The summer before I started 7th grade, I visited a waterpark in Dallas with my church’s youth group. It was one of my first official youth group events, having just graduated from elementary school that spring. I was excited by the prospect of spending an entire day with friends from church, enjoying the summer sun and racing down tall waterslides.
I connected with a group of older youth group students (they were in 9th grade) and followed them around the park. They had been there many times before and I figured they knew the ropes. They were friends of my older brother’s, so I counted them as my friends also. My brother wasn’t there that day, but it didn’t seem like his friends minded me tagging along with them. I soon learned that I was wrong about that.
About an hour into the morning, we waited in line together for our turn on one of the longer waterslides in the park. I happened to be at the back of our group, and I noticed two of the other kids whispering to each other right before they both disappeared down the slide ahead of me. I expected to catch up to them at the bottom of the slide, but by the time I got there, they were long gone. They had ditched me. In hindsight, I realized that it was no accident that I ended up in line behind them; my so-called buddies had arranged it that way in order to get rid of me. I can still remember how angry and embarrassed I felt. But mostly I remember the sting of abandonment, the pain of being left all alone because I wasn’t considered cool enough to be a part of their group.
Being abandoned hurts. Few things are more painful than when a trusted friend or loved one walks away from us or leaves us behind. As a pastor, I often talk with people whose experiences of abandonment are much worse than being left out of a middle-school clique. People’s parents or spouses sometimes walk away without much warning, leaving the rest of the family to pick up the pieces. Lifelong friends stop responding to phone calls and text messages, and we wonder what we did to deserve such treatment. It seems like the threat of abandonment hangs over every human relationship, and we wonder if anybody is truly faithful.
But there is One who never leaves us, even if everyone else we know runs the other way. Over and over again, the Scripture tells us that our God is completely faithful. He stays with His people, no matter what. In a world full of promise-breakers, He is the ultimate Promise Keeper. Romans 3:4 says, “Let God be true, and every man a liar.” In other words, even if your friends, your parents, your spouse, and everyone else you know is unfaithful to their commitments, God always honors His. Isaiah 49:15 uses a powerful analogy to describe God’s steadfast presence: “Can a woman forget her nursing child and have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, but I will not forget you.” Even if your own mother abandons you, in other words, God will always stay.
The Hebrew language has a word for this type of unwavering love. It’s the word hesed, and it is used nearly 250 times in the Old Testament. While it’s notoriously difficult to translate it into English, it’s most often translated as “lovingkindness,” or “loyal love.” The word is almost always used to describe God, since He is the only One who perfectly demonstrates this character quality. The idea behind hesed is that God’s love is so strong and steadfast that you can absolutely trust His promises. If He says that He won’t abandon you, you can take that promise to the bank. Unlike my fickle middle-school friends, God’s friendship can always be relied upon.
Psalm 136, one of my favorite psalms, is all about God’s faithful and loyal love for us. The psalm has 26 verses, and at the end of every one of them the psalmist repeats the phrase, “His loyal love [hesed] endures forever.” The psalmist beautifully describes how God’s character, God’s creation, and God’s history all demonstrate His faithful and never-ending love. The psalmist was so moved by God’s loyalty and faithfulness that He felt the need to repeat it 26 times. Over and over and over again, He affirms that God will never abandon His people, even when the going gets tough. He is the God who never leaves, the One who will stay even if everyone else runs away. Only God possesses an eternal love, the kind of love that can be relied upon in every circumstance and at every moment.
So if you are feeling abandoned and alone today, remember: Even if everyone else leaves you, God never will. He never sneaks out the back door or creeps away when you aren’t looking. His love endures forever, and His faithfulness never ends.