The Holidays can be Lonely

If the holiday season goes from joyous to lonely, well, join the club. Loneliness is epidemic in our society and for some the holidays just makes them feel more alone than ever. There are lots of reasons for this but in this post I’m going to focus on some “biblical therapy” from Psalm 25.

The Psalmist David was often a truly lonely man. When this emotion overwhelmed him he counterintuitively reaffirmed his belief that the Lord is worthy of his trust: “To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul; in you I trust, O my God.” This lonely man reaffirms one fundamental thing. He is unequivocally convinced that the Lord is worthy of his trust. Almost. Immediately he adds “Do not let me be put to shame,”

 Allow me paraphrase that for you: “Don’t let me be embarrassed, Lord, by the fact that I trust you. Plenty of people look at my circumstances and say, ‘Where is your God?’. They’re going to delight in the opportunity to increase my loneliness, Lord. Do not let me be embarrassed. Don’t let me down.”

He next affirms his belief that the Lord shows the way to those who are willing to follow:  “Show me your ways, O LORD, teach me our paths; guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.” He firmly believes that the Lord guides into truth all those who are willing to learn. He is absolutely convinced that the Lord delivers from trouble all those who trust him. Yet in this dark night of the soul, as St. John of the Cross would describe it, he has to remind himself of these things because the darkness comes flooding in. Strong emotion, if we’re not careful, can cause us to lose sight of what we truly believe.

He next affirms that the Lord is merciful: “Remember, O LORD, your great mercy and love, for they are from of old. Remember not the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways; according to your love remember me, for you are good, O LORD.” He believes the Lord is merciful because he’s proven himself over and over and over again in the past.  David is a member of the covenant people which means he understands that God has chosen Israel to be his unique people. God chose Abraham. God chose that out of Abraham would come a people for himself through whom all the nations of the world would be blessed. He took an initiative and established a covenant with these people, and he had been merciful to them. He also know that the Lord’s mercy does not mean instant gratification. Israel became slaves in Egypt, but the Lord led them out – after 400 years.  Israel crossed the Red Sea only to wander in the wilderness of Sinai for 40 years, but the Lord provided for them. The Lord brought Israel into the Promised Land and defeated all their enemies. The Lord gave them riches they didn’t earn. He gave them bountiful crops they had not planted. The Lord proved himself merciful over and over again – on his timeline not theirs.

So in the dark night of his soul, in his loneliness, in the intense inner turmoil of his heart, David reflects on the fact that God has proven himself merciful. This is what we have to do. 

David also affirms that the Lord will give forgiveness to the repentant.  I find it interesting that when he’s consumed with loneliness, when he’s distraught, he becomes concerned about the sins of his youth: “Remember not the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways.” I have no doubt that he’s confessed these things many times and realizes the damage they have done to his own life. He’s come before the Lord and sought the Lord’s forgiveness for them. But in the dark night of his soul, the Evil One is reminding him of these things. And he prays, “Lord, remember not those things. As far as the east is from the west, remove my sins from me.”

When we’re down, the devil is no gentleman. He’ll kick us. One of the ways he kicks us is to remind us of all the things we impulsively did in our youth. Even if we’ve confessed and been forgiven for them all, Satan will go on dragging them up. He’ll whisper, “The reason you’re in this fix is because of all the bad stuff you did in the past.”

Jill Briscoe, a Christian speaker and writer, recounted this imaginary conversation with the Lord: “Lord, do you remember that awful thing I did?”

God said, “No.”

She said, “Lord, you absolutely must remember this.”

The Lord said, “Listen, you are perfectly free to go on remembering that. I have chosen to remember it no more.”

And that, of course, is what forgiveness is all about. David is being convicted of past sins. Satan is making him question the Lord’s mercy.  He prays, in effect, “Please assure me at this time of my intense inner turmoil, of my loneliness, of my affliction. Assure me that I still matter; I’m still significant; you still have something in mind for me.” It’s a healthy thing to know where to turn to reaffirm our faith.

To recap: In the midst of loneliness and turmoil we need to affirm these three beliefs:

  1. The Lord is worthy of trust.
  2. The Lord knows what is best and is working what is good in our lives.
  3. The Lord is merciful.

Ignore evidence to the contrary and hold to these affirmations if you find yourself with holiday loneliness instead of holiday joy!

Eating Crow

Eating crow is not very high on my list of gifts and talents.  But I have a bit of crow to eat today.  In my last post I said that I only received 1 phone call on my birthday.  While that wasn’t meant as a whine…well not consciously anyway…it turns out it wasn’t even true.   I missed some very important phone calls on my birthday because my phone battery was loose and when I fixed it I found that I had missed  some incredibly sweet calls on my birthday that, thankfully, were there on my voice mail.

I missed the birthday call from my mother and daddy. In my 64 years I don’t believe I have ever had a birthday without either being with them or hearing  from them.  Turns out this birthday was no exception.  Mother, now in her 80’s and daddy who just turned 90, are responsible for the good things I have done in life.  For my screw-ups I take full responsibility.  It was good to hear my mother say “We love you, Tim.”  Of course, happy birthday was ok but the “I love you” was more important. I’m really sorry I missed the call and the opportunity to say, “And, I love you and daddy, too.”

