Loneliness has become quite a villain in the story of 2020- taking the stage and stealing the limelight. He’s met with the elderly who long to see someone face to face, and patients who wistfully sit in unvisited hospital beds. He’s hovered over the shoulders of students and teachers who scramble to grasp “online learning.” He’s sunk his claws into countless parents that bear the overwhelming weight of chaotic households. He’s made his rounds to every employee who’s exchanged commutes and coworkers for pajamas and “home offices.” Loneliness thrives in unemployment and “shutdowns.” He sees opportunity in every soul that utters,“what do I do now?” He flourishes in dark places; in the recesses of our minds that bear discouragement and fear. He practices no discretion; content to hitch a ride on any hapless victim (like a tick), growing fat and happy where life-giving fellowship is lacking. Even if you, my friend, have somehow managed to evade him- even if you’ve remarkably maintained the “power of a positive attitude,” that old Mr. Loneliness can still appear in reflections and whispers; perpetually eager to remind you that he’ll be waiting for you to give up and give in. And if, by chance, he's unable to make an impact on your particular chemistry, he has friends to bring along who may stand a better chance.
The effects (and offshoots) of loneliness are encountered by every human soul; more so now in days of late, and they don’t have to consume your psyche to have power over you. They’re wily; slipping into things discretely. Hopelessness (the counterpart to loneliness) may tug on your heartstrings just enough to flaunt its influence. Their colleague (anxiety) may drop by for a visit from time to time. Examine the current affairs of your life. Are there any comforts or joys in question? Has your “regular” at all been impaired? You’d be hard-pressed to say no. The brokenness of our world spares no one from the risk of these feelings- dropping anchor unexpectedly on even the most jubilant, passionate individual.
Here we are, at the doorstep of another holiday season, and there’s a good chance it’s already felt a bit different from years passed. We attempt to prepare festivities that can offer up a sense of “ordinary,” even in the midst of ongoing turmoil. We strive to capture the warmth and satisfaction known before the “pandemic,” to desperately redeem the end of an otherwise ravaged chapter of life, but the fog still rolls in and these final weeks of 2020 could quite easily leave us “holi-dazed.”
For many, the holiday season is a pleasant time; a time for family, fun and fellowship. As Christians, we observe this season as an opportunity to be grateful for God’s provision and the wonderful hope of eternal salvation born with Christ. Hearts of faith should overflow and rejoice, but this year, things may feel a bit more burdensome. Hope can dwindle in the wake of turbulent months. This has been a truth long before any "pandemic." Flames of optimism can fade to cynical embers if we always“wait for the other shoe to drop.” For better or worse, the holidays can shine a spotlight on our circumstances- magnifying all the things that we already spend so much time focusing on the rest of the year. For some, it’s the arduous reminder of lost loved ones. For others, it’s the discouragement of shifting times; the things that “were,” that are no longer. For many, it’s the simple uncertainty of the future. We don’t intend it, but we unconsciously trade the unspeakable joy (that can seem so distant) for the overwhelming burdens of heartache, impatience and uneasiness that root themselves within.
We don’t have to go very far to be caught in the shadows. It doesn’t take much to be sucked into the mindsets that swirl around us these days. There’s so much tension in life right now- a force that could snap some folks like twigs at any moment. Within our spirits, embattled feelings clash with one another. What can we do to shut out the noise? Where can we go to re-center and secure our perspectives? How does a heart (in the 2020 holiday season) rebuild ambition and bolster a core of faith?
We recall our Immanuel. God is with us! The Almighty...HERE! The eternal...NOW! We rejoice in truth and fix our eyes on that moment when,“He appeared and the soul felt it's worth.” (O Holy Night). You see, we grant power to the darkness when we constantly acknowledge how dark it seems to be, but those shadows have a very real fear of the light when at risk to its exposure.
“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned… for to us a child is born, to us a son is given…” Isaiah 9: 2, 6
Beyond the seemingly "detached" hope we find in scriptures, place in songs and paint on decorations, choose to recall the God it all came from; the God who remains with you now. We may stand at the looming edge of shadows, but a light is breaking through! We may cater to loneliness (and the weight of isolation)… hopelessness (and the sense of abandonment)… anxiety (and the feelings of uncertainty)... but scripture illuminates the guiding hands of our loving Father... “Come near to God and he will come near to You.” James 4: 8
Friend, you may doubt for brief moments or struggle in endless despair, but where can you go where our loving God is not? (Psalm 139). Here we are, trudging through the mud of a year like no other. Our faith-focus must be of the utmost importance. For the first time ever (or just the first time in a while), may the incomparable joy of Christ and the proficient hands of God surround and embrace you now.
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15: 13