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!

Footprints in the Sand

I have been a Jesus follower for a long time and I have experienced the ups and downs of life in Christ.  What I have discovered about the ups and downs is that most are the result of my feelings going up and down.   There are times when I FEEL close to God, and times when I FEEL like He is far, far away.   These ups and downs are not exclusive to me but rather are a common Christian experience.  This poem written in 1936 has been overdone but it so vividly portrays the emotional cycles that cause us to misinterpret the presence of God in our life that I’m going to include it in this blog.

Footprints in the Sand

One night I dreamed I was walking along the beach with the Lord. Many scenes from my life flashed across the sky.

In each scene I noticed footprints in the sand. Sometimes there were two sets of footprints, other times there was one only.

This bothered me because I noticed that during the low periods of my life, when I was suffering from anguish, sorrow or defeat, I could see only one set of footprints, so I said to the Lord,

“You promised me Lord, that if I followed you, you would walk with me always. But I have noticed that during the most trying periods of my life there has only been one set of footprints in the sand. Why, when I needed you most, have you not been there for me?”

The Lord replied, “The years when you have seen only one set of footprints, my child, is when I carried you.”


Mary Stevenson, 1936

Our feelings cause us to misinterpret the facts.  But we don’t have to be driven by our feelings.  We can be driven by faith.  We can let the engine pull the caboose.  Even during those times when God seems distant, we can by faith know He is there.

Regardless of how you FEEL I encourage you to cling to God’s presence.

Regardless of how you FEEL I encourage you to rejoice in what God has done.

Regardless of how you FEEL I encourage you to cling to God’s goodness.

David gives us a great example to follow: “But I trust in your unfailing love, My heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, for he has been good to me.”

The life God has designed for us is to live continually in His presence.  And we do regardless of how we feel!

Trust in God’s unfailing love

I am going through one of those times  when God feels far away.  I take solace during times like this that I am in good company: David was the poster child for feeling distant from God.  That is why I go to the Psalms to see what David did during those times himself.  The reality that sustains me whenever I feel deserted by God, a reality that doesn’t change regardless of how I feel, is that God is always with me.  I live in his presence 24 hours a day, seven days week, 52 weeks a year.  God’s presence is not a feeling to be felt  it is a faith to be lived.

This is the reality that sustained King David. He went through times when he didn’t feel God’s presence.  During one such time he wrote a poem that is we know as Psalm 13:

How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever?  How long will you hide your face from me?  How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart?  How long will my enemy triumph over me?

Look on me and answer, O LORD my God.  Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death; my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,” and my foes will rejoice when I fall.  But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation.  I will sing to the LORD, for he has been good to me.”

Have you ever felt like that?  I have and if you haven’t, well, God bless you and hang on to your salad days because you will go through times in your life when God seems to be far away, and His presence seems like nothing more than a fading memory, or a distant dream.


David wrote Psalm 13 when he was going through an emotional valley; yet he continued to find strength and direction in his faith in God.  David is a great example of what to do to overcome our feelings when God seems far away.

When David says in Ps 13:5 “But I trust in your unfailing love” he is saying: “I won’t let despair get the best of me. I will just assume God is with me…watching over me…taking care of me…loving me, regardless of how I feel.”

I have a friend who works for a company that is struggling to stay afloat. There have been some rumors that he might be transferred, or even laid off. This has put him in a state of limbo. He doesn’t know if he is staying or going, or if he’ll have a job next month. When he goes to the office he isn’t sure what he should do from day to day. As a result, he’s been afraid to begin any long-term projects and has found himself floundering — at a time when he can least afford to flounder. He told me, “Since I really didn’t know what was going to happen back when I started this job I’ve decided that the only thing that has changed is that back then I expected the best and now I’m expecting the worst.  So I’m just going to trust God that everything will work out for the best, whether the company succeeds or fails, and keep doing my job the way it’s supposed to be done.”  His situation hasn’t changed but he has because of where he placed his trust in God not his circumstance.

We have a new President.  President O’bama’s election was historic, especially for those my age who lived through the tumultous civil rights movement.  But talk about being elected at a bad time!  The country fragmented over an unpopular war, the greedy side of capitalism rearing its ugly head, banks on the verge of collapse, automakers facing bankruptcy and everyone wanting him to solve all our woes in his first year in office!  It must be a temptation to give in to the feeling of despair and just do nothing.  But instead his attitude is “I’m going to assume that the American people elected me for a reason and I’m going to do the job I have been elected to do.”  Even though he had no way of telling how all of this would pan out, the worst mistake Barack O’bama could make is to do nothing until he felt like it and letting  the financial mess we are in just get worse and worse.

