Saturday, September 29, 2007

It’s good . . . to be Lonely

I have a nasty habit. My habit is that I find too many things to be sorry for. In response to my apologies, friends and acquaintances may say, “it’s no big deal,” my Australian friends may reply: “no worries” and Timon and Pumbaa from the Lion King sing, “Hakuna Matata!” The idea of being sorry, worried or frustrated is ingrained in our North American culture. So when I listened to a song several years ago that said it’s good to have these feelings, I listened hard and often, and its reminder, has become one of my favorites. The song addresses three feelings which we would rather discard rather than face, but to each of these feelings, Wayne Watson says, “it’s good. . . .”
Psalm 23:1 says “GOD, my shepherd! I don't need a thing.” What, we don’t need anything? If we look around, it will not take long for us to desire something and we may find ourselves saying, “I need this,” “I want that.” Last night, I watched “Stranger than Fiction”, a movie about Harold Crick, an IRS agent, who falls in love with a client of his. In an awkward attempt to get closer to his newly found love, Crick bluntly states, “I want you.”
Loneliness is not usually something that we want. Instead, we would go to great lengths to avoid it. Being a shepherd, David, the author of Psalm 23, spent a lot of time alone and knew what it meant to be lonely. But rather than see it as a time of being separate from everyone, David viewed loneliness as a time to be alone, together with his God. Like David, Watson sees loneliness differently. In his first verse, he writes:

It's good to be lonely every now and again
To be parted from the ones you adore
To sit at a table for two all alone
And take a look at the world around you
At people with no one to go home to
Some with a place to belong
Others consumed by their weakness
And another when weak seems so strong

It may be impossible or at least very hard for us to find any reason why it would ever be good to be lonely. But if we spend time in this frame of mind, we may learn that there are indeed good things that can be found in loneliness. David found some of those good things in his Psalm:

You have bedded me down in lush meadows,
you find me quiet pools to drink from.
True to your word,
you let me catch my breath
and send me in the right direction.
Even when the way goes through
Death Valley, I'm not afraid
when you walk at my side.
Your trusty shepherd's crook
makes me feel secure.
You serve me a six-course dinner
right in front of my enemies.
You revive my drooping head;
my cup brims with blessing.
Psalm 23:2-5 (The Message)

David doesn’t sound so lonely anymore, does he?

It’s good . . . to go down to Defeat

Genesis 37-50 tells the beautiful story of Joseph. His name means, “the Lord shall add,” and the Lord added to him many things. The casual reader may remember that God gave him power, making him second in command in all of Egypt. Or you may remember that he was his father’s favorite son, who gave him a coat of many colors. But did you know what God gave him? God gave Joseph a resilient spirit that accepted defeat, and an ability to overcome it that few people have ever experienced.

Again, you may be able to remember when Joseph was defeated. The story of Joseph being robbed, stripped and sold into slavery by his brothers is well known. But his greatest sense of defeat was when he was accused of rape by Potiphar's Wife, and spent two years as a criminal in the king’s prison for a crime he never committed.

Heaven and earth view defeat differently. The world views defeat as the way to prove that you are a looser, and Joseph may have felt like one on many occasions. But Heaven says the only way to win is to be defeated first and Joseph is an ideal example of this.

You have probably experienced defeat in your own life. Whether on the job, at home, or among friends, feeling defeated has been experienced by many. Wayne Watson continues his song with council for the defeated.

It's good to go down to defeat now and then
To fail at some noble pursuit
To fall short of the prize
And find in His eyes
There's nothing your victory can do
To secure higher favor
He cannot love you more than now
Winners and losers
All are the same somehow

The last line of this verse proclaims one of the most unheard truths in our society. Whether differences become evident at work, school, in your family or your social circle, we know we are “all the same somehow” and we cherish this. Yet as long as we view our differences positively, it makes us feel successful and we cherish them even more. “I was the only one to receive this raise because I was able to do something none of the others could.” “I’m the only person here to have this disability, so I ride for free,” or the old kids rhyme that I heard many times this week, “I’m the king of the castle and you’re the dirty rascal!” As much as we may claim that we are the same our differences stick out like soar thumbs, and as long as we are on top, we love them because that makes us unique. But, if we are not on top, our overwhelming feeling may be one of deep sorrow instead. It is to this topic that Watson turns next.

