Month: November 2014

Tis the Season to Be Lonely

Recently, someone inquired about my favorite holiday. I didn’t have an answer. In hindsight, it probably would have been fair to claim National Coffee Day, but that may not have been an acceptable answer. After all, as a follower of Jesus, I am supposed to say Christmas or Easter because they are about our Great Savior. Or Thanksgiving, because I get to gather with family and celebrate all the good things. At the very least I should be claiming an alternate Valentines that’s all about loving thy neighbor instead of thy boyfriend, or the fresh mercies that come with New Year’s Day.

All of those things are great. I love that Christmas is a time to refocus my heart on the incredible strategy and humility of God’s plan for invading the world. I love that Easter is a day to recognize the victory of Christ over death. I want to have a grateful heart and love people well. And I am so thankful that there are new mornings and new years that remind us that God is patient and gives second chances. But, if I’m honest, I don’t like holidays.

There are a handful of things that make the holidays hard, but there is one that rises above the rest.

I am single.

And while I have had my fair share of seasons of bitterness over the absence of a spouse, I have reached a place in my life where I am generally content and thankful for my relationship status. I enjoy being single most days. However, the desire for marriage has not gone away and the holidays, more than the normal days, shine a big, blinding spotlight on my ringless finger.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my family. Christmases growing up were incredible! We had great traditions. But those traditions die out as kids get older and move away. It’s normal. Waiting for dad to set up the video camera before we run in to tear into gifts would be weird as adults in our 30’s. Most holiday traditions in culture and in the church, are geared toward families. And without a family of my own, holidays just feel awkward. I feel out of place. Christmas Eve services are great, but when you are walking to your car surrounded by moms and dads with their kids, it sometimes makes you dread getting into your car alone and going home to an empty apartment. I’m reminded that I don’t have a husband or kids with whom to share the days. I’m reminded that my life doesn’t look like what I hoped it would, what my parents hoped it would, what my grandparents hoped it would.

A few years back, I had an incredible Bible Study teacher and while I have notes and notes from the times I sat under his teaching, there is one particular lesson that I can recall without pulling out old notebooks. It was during the advent season and he had us turn to Luke 2. He talked about the joy of Christmas, promises kept by God, a great plan put in motion…”But, he said, Christmas is not all joy for everyone.”

In Luke 2, we find a man named Simeon hanging out at the temple. He is waiting, like he has done for years, for God to keep His promise…to send the Messiah…to bring the consolation of Israel. As Mary and Joseph bring Jesus to be consecrated in the temple, Simeon recognizes that this baby is God’s promise fulfilled. And Simeon rejoices. No more waiting! But, some people are still waiting. Christmas, and the glorious reason for Christmas may bring some sense of restoration in the waiting, but waiting is hard…it is always hard. And it is possible that while they are celebrating, they may also be aching, wondering when they will hold the fulfilled promises of God.

There is another that we meet in the temple in Luke 2, Anna. She is a widow. She was married for seven years before her husband died and she spent the rest of her days living in the temple worshipping. This breaks my heart as much as it challenges me. Can you imaging being married for seven years and then losing your spouse to death? Anna didn’t melt away in her heartache, she pressed into the heart of God. She spent her days in worship. Still she had no kids (as far as we know), she had no husband. And it may be that while she worshipped and fasted, she also felt heavy with longing and sorrow. It may be that there are many Annas that we overlook in the flurry of the holidays…men and women pressing into the heart of God but carrying deep pains as well. They aren’t mutually exclusive, you know. Heartache and worship. So much of scripture is the writings of those who longed to honor God and glorify His name and also wondered why He seemed so far, why He took so long.

And let us not forget that at the news of a King being born, babies were murdered. Let us not forget that a little girl…a teenager walked with God into the loss of her own reputation. A man trusted when his relationship seemed doomed. Let us not forget that a 9 month-pregnant, weary-from-travel girl and her burden-carrying husband were turned away time and time again because they would have made the other guests uncomfortable. Let us not forget, that while the song may claim that the night our Savior was born was silent and calm and bright, babies never enter this world silent and calm. Mothers in labor scream bloody murder from the pain. Babies cry and are messy.

For some, holidays highlight the waiting, the longing, the absences in their lives, the miles between what they wish was and what really is. Some are grieving the days that once were, when loved ones sat with them around the dinner table telling stories. Some are trying to maintain an air of strength when in reality they are terrified about how they are going to live out the circumstances unfolding before them. For some, the Thanksgiving feast is a reminder that their families are a mess and can’t be together for more than a few minutes before a war breaks out. Maybe for you, the holidays highlight past mistakes and wrong turns or unmet desires. Maybe, the holidays feel more isolating than most days because, when we are supposed to sit around being thankful and celebrating and singing, you are hurting but heartache seems to have no place at the table. Perhaps you feel like one of the great lords of Narnia, missing out on the glorious feast intended to be enjoyed, because your sorrow has put you into a deep sleep from which you cannot seem to wake.