What I’m saying is when God feels distant ignore the feeling and “Trust in God’s unfailing love”.  Assume God’s presence regardless of your feeling and get on with doing what you know you should be doing.  Assume God’s presence.  Assume God’s love.  Assume God’s mercy.  Assume God’s guidance.  Assume God’s protection. Even though you don’t feel His presence, love, mercy, guidance or protection — trust that God is there by faith. “Trust in God’s unfailing love.”

This means continuing to spend time alone with God whether we feel like it or not.  It means loving whether we feel like it or not.  It means serving whether we feel like it or not.  It means including God in our daily routines whether we feel like it or not.  David’s example and what I am trying to do is to choose faith over feeling.  I believe the tyranny of feeling over faith is often at the root of our sense of alienation from God.

If you are feeling distant from God and you don’t feel God’s presence in your life you have the opportunity to choose faith and assume He is there.   Choose faith and assume God’s presence and act the same as if you felt His presence.  This is how we “Trust in God’s unfailing love.” Trust says, “God, regardless of how I feel, I’m going to keep on doing what I know I should be doing, because by faith I trust that You are right here with me.”   This isn’t easy, but it is Biblical and it works!

The Basket

I was in Zambia driving on a dirt rode between villages when Bill and I came upon an old woman returning home from the market carrying a big heavy basket on her head. This wasn’t unusual except that this lady was really old and her basket was really big.  So we decided to offer to drive the lady to her home. She thanked us and got into the car with her basket. On the way, Bill glanced at the lady in the mirror, still carrying her basket on her head. Astonished, he asked her to lay the basket down in the car and rest. The old lady naively replied, “Oh my son, your car is carrying me; this is enough, I should not burden it carrying my basket too!”

I laughed but later I thought that is so what I do to God everyday!  God carries me during the day but I insist in carrying my heavy basket of worries and fear of the future, for family, friends, loved ones, money, work, etc.  I am carried by Almighty Hands, watched over by Sleepless Eyes and God is in control of my future yet I can’t relax and put everything in God’s Hands. 

How about you?  The old lady, if she had agreed to lay down the basket, would have had to carry it again when she got back home.  But the beautiful thing about God is that once we place our heavy basket in His Hands, we never have to pick it up again. In fact, we can place new burdens in it as often as we want!  This is what the Psalmist was getting at in… Ps 55:22  “Cast your cares on the Lord, and He will sustain you.”

Peter put the same promise this way… 1 Peter 5:7  “Cast all your anxiety upon Him, because He cares for you.”

When the complications of a particular day become too much for us to handle, we can turn them over to God, and He will give us the strength to make it through. One of the most empowering statements we can make is “Lord, I don’t have the strength to get through this on my own; I need your help.” We don’t have to deal with our worries and cares all alone. We can offer them up to God: “Lord, this is a problem that I don’t know how to handle. I need your strength, I need your wisdom.”  Praying for wisdom is one prayer that God always answers!  

James 1:5  “If any of you lacks wisdom, He should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to Him.”

Another promise from Psalm 55 is…

Ps 55:16,23  “I call to God, and the Lord saves me…But as for me, I trust in you.”

Like most Christians I realize that the only way i can be saved is to trust in Christ to forgive me of our sins. I know that there is nothing I can do on my own to save myself; I am a fallen man who is incapable of saving myself.  I believe that without God’s grace I have no hope of salvation.

However, also like many Christians, I forget that when it comes to daily living the same rule applies.  I trust myself to handle the problems that come my way. Too often my attitude is, “Thanks for salvation, Lord but today’s problems I can handle today on my own.”  That attitude is a recipe for disaster, because life just doesn’t work that way.

This is difficult for us to admit, but the fact is we can’t effectively handle the day-to-day complications of life any more than we can save our own souls. We need God’s intervention in our lives; we need Him to save us — from our sin, and from our pride.

The good news is: He will do it. Just as surely as He will save us from our sin He will also save us from our pride.  He wants us to entrust to Him the problems of day-to-day life. I don’t mean that daily trusting God means that He will prevent us from experiencing problems; I mean that He will give us the power to face anything life or the enemy can throw at us.  This is why we need to return to Him throughout the day, because when we continually put our trust in God, He refuels us with His power which empowers us to meet each challenge each day.  Jesus said…

“Do not worry about tomorrow…Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:34)

If we let them, daily troubles can rob us of  the experience of a real relationship with God. In reality God never leaves us — He is always present with us — but if our eyes are on our problems and not on God, we can miss the experience of God’s presence.

To avoid that, just like David, we need to be able to say with conviction:

 (v. 17) Evening, morning and noon, I cry out in distress and He hears my voice.