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!

Lonely? Psalm 25 day four

 Today I want to finish our exploration of loneliness and how David overcame it in Psalm 25

Let’s start with  verse 21: “May integrity and uprightness protect me, because my hope is in you.”  This integrity and uprightness can refer either to the character of God or to the things that God has built into David’s life.

Either would be right.  There’s no question about it – we can rely on the utter integrity and uprightness of our God.  He will never do that which is wrong.  We can be absolutely confident that he will always treat us in utter righteousness.  Therein lies our protection.  As God instills a sense of integrity and righteousness in our hearts, they become the greatest possible defense for us in our times of extremity.  So David has great hope.

 The basis of David’s hope and of ours is this: The cure for loneliness and inner turmoil is to look to the Lord, reaffirm our trust and confidence in Him, and begin to live in obedience.

And as we live in obedience, it is inevitable that we begin having a heart for people outside ourselves.

 Everybody knows that sooner or later the cure for loneliness is people!

 And the cure for the inner turmoil of the heart is to become less absorbed with our problems and more concerned with those of others.

An old Chinese proverb says, “I grumbled when I had no shoes, until I saw a man who had no feet.” I think somebody who doesn’t have shoes has cause to grumble. But I think the person who sees the man with no feet will stop grumbling and begin to recognize how fortunate he is to have feet.

Do you find yourself lonely? Do you have a troubled heart?

Do you know where to turn?  Do you know the Lord?  Are you convinced that He is trustworthy?  Do you believe that He’ll deal with you in mercy?  Are you absolutely rock-bottom certain that He knows what is best for you?  Do you take the time to reflect on Him and what it means humbly to come before Him, discover His righteousness, trust Him, and obey Him?  And even in the midst of the maelstrom of your feelings, is there that UNDERGIRDING sense that God is bedrock there, and that one of these days the feelings will be better but the thing that won’t change is who God is?

 When you can answer those queries positively you’ll discover that He is helping you to look out to other people.

You’ll be on the same tentative note of triumph and of concern as David: “O Lord, do something about the people around me as well. Don’t let me become totally absorbed with me.”

The point to ponder is very simple: When I experience a troubled heart, to whom do I turn first? Notice the word first?  I phrased it that way for one very simple reason.  A lot of people turn to the Lord last with their troubled heart.  What’s the difference?  The nature of our relationship with God!

When something is really bothering you who do you call first: an expert on whatever is bothering you or a friend?  Get the point?  Is God someone with whom you are intimate and therefore someone you let inside your pain or is God that impersonal expert that you go to when you’ve exhausted all other options?  He won’t turn you down when you go to him last, but how sad and how unnecessary that we stay alone in our pain so long.

With David and all the saints since let us affirm today: “To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul; in you I trust, O my God.

 

In that affirmation is found the answer to overcoming loneliness: knowing that the Father is always with us, always loves us, always desires us, and is always ready to embrace us when we run to him!

Lonely? Psalm 25 day 3

The humble man acknowledges he has no claim on God but that God has a total claim on him.

Sometimes in our pride, we come before God and demand our rights. The humble person knows he has no claim on God at all, that God would be perfectly within his right and perfectly consistent with his nature if he brought judgment to bear upon us and gave us no grace at all. The humble person knows he exists only because God initiated him and continues to perpetuate him.

How God relates to the humble person, we read in Psalm 25:9,10: “He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way. All the ways of the LORD are loving and faithful for those who keep the demands of his covenant.”

The covenant was simply this: God takes the initiative and says to Abraham and his followers and his progeny, “I will be your God. I invite you to be My people. The only two things I ask of you is to love Me with all your heart and all your soul and all your might and all your strength, and your neighbor as yourself.” To amplify that, He gave them ten commandments.

Those are the demands that God puts upon His people.

They are designed to show that we love God and that we are prepared to humbly serve him.

The essence of our spiritual walk with the Lord is obedience.

David in his dark night of the soul comes before the Lord and reflects upon the fact that God has called him into covenant and is leading him into a life of obedience. There’s always the possibility that when we’re in the dark moments, we will slip into disobedience; there’s always the possibility that we will seek no longer to walk in the path he’s chosen for us – which, of course, is the next thing that David talks about.

Look in verse 12: “Who, then, is the man that fears the LORD? He will instruct him in the way chosen for him.” To fear the Lord is to reverence Him, to have an aspect of awe that is transformed into a lifestyle fitting the way chosen for you.

Do we believe that? I wonder about myself sometimes. Do you believe that if you’ve come into a relationship with the living God through Jesus; that you’ve been saved by grace through faith, in order that you might fit into the pattern of good works that God has planned for you?  Even in your loneliness, even in the dark night of the soul, when your troubles are multiplied, do you honestly believe that you’re actually walking through a path the Lord has chosen for you with good intentions?  Believe it!