But the calls I really regret missing were the ones from Hudson, Cooper, Miller, and Maddox, my grandsons by J.J. and Eric Rubio.  I mean, talk about missing something precious!!  Just that they took the time to call means a lot!!  I’m glad I got to hear them on my voice mail but I so regret not being able to respond to them in real-time.

Hudson called me on his own cell phone and sounded very grown up as he wished me a happy birthday and then said “I love you, Papa.”  I missed your call Hudson, but thanks for calling and I love you too.

The next call on my voice mail was from Miller, my youngest grandson.  I could hear his dad prompting him in the background then his sweet voice said “I called to say Happy Birthday, Papa.  This is Miller. Happy Birthday. Love You”  I love you too Miller.

Next was a joint call.  The voice said (remember they are having to respond to a sterile phone message “Hi this is Tim. Leave me a message.”) Happy Birthday! Oh, this is Cooper. Happy Birthday. I love you Papa!  I love you too Cooper.

Then Maddox took the phone and yelled Happy Birthday and then proceeded to sing “Happy Birthday to You” to me replete with the tap,tap,tap refrain they use at their birthday celebrations.  I have laughed out loud with delight every time I’ve listened to his recording.  Thanks for being you Maddox and I love you too.

I also found that I received text messages from Melissa and the Berry boys wishing me a happy birthday. I missed those too. What a day for my phone to be on the fritz!  Thanks for the texts and I love you too.

So what I wrote in my last post about not caring for my birthday is only partially true.  Like many things enjoyed as children, adult birthdays are enjoyed differently or not at all.  I realize it is sort of an automatic response to prefer celebrating my grandsons’ birthdays, as I did my daughters, while they are innocent and capable of incredibly genuine displays of affection over simple things like candles on a birthday cake, over my adult birthday with its reminder that life is short.  Their calls and texts, not to mention eCards and mailed cards filled a void that I didn’t even know was there. It was as if I needed to hear them say they loved me…even though I know it.  I needed to tell them, too, for this love for each other is the two-way street of family, and I truly regret that I missed those calls and texts!

As I pondered all of this, it took me to a deeper level and I wondered, when we tell God, Our Father in Heaven, that we love Him, does He, too, in His Great Love and Mercy for us feel compelled to tell us that He loves us.  I think He does.  But, sometimes I don’t think we know it…or feel it…or understand it.  Sometimes our phones are on the fritz.

I feel challenged now to not only tell God that I love Him, but also to take time to listen for the ways He tells me that, yes, He does love me, too.

My first public prayer of my 64th year of life is that in any circumstance of our lives…the good times and the not-so-good times…the times of light and the times of darkness…that we may know the love of God.  May our eyes see the ways He impacts our lives.  May our ears hear the wonders of His love as we journey through the days of our lives.  May our hearts know clearly in our love for God that He loves us deeply and more intimately than we shall ever know or begin to understand.  Amen.

On Birthdays

Yesterday was my 64th birthday.  I’m not a big fan of birthdays.  I should probably clarify that further to say I’m not a big fan of celebrating birthdays.  Narrow that down a tad further and you come much closer to the truth: I’m not a big fan of celebrating MY birthday.

When I was a kid, birthdays were these crazy awesome days when you had parties where your friends were forced to come over and give you stuff.  It was right up there with Christmas on the “get cool stuff” scale.  It was also a day all about you – when you could be completely self centered and nobody would fault you for it.  As you grow up, though, you start getting fewer and fewer gifts, and people start getting mad at you if you’re too self centered.  Birthdays lose that magical charm that they had when you were a kid.

Some of them still hold a bit of that “this is a big deal” kind of feeling.   Turning 16 and finally being eligible to get your drivers license (next birthday for my oldest grandson Jonathan).   Turning 18 and being allowed to vote and go to R rated movies legally.  Turning 21 and being able to legally have a scotch.  And – while I admit this one is a stretch – turning 25 and seeing your car insurance rates drop.   These are all rites of passage as we grow up,   milestones we reach as we survive longer and longer in the world.  But… what happens after that?

A whole lot of nothing, actually.  There are now special things to look forward to (in terms of new things you can do / get because of your age) until you hit retirement age.   That’s only really exciting if you’ve done what you should have done and set up retirement accounts (and funded them!).  So – for me – my birthday just isn’t that special.  It’s just another day.

Every year I know I can look forward to e-cards(6 yesterday) and phone calls(only 1 yesterday) and social media comments ( facebook/tweets/g+/linkedin) on my birthday (with real cards from family and presents from my wife Sheila and our foster son John),  and the past few years a nice dinner at the Frederica House while at the Southeastern Writers Workshop.  I’ve always enjoyed it and appreciated it.   It was low key – and nobody drew too much attention to it (just the way I like it).

This year I got a bit more than I bargained for.   I got all of the usual birthday cards from my family… but I also got something more.  I got a phone card from Fledge and Julie Fiamingo.   Julie has a beautiful voice but Fledge was the one who sang “Happy Birthday” to me over the phone.  Then he asked if he and Julie could bring the kids over to visit me that evening.  I said yes.  They did and Brody and Keaton bounced in to the living room later and promptly shouted “Happy Birthday Papa Tim”!  Julie came it with a birthday parfait (delicious!) and handed me McKinna who cooed and reminded me of when my daughters were babies.  They were the only people to visit yesterday.  It was very special.   I also had a TON of people wish me happy birthday on Facebook – something that I haven’t been doing lately because I thought this is too easy to mean anything.   I was wrong.