It Really Isn’t Good To Be Alone

In our new national war on the plague, social distancing is one of our chief defensive weapons. This means we are holed up in our homes with immediate family. We are with fewer daily social contacts than we are used to, and some of us are now spending much more time alone than ever before.

“There may be a great fire in our soul, yet no one ever comes to warm himself at it, and the passers-by see only a wisp of smoke through the chimney.”  – Vincent van Gogh

Before this plague arrived I began to notice some of the effects of newly being alone in my own life. I was (and am) forgetting things and having trouble juggling normal daily routines. Here’s what I decided was probably the cause:

  1. I no longer have anyone at home with me to rehearse and review my daily schedule. This taken-for-granted activity has tremendous effects when it comes to reinforcing memory and solidifying routines.
  2. There’s also an important effect that life-long partnership produces, a running feedback on one’s activity and thinking. Sometimes this takes the form of a long and often repeated speech made at the wrong time. I was always good at this. Other times it’s just a smirk or a roll of the eyes. Last week I discovered how important this facet of living was when I assembled a double sized bed frame for a single sized mattress, both sitting in the same room. In the past, that day long project would never have gotten off the ground, argument included.

Then the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to live alone. I will make a suitable companion to help him.”  – Genesis 2:18

I think this means that we are not designed to live like hermits. Social distancing is just for emergencies. Selfishness is what often drives people away from each other (without realizing it at first). Sure, friendship and deeper relationships always come with a cost, but in the long run the payoff is well worth it.

Being alone too long can produce a wide variety of physical, emotional and social ailments:

  • Brain fog
  • Depression
  • Poor Digestion
  • Muscle Tension
  • Weakened Immune System
  • Disordered Sleep
  • Social Awkwardness/Panic
  • Mood Swings

Many of these problems we don’t see coming, instead being alone becomes a cause of other symptoms. It can take longer to piece together the causal chain and then even longer to find solutions.

“It is more fun to talk with someone who doesn’t use long, difficult words but rather short, easy words like “What about lunch?” ― A. A. Milne (Winnie the Pooh)

In my case, I’ve got to institute some new routines to replace the review and rehearsing that I did each day without even realizing it. Becoming more intentional about daily life can produce a host of beneficial results. It’s a habit we all need to develop. Think about why you do WHAT you do and why you’ve got THAT on your calendar.

“Life is an experimental journey undertaken involuntarily. It is a journey of the spirit through the material world and, since it is the spirit that travels, it is the spirit that is experienced. That is why there exist contemplative souls who have lived more intensely, more widely, more tumultuously than others who have lived their lives purely externally.” ― Fernando Pessoa

  1. Start the day with a rehearsal of the big events – talk it over in the car ride to work
  2. End the day with a review of what worked and what didn’t – you should be keeping a journal
  3. Post-it notes are still a great idea – but after two weeks you no longer see them
  4. Talk with someone about something in your day each day – even a text message
  5. Try to check in on others – set a goal to do this each week

“The person who tries to live alone will not succeed as a human being. His heart withers if it does not answer another heart. His mind shrinks away if he hears only the echoes of his own thoughts and finds no other inspiration. ” ― Pearl S. Buck

 

Social Distancing and Loving Your Neighbor

As, therefore, God’s picked representatives of the new humanity, purified and beloved of God himself, be merciful in action, kindly in heart, humble in mind. Accept life, and be most patient and tolerant with one another, always ready to forgive if you have a difference with anyone. Forgive as freely as the Lord has forgiven you. And, above everything else, be truly loving, for love is the golden chain of all the virtues.  -Colossians  3:12-14 (Phillips)

The Apostle Paul wrote to the new Christians at Colossae a town in what is now Turkey. He urged them to live out their beliefs as they interacted with those around them.

I taught a class on the Sociology of Religion this past summer. We read about one of the reasons why Christianity spread so effectively through the ancient world. These early believers lived out their faith. They helped others who were in difficulty. They cared for the sick, dying and aged. They loved their enemies.