David knows what to do in this time of intense disappointment and discouragement.  He knows he will spend his days in prosperity and his descendants will inherit the land.

That means that he will begin to know in the practical aspects of life the blessing of God. In verse 14 he says, “The LORD confides in those who fear him.” That means literally that they’re invited into God’s inner circle.

Think of that – at the time of our loneliness, at the time when we’re in total turmoil, we can turn from our solitude and commune with the Lord.  We discover the secrets of the Lord.

We discover access to his inner circle.

If we are able to practice solitude that allows us to reflect on the Lord and what He says, and if we make that a prime factor in our day, we will begin to discover the communion of the inner circle of the Lord. That’s how we handle the inner turmoil of the soul.

David reveals his troubled feelings. I’m sure many of us will relate to his feelings of great need. “Turn to me and be gracious to me.” In other words, “Lord, I feel so inadequate. Help me turn this to good.”

St. John of the Cross said that grief and loneliness are “the knocks and rappings at the door of your soul in order that it might love more, for they cause more prayer and spiritual sighs to God.”

I read once about a man whose father encouraged him to pray.

He said, ” I am so discouraged and depressed. I can’t pray.”

His father said, “Just groan. Just groan.”

The Spirit of God can take these inner groanings and translate them in the mind of God, and he will be gracious to us. At the moment of our deepest need,we need to recognize the knocking and rapping on the door of our soul inviting us into a deeper communion with the living God.

David reveals feelings of tension in verse 17 & 18: “The troubles of my heart have multiplied.” So much is going on in his heart that he feels it’s going to burst.  Look upon my affliction and my distress and take away all my sins.”

That’s the third time David talk about his sin in Psalm 25.  Maybe there is sin we’re harboring. Maybe there is sin that we have not admitted. Maybe there is sin that we’re intent on continuing.

David is saying we need to deal with the sin to overcome loneliness. Sin is the blockage. Sin is the hindrance to enjoying communion with God. Sin is why we don’t  find our souls filled at the moments of extremity.

Maybe David is onto something here. Maybe he needed to say it 3 times before he would get around to admitting the real problem: “There’s stuff going on that has gone on for a long, long time; and I’ve known it shouldn’t, and I know it should stop. I’ve grumbled that my spiritual life wasn’t what it might be. I have felt deprived. I have felt that these things were far inferior to what I might long for, but I’ve hung on to this cherished sin.”  I can relate. Can you?

Here is a good prayer for us to pray when we are depressed and lonely: “… take away all my sins. See how my enemies have increased and how fiercely they hate me! Guard my life and rescue me; let me not be put to shame, for I take refuge in you.”

Lonely? Psalm 25 day 2

I’m blogging about beating lonliness by paying attention to David’s experience recorded in Psalm 25.

Even though he is feeling desperately alone the psalmist reaffirms his faith. He believes 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.

“Do not let me be put to shame,” says the psalmist.

To paraphrase: “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 goes on to say, “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 believes the Lord shows the way to those who are willing to follow.  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.  Maybe if he’s not careful, he’ll lose sight of what he truly believes.

He also believes 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.  They had gone down into Egypt, but he led them out.  They had wandered in the wilderness, but he provided for them.  He had taken them into the Promised Land and defeated all their enemies.  He had given them riches they didn’t earn.  He had given them bountiful crops they couldn’t grow.  The Lord had proven himself merciful over and over again.

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.

He also remembers that the Lord is merciful to forgive the repentant.

Isn’t it interesting that when he’s concerned about his loneliness, when he’s distraught, he is 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 in them.  But in the dark night of his soul, the Evil One is reminding him of these things.  And he says, “Lord, remember not those things. As far as the east is from the west, remove my sins from me.”

When you’re down, the devil is no gentleman.  He’ll kick you.

One of the ways he’ll kick you is to remind you of all the things you impulsively do while you’re young.  Even if you’ve confessed and been forgiven for them all, he’ll go on dragging them up.  He’ll say, “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.

The psalmist is being convicted again.  He’s been reminded.

He needs to ask the Lord to be merciful again. He says, 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.

Let me tell you one of the most important truths about overcoming lonliness.  In the midst of loneliness and turmoil we need to hold to 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 during the dark night of the soul!

In verses 8-15, the psalmist takes time to reflect on the Lord in two ways:  He reflects on how the Lord interacts with sinners and how he interacts with those he calls “the humble.”

“{8} Good and upright is the LORD; therefore he instructs sinners in his ways.” 

How does the Lord relate to sinners?  The two words used to describe the Lord gives us the key here: “Good and upright is the LORD.”

Because the Lord is upright, because he is righteous, because He is pure and holy, He is separate from sin and cannot look upon iniquity.  Because He is upright, he cannot ignore sin.  Because He is good, He can forgive sin.  We must always hold those two truths in tension. 

David imagines that his sin may have brought on this dark time, but he also reflects on how the Lord relates to the humble.  The humble knows that he has no claim on God but that God has a total claim on him!