Well, you are not alone. All of our holidays are marked with pain. Thanksgiving- it’s not a beautiful spotless history. Pilgrims were dying of disease and Native Americans were losing their homes. Valentine’s Day is all about death…a man who was murdered for living out his faith. And Christmas is a fulfilled promise but it wasn’t a peaceful time, it wasn’t without cost. There was deep pain woven into the story. So if you are lonely, sitting in a house full of family and friends but alone, if you are carrying the burdens of life, there is a place for you at the table. There is a place for the heartache.

The Choices We Make

Yesterday, Brittany Maynard took her life. Two and a half months ago, Robin Williams took his life. Brittany would say their choices to end their lives were very different. Many would call the death of Robin Williams a tragedy while many of those same people would point to Brittany as a hero.

Brittany believed that her choice to decide her own last breath was not the same as suicide because she was going to die anyway from the cancer in her brain.

She wanted to avoid the pain and the vulnerability her death by cancer would cause. So, with the help of a little pill, she made up her mind to avoid it.

The truth is, we are all dying. Every single one of us. And the majority of us will face the vulnerability and in varying degrees, the pain that death brings. Robin Williams was not physically ill. But, emotionally, he was in agony. Would that emotional agony have ended his life? No, probably not. But did it steal from him the quality of life he desired? I would dare say, yes. Did it make him vulnerable? Absolutely.

My grandmother passed away two weeks ago. She died of a tired body…old age. She was in pain for years as her body slowed. And her failing joints, hearing, organs, made her vulnerable. The quality of her life was affected by the process of aging.

Brittany, Robin, Betty Jo…they all faced the same reality. These bodies are broken and temporary.

Brittany wanted a choice. I understand. And, I don’t blame her. Who among us wouldn’t want another option if the only one facing us was an excruciating, humiliating*, lonely battle with death? I would. I would want a way out. I would beg for a way out. Any other way.

Having faced a brief battle of deep depression and many smaller ones, I would venture to say that Mr. Williams had begged for a way out of the pit he found himself in. He wanted to find an option that was less painful. So he ended his life.

My grandmother fought. For years she battled one life-threatening ailment after another. Years before that she battled circumstances that threatened to steal her joy. But she didn’t take another way. She walked through the pain.

My aunt lost her battle with cancer a few years ago. She too chose the long, hard road. She walked through it. Suffered through it. Rejoiced through it.

The truth is many will idolize Brittany for her decision. And sadly, many will crucify her. She made a choice that if we are honest, we all make on a smaller scale often. Avoid the longer, harder road. Avoid the pain. Spare ourselves and the ones we love the mess.

Maybe it isn’t about your physical death. Perhaps you are looking for an easy way around a dying marriage. Or it could be that the job that once was a dream job turned out to be full of heartache. Maybe it was easier to cut yourself off from emotion than to deal with the pain left by parents who abandoned you.

I don’t know what has threatened to leave you weak and helpless. I can’t see from here what has stolen the quality of life that you so desperately want. But, I’m sure, as I have, you have begged for an easier way. I’m sure, as I have, you have taken matters into your own hands and even caused yourself a deep “temporary” pain in order to avoid the longer, harder road.

I believe there is purpose in our pain. I believe that God does not let our pain go to waste. He is in the business of reconciliation.

I don’t think Jesus would be angry with Brittany. I think He would tell her He understands. He wanted a choice too. He wanted another option when the only one facing Him was an excruciating, humiliating, lonely battle with death. He wanted a way out. He begged for a way out. Any other way.

But ultimately, He trusted His Father. He believed that, even if there was no other way, even if the only option was to face death on a cross, His Father would not let Him suffer without reason and His Father would not stop loving Him.

Psalm 23 says, “Even when I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for You are with me.”

I don’t blame Brittany for wanting a choice, but I wish she had chosen differently.** I want to be a woman that chooses the longer, harder road…the one that leads through the valley of the shadow of death…if that is the road God has written into my story. It’s not because I’m brave. I’m not. But I believe that He walks with me. I believe He is still using our pain to bring reconciliation. Everyday pains and “last days” pains… He walked that road when He could have walked away. That gives me courage. That gives me hope.

*I use humiliating here not to belittle the cause of death but to highlight the weakened and helpless state that death itself brings.

**My prayers are with Brittany’s family as they grieve. The loss of one you love is heartbreaking, regardless of how they left this world. My prayers are also with others who are seeking ways to avoid the pain they are facing. There is hope even in the pain. Ask for help. Ask God to show up. I am confident that He will hear you.