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There’s a sketch on Sesame Street: Grover demonstrates the difference between near and far by running back and forth breathlessly until he collapses into a dramatic, Grover-ian heap. I don’t know why this sketch popped into my head; maybe it’s because I’ve been pondering the notion of God’s nearness…and far-ness. Turns out, it’s got me every bit as addled as poor, exhausted Grover.

Sometimes God seems very near — even uncomfortably near. At the best of times, this nearness is like a warm blanket of hope and reassurance. It can quite simply impart the ability to go on, especially during dark times. But sometimes, that same nearness makes me squirm as if I’m wearing an itchy wool sweater (or possibly an itchy wool straitjacket). God is calling me on the carpet. God is asking that I get real with myself and deal with a situation that I’d rather run from. God is near, and God knows me. There’s no place to hide.

Then there’s the feeling, sometimes quite pronounced, that God is far away. God has left me alone to suffer. God has not provided a solution to my troubles. I am lost and God is not showing me which way to turn. It’s all too much to bear by myself.

Maybe it’s because I struggle with nearness and far-ness in my physical being. I remember the first time I heard about people who prefer that others not invade “their space.” It was a revelation. It was normal, after all, to not want acquaintances to touch me or impinge on my “bubble.” Yet I also consider myself a “touchy-feely” type. If I like you, I will touch your arm as we talk. I will hug you every time I see you. I hold hands whenever I’m with someone I love especially much.

Whatever my personal hang-ups, I know that others struggle with God’s proximity every bit as much as I do. It seems none of us can get a handle on just where God is — in God’s heavens? Wherever two or more are gathered? Is Jesus the cuddly Good Shepherd or the guy who rowed out to sea or went into the desert just to get as far away as possible from the crowds?

Near. Far. God is both, sometimes at the same time. Prayer can draw God nearer. Our own fear can seem to drive God away. I suspect that God is where God always is, all the time — everywhere. We simply don’t realize how near everywhere can be.

Kids have not had a banner week, what with falling into gorilla enclosures and wrecking $15,000 LEGO statues and all. I have not formed an opinion on these events. I shouldn’t — I’m not a parent. I have no idea how tough it is to wrangle a small human being with a mind of its own. In fact, I’m not fit to judge anyone. I don’t know their lives: I’m not bipolar. I’m not an adoptee. I did not come from an abusive home. I’m not transgender. By the same token, you can’t possibly understand me, having not lived a life with the exact same contours, colored by the same emotions, experienced by a brain with its own unique wiring. No one can.

We are each alone in our brokenness. That fact tends to put up walls. More and more often, we see people wallowing in their aloneness, letting that aloneness define them. Why reach out to others when they can’t possibly understand? What is there to do but to trumpet my unique aloneness to the world?

There are constructive ways to deal with our aloneness. Several, in fact. One is to realize that, although our specific brand of aloneness is particular to our lives, we are all — every last one of us — broken and in need of healing. We actually have that in common. Maybe your “broken” differs from mine, but we can still reach out to one another in our common brokenness. I can’t understand yours and you can’t understand mine, but we can both understand how it feels to be sad, lonely, afraid, messed up. We are alone…but in a very crowded room. One touch is all it takes to bridge the gap.

Second, no matter how offbeat your type of aloneness is, there is someone who understands it. And you don’t need to go looking for a support group to find them. God understands every kind of brokenness there is, every kind of sinfulness, every kind of loneliness. Nothing is too foreign, too sensational, or too strange. I can’t promise instantaneous cures to your every injury, but I can promise that there is a listening ear out there who truly, deeply gets you. And, again, the chasm isn’t nearly as deep as you think it is. Open your mouth (or mind) and let it out.

Just as Emily Dickinson once opined that she was a nobody and asked if you, the reader, were a nobody too, let me be a literary catalyst: Hello, I’m broken. I’m a mess. I feel alone. How about you? Are you broken, too?

And if so, can’t we be broken together?

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