We’ll start with that principle tomorrow.  In the meanwhile, don’t let Satan trick you into thinking that God doesn’t care about you because nothing could be farther from the truth.

Lonely? Psalm 25 day 1

For many Christmas and the “Holiday Season” from Thanksgiving to New Years is the loneliest time of the year.  I was thinking about that and, to be honest, feeling a little lonely myself, so I read Psalm 25 again and decided to write a little about loneliness from a Shadowlander perspective. 

Dring World War II the allies had planned Operation Overlord, the code name for D-Day, for years with vast armies gathered, an incredible navy collected, and enough arms stored to release Europe from the tyranny of the Nazi regime.

In charge of this massive war effort was an American, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower. As the logistics expert, he envisioned the whole thing. He pulled everybody together. He got the fractious allies moving in the same direction. He even tamed the British generals, which was no mean feat. The day was set; the moon was right; the tides were right; the weather was all wrong. Eisenhower was the only person who could make the decision.

Then a royal Air Force meteorologist came in to say he predicted a break in the weather. Eisenhower said, “Okay, Let’s go!”

All the generals, the admirals, and the air vice-marshals who had been with him in the room, promptly left Eisenhower alone.

Suddenly, he had nothing to do. He sat down to write two news releases. In one he explained why the operation had failed and accepted full responsibility himself. The other announced that the operation had succeeded and thanked everyone who had participated.

Can you imagine the loneliness and inner turmoil of Gen. Eisenhower at that moment? Casualties of 75 percent were predicted in some areas of the attack. I hope that none of us will ever be in the position of Dwight D. Eisenhower on D-Day. I hope we never know that kind of loneliness.

But we all have felt loneliness and inner turmoil.  I have a friend who worked at a company for several years and returned from Christmas vacation to find a note asking him to come to the boss’s office.  He thinks he’s going to get a raise, but he’s unceremoniously fired. Suddenly the rug is pulled from under his feet. Have you ever felt that kind of inner turmoil of the soul?

Some of you know what it is to await surgery. I do.  You’ve gone through a whole succession of tests and heard all kinds of promises. One by one, your hopes have disappeared. It’s obvious that you must have the surgery. You think you’re prepared. In a quiet moment when you’re totally alone, your heart is in turmoil.  Have you ever experienced that emotional rollercoaster?

Have you experienced the horror of seeing your family split apart by divorce? You knew things weren’t what they should be; you knew your marriage was struggling. Out of the blue, the divorce comes and you are alone.

Or maybe you have experienced the searing pain of seeing your parents snipe at each other until there is nothing left of either and then they divorce. The people you most depended upon all your life have suddenly decided to go their separate ways, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Your loneliness is palpable.

This is where the psalmist finds himself as he writes Psalm 25.  He is quite open about his condition:   “Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted.  The troubles of my heart have multiplied; free me from my anguish.” (vs. 16,17) 

The psalmist admits his need, but he has somewhere to turn.

He turns to the Lord. We’d expect that, but it’s easier said than done.

Do you know the Lord well enough to turn to Him?  We need to be clear who this Lord is to whom we turn.

We need to be sure we have the kind of relationship that allows us to turn to him. Some Christians would say we should never be lonely. Some Christians would say we should never have inner turmoil. Some Christians would say we should always be rejoicing – everything should be great, and we shouldn’t be concerned.   To them I say, lovingly, “What planet are you from?”.

When I hear malarky like that I figure those Christians must not have yet faced any of the experiences I’ve just enumerated. When they do, they’ll soon change their minds (or eliminate themselves as Christians because they experience negative emotions).

Let me give it to you straight, from a Shadowlander who has been a Christian most of his life: Christians go through the same trauma as other people.  The difference is that if our spiritual life is together, we know where to turn.  The psalmist does that in Psalm 25.

Psalm 25 is a acrostic psalm.  Each verse begins with the succeeding letter of the Hebrew alphabet. If it was in English, the first verse would begin with the letter A, the second with the letter B, the third with C, and so on. There is artistry and literary genius here. This is a psalm of David.

David has a roller-coaster experience. He starts out by reaffirming his faith. Then, it’s almost as if some of the doubts come back; some of the inner turmoil begins to bubble to the surface again. Then he gets back on track.

David is very open about his feelings: he feels alone and abandoned. But then, interestingly enough, notice that the very last verse of this Psalm says, “Redeem Israel, O God, from all their troubles!” The fascinating thing about it is that here’s a psalm dealing with his troubles, but at the close he’s concerned about everybody else’s troubles.  I believe that speaks volumes about the answer to loneliness.

 I am going to be blogging about the answer to loneliness shown in Psalm 25 over the next couple of days.  I invite you to join me on the journey.  I would love to hear your thoughts along the way.   If you want a blessing read Psalm 25 each day while I am blogging about it.