The name Terry Waite may be familiar to you. Terry Waite was a special envoy for the Archbishop of Canterbury in London, and travelled the world, and was a successful hostage negotiator who was able to arrange for several hostages to be released in Iran and Libya and Lebanon.
But things went dreadfully wrong when he himself became a hostage in Beirut in January1987. Waite remained in captivity for 1,763 days—that’s almost 5 years! He spent the first four years in total solitary confinement. On 17 November 1991 he was released. Can you imagine being in solitary confinement for four years? What a shocking and brutal experience that Christian man endured. In his biography, Taken on Trust, Terry describes the experience of intense loneliness he encountered. When they led him into an underground, tiled cell, Waite said he knew his efforts had failed. “I knew I was no longer in a negotiation, but I was a hostage. I knew those cells were tiled because they were easier to clean after knocking people around,” he said.
While being held, Waite said he focused on three attitudes:
- no regrets about his life so far
- no self-pity about his predicament
- no over-sentimentality.
He was most often chained to the wall 24-hours-a-day. He slept on the floor and was often beaten with canes. He was subjected to a mock execution and suffered from asthma. It was years before frequent tapping on the wall revealed to him that Terry Anderson and several other hostages were housed next door. Can you imagine what those five years were like?—the absolute boredom and loneliness of his existence. Thank God most of us will not have to endure this kind of situation, yet there are many people who suffer loneliness. I want to talk about this in this Part 1 and again in Part 2.
Mother Teresa said once, “The biggest disease today is not leprosy or cancer. It’s the feeling of being uncared for, unwanted—of being deserted and alone. The spiritual poverty of the Western world is much greater than the physical poverty of our people. You in the West have millions of people who suffer terrible loneliness and emptiness.”
You do not have to be alone to feel lonely. You can feel lonely in a crowd, lonely in a club, lonely at a concert and even sadly, lonely in a church. I’m sure we all experience loneliness at one time or another.
What Causes Loneliness?
In 2 Timothy 4 we meet up with Paul who is in Rome, in prison, probably for the second time. Under Nero, his future looked bleak. In contrast to his first imprisonment when he was under house arrest living in a rented home (Acts 28:30), on this occasion Paul is languishing in a cold dungeon, chained like a common criminal. His friends are having a hard time finding out where he is being kept. And Paul is very lonely—he says in verse 6 (CEV): “Now the time has come for me to die. My life is like a drink offering being poured out on an altar”.
Paul is lonely. Very lonely. He realised his life was coming to an end and he wanted his friend Timothy to come and visit him. That’s quite understandable. He was in the final period of life. And then he says in verse 9 (CEV): “Come to see me as soon as you can”.
Solitary confinement, as Terry Waite endured, is the most devastating form of punishment. In this letter, Paul mentions his best friends, but none of them are with him, except Luke. Today, you can just pick up a phone and call someone. You can also email them, Skype them, fax them, text them, you can even video-conference with them. We think nothing of getting on a plane and travelling thousands of miles to meet a friend, attend a wedding, take a holiday or conclude a business deal.
But in those days, Paul couldn’t do any of these. It took a long time to travel anywhere. Paul is lonely because he is separated from his friends. Twice in this passage, in 2 Timothy 4:9 and 4:13, Paul asks Timothy to ‘come’, and then in 4:21 (CEV) he says, “Do your best to come before winter.” Why is he saying this? Because time is running out. He’s saying, Timothy, I may not be around much longer. And I really want to see you. Please come back and see me one last time.
Think about it. Who do you need to call? Who do you need to write a letter of appreciation or send an email? You need to do it now, while there’s still time. Help relieve someone’s loneliness of separation. Loneliness can be caused by the transitions of life and by separation. God maybe is counting on you to do something today to help someone in the midst of their loneliness.
(Read How Can I Overcome Loneliness? – Part 2)