Leaving someone alone isn't always the answer

Sunday, November 18, 2012

What do you do when you see someone sitting alone? Being alone is a common situation in the world and there are many reasons for it. Sometimes people want to be by themselves, I think, but others are alone because there is no other alternative. How is one to know what to do when he notices that another person is by himself? Do you intrude -- or attempt to befriend him? A priest brought the condition of aloneness to my attention last weekend.

As I attended a children's Mass in another state, the pastor noticed a young boy sitting alone in one of the church pews. Suddenly I heard, "Young man, you're by yourself aren't you?" Now I would have been embarrassed if I had been in the young boy's shoes unless I had been informed of the happening previously. The father asked the boy to come forward and he made an example of him to the congregation. Hopefully he had prepared the youngster for the attention before the service began. The point was being made that evidently no one had noticed that the kid was sitting alone and offered to befriend him or keep him company in any fashion. The lesson caused me to stop and think, then investigate if I had been guilty of that same negligence. The priest went on to point out that no one in our group of people had put themselves in the boy's place.

The next afternoon I attended another church service at another parish in a nearby town. The Mass was celebrated by the same pastor. He again sought someone he could use for the same illustration. A woman was sitting near the front with a walker beside her in the seat. Father emphasized that no one that evening had tried to befriend the lady or sit beside her. Everybody had sat with their families or friends and ignored the fact that she was by herself.

The sermon made quite an impression on me because how often are those less fortunate left to fend for themselves when a few kind words or evidences of friendship from someone would mean so much? Jesus spoke often of the less fortunate, those on the fringes and widows. They are to be taken care of and befriended. Thessalonians 5:22 states "Therefore encourage one another and build one another up just as you are doing." He means you and me need to enter the world of those who are alone.

One example showing that Jesus cared about your emotional well-being is stated in Proverbs 27:9. "Oil and perfume make the heart glad and the sweetness of a friend comes from his earnest counsel." This means that although receiving perks is pleasant, having a friend and talking with him brings joy, too.

Being alone, regardless of the reason, isn't always a chosen way of life, and although you visit the sick, prepare meals and perform other acts of charity, letting someone who's alone know he matters is important, too. I see people in various disabled circumstances whose friends or relatives bring food to them. This is certainly a notable gesture, but I've often heard the person, to whom the meal had been catered, say, "Aren't you going to eat with me?" or "Can you stay and visit with me while I eat?" They are disappointed when the visitor hurriedly leaves thinking he has done enough.

True, it's better to do a little than nothing, but let us remember that people crave a show of love and friendship from another human being. Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 states, "Two are better than one because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall one will lift up his fellow, but woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up."

You can be that person, the one to lift him up. Just be present!

Ellen Shuck holds degrees in psychology, religious education and spiritual direction and provides spiritual direction to people at her office.

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