It’s good . . . to Know Sorrow

As years pass, it seems that more and more tragic events fill the front sections of our newspapers and magazines. Pastor Martin Neimoller was an outspoken advocate during one of the most horrific times of sorrow in recent years. But instead of reacting, he accepted the burden of collective guilt and suffering caused by Nazi Germany before and during WW II. On August 28, 1989, TIME Magazine published these words of his:

“First they came for the Communists,
and I didn’t speak up, because I wasn’t a Communist.
Then they came for the Social Democrats,
and I didn’t speak up, because I wasn’t a Social Democrat.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists,
and I didn’t speak up, because I wasn’t a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn't speak up, because I wasn't a Jew,
Then they came for me,
and by that time there was no one left to speak up for me.”

The questions we raise about the sorrows we can or cannot control paint a sharp contrast in our society. Why did hatred high-jack the minds of Nazi leaders to do what they did? Why have controllable acts like these been repeated since then? But then sorrows we cannot control also occur with greater regularity than we would prefer.

In a couple of days, my family will hold a memorial service for my grandfather. Though I knew that his death was imminent, swallowing the reality that I will not be able to enjoy another walk with him on the sea-wall, play a game of snooker with him or join him again for lunch is a memory I will miss.

However, Watson continues with words I needed to hear:

And it's good to know sorrow
To be closely acquainted with grief
To be showered with tears
No reason to cheer
To find in Christ your only relief

Will these feelings of loneliness, defeat or sorrow ever dissipate? I’ve had enough! God, stop! Bring me out of this dungeon! Comments and questions like these are what filled the mind of David and other psalmists as they wrote down their complaints and praises. And even though it is repeated to music, the chorus of Wayne Watson’s psalm is no different than the words of David.

Lord, let me be at peace wherever I am
Satisfied with all I have--A faithful friend
And know I am grateful
Cause if it makes me love you even more
I know--I'm sure
It's good to be lonely every now and again

What can we do after we are lonely, go down to defeat and know sorrow? Can we fight it and win, or flee it and find refuge? Not very well. Watson recommends peace, “Satisfied with all I have--A faithful friend.” At this point, and only here, can we be built up again realizing that all these feelings are good to experience every now and again.

God has said,
"Never will I leave you;
never will I forsake you."

So we say with confidence,
"The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.
What can man do to me?"

Hebrews 13:5-6

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Missing God

Last week, after lunch, I turned on a baseball game. I enjoy watching sport and could say that when there is nothing else to do; watching sport is my favorite ‘pass-time.’

During the fourth inning, my mind began to wander. ‘I spent an hour with God this morning,’ I thought, ‘time that I planned in advance to spend with Him. But I have spent many more unscheduled hours away from Him doing other things, watching TV, surfing the internet, or being anxious about certain situations; things that may or may not make my life more worth while.’ This raised some questions in my mind. How much does God miss us when we spend time away from Him? How much do I miss God? How much should I miss spending time with Him?

We miss the people who are not with us। These may be people who are away for a short or long period of time. They may or may not be doing things we desire them to do, but we desire them to be with us anyway. Or they may be people whose situation we can do nothing about. This sometimes makes the grieving process even harder. But how do we feel about the presence, or lack there of, of God? Do we desire it as much as the presence of our earthly companions? Do we believe that God is a person who is, or can be, with us? And if we believe He isn’t with us at the moment, do we miss him?

In the latter half of Psalm 42, King David repeats the thesis statement of this psalm of sorrow:

I say to God my Rock,
"Why have you forgotten me?

Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy?"

My bones suffer mortal agony as my foes taunt me,
saying to me all day long, "Where is your God?"

Why are you downcast, O my soul?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God.

Psalm 42:9-11

In the Old Testament, the Israelites asked that someone speak with God on their behalf because the idea of speaking with Him directly scared them. But when Jesus Christ walked the earth, He showed us that communication with God is not an impossible hope. Though many ancient readers of Psalm 47 may have considered David crazy to want to communicate intimately with the almighty, Jesus proved that David’s prayer was not insane but could and should actually happen.

Oscar Micheaux, an African American filmmaker and best selling author once said, "Only when you attempt the impossible do you test the resources of God." Though under great discrimination and scrutiny, he casted the first all black film in 1919, and later wrote and published a best-selling novel. Micheaux believed that he could tap into the same resources that Kings David and Jesus did. Resources that no TV show, website or anxiety can ever provide.