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!