26, Heb. 3:1). Yet there were many moments where my desire for friendship began to consume me and grow beyond the bounds of what God designed.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his book Life Together, profoundly states the following of worldly (“human”) love, as opposed to spiritual love:

Thus there is such a thing as human absorption. It appears in all the forms of conversion wherever the superior power of one person is consciously or unconsciously misused to influence profoundly and draw into his spell another individual or a whole community… Human love desires the other person, his company, his answering love, but it does not serve him. On the contrary, it continues to desire even when it seems to be serving.

This “human love”, while seemingly innocent and selfless, subtly hides a prideful and selfish perversion that impresses to the individual that they are owed a certain response based on their treatment toward another, and when they do not get that response, they are entitled to feel bitter, resentful, isolated, and gloomy. Thus, this “human love” places the individual on the throne of God, removes the humility and love of the Gospel, and puts self-identity in the place of Christ as the goal of the relationship.

By God’s pushing and by the gracious words of close friends, I had to recognize the idolatry of my heart and refocus my mind back on Christ as my first love. Likewise, when our desire for friendship becomes idolatrous and self-exalting rather than Christ-exalting, we must recognize our idolatry, forcibly turn our mind to Jesus during those moments, and fight against this idol with God’s promises for us.

And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

Matthew 10:28

Fear, even in its traditional sense, has a right place in our relationship with an omnipotent creator God. On the other hand, we need not fear any created being. People might give us joy or pain throughout this life, but how could 80 or 90 years (if we are lucky) compare to an eternity in God’s presence? Rather, these “light, momentary afflictions”, if taken in faith, will prepare us for “an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Cor. 4:17).

You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

Psalm 16:11

God offers for us something that no person could ever give. He brings us life: more than just the physical act of living, he gives true life that cannot be found anywhere else. In his presence he promises complete and full joy, that which encompasses the entirety of both body and soul and surpasses any circumstance we might find ourselves in. At his right hand are pleasures that, unlike human opinions or desires, never change or waver and are eternal and secure.

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Matthew 27:46

There are times we may feel alone, and in seasons of despair it may seem that God is absent, that there is no one who can comprehend our pain or who even cares. In reality, however, we are never truly alone. Jesus is the only one who was truly abandoned by God, taking the punishment that we deserve, precisely so that we would never be abandoned or alone. Because of his sacrifice, we can trust that God is ever present with us regardless of our feelings or perceptions (Psalm 139, Matt. 28:20). C.J. Mahaney says it well in his book, Living The Cross-Centered Life: “The personal desolation Christ is experiencing on the cross is what you and I should be experiencing – but instead, Jesus is bearing it, and bearing it all alone. Why alone? He’s alone so that we might never be alone.”

Let the world despise and leave me;
They have left my Savior, too.
Human hearts and looks deceive me:
Thou art not like them untrue.

Oh, while thou dost smile upon me,
God of wisdom, love and might,
Foes may hate and friends disown me;
Show thy face and all is bright.

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