Remember, the ancient world didn’t have a faceless state to take care of it’s citizens. No Social Security Administration, Obamacare or Medicaid. If the plague came to your house, tough luck.

The plague has now come to our world. It’s an opportunity, in the midst of fear and panic, for people of faith to put their money where their mouth is. Is your Christian faith a hobby or a way of living?

“Don’t give in to your fears. If you do, you won’t be able to talk to your heart.” ― Paulo Coelho

To remain healthy and keep this plague from spreading one thing we must do is keep our distance from others, especially in large numbers.

To keep others feeling safe and secure, loved and accepted, heard and connected, we must find ways to shorten the distance between us. Replace all the idle fear chatter with some concrete ways to reach out and draw near to those who need it most.

Now is a time to be thankful for all this technology at our fingertips. Talk on the phone more, text often, send an email to as many people as you can think of. Especially be conscious of older people you know, people who are feeling marginalized.

“Old age is like a plane flying through a storm. Once you’re aboard there’s nothing you can do.” ― Golda Meir

Help people who are suffering in all sorts of ways to bear it:

  • Pray for peace, a good night’s sleep and protection
  • Make more frequent contacts
  • Share some extra toilet paper??
  • Send a card in the mail
  • Send some groceries to an older person

You’ve probably already thought of dozens of better ideas. Do something right now to help make someone else’s world a better place. Tie that golden chain around someone else.

“When there is a crisis, let your heart pray, but let your hands work.” ― John Kramer

 

Turning Loose

“The beginning is always today.” ― Mary Shelley

Saturday arrives and I’m reminded of so much that’s missing from my life right now. I even made a list. Of course in moments like this I don’t think about all that’s been added by friends and family to my life. So many good things that ought to be put on my list. But that doesn’t fit the immediate narrative.

Bad news comes to all of us. Sometimes it’s relatively minor but still very hard, can you imagine being quarantined on a cruise ship? Life threatening diseases, auto accidents, or economic disasters can drastically change everything in a moment or take long years to devastate.

“But in real life things don’t go smoothly. At certain points in our lives, when we really need a clear-cut solution, the person who knocks at our door is, more likely than not, a messenger bearing bad news. It isn’t always the case, but from experience I’d say the gloomy reports far outnumber the others. The messenger touches his hand to his cap and looks apologetic, but that does nothing to improve the contents of the message. It isn’t the messenger’s fault. No good to blame him, no good to grab him by the collar and shake him. The messenger is just conscientiously doing the job his boss assigned him. And this boss? That would be none other than our old friend Reality.”  ― Haruki Murakami

I was in the grocery looking at items I would never buy again (tomatoes). On Saturday mornings I always used to cook tomatoes for my wife’s breakfast in bed.

“The past beats inside me like a second heart.” ― John Banville

While gazing at those crates full of Saturday morning memories, I thought about that man I had just passed in the parking lot. He was sitting out just past the parked cars. It looked to me as if he was wearing pajamas and a ski cap. I think he was waiting for someone to come and pick him up. He was sitting there patiently in his wheelchair.

With that “poor me” list in my head and pushing my cart through the produce section I realized that guy in the parking lot was a dramatic sign. He was a message for me about my here and now. I think there are signs like that all around us and we usually miss out because our spiritual eyes aren’t attentive enough.

You and I both know how the past can hold us back from moving on:

  • unforgiven friends and relations
  • people and places you missed
  • conflicts that never got resolved
  • wonderful memories that can be no more

Some of the most difficult obstacles in anyone’s life involve dealing with the past in healthy ways. Problems like these are part of the human condition.

“In magic – and in life – there is only the present moment, the now. You can’t measure time the way you measure the distance between two points. ‘Time’ doesn’t pass. We human beings have enormous difficulty in focusing on the present; we’re always thinking about what we did, about how we could have done it better, about the consequences of our actions, and about why we didn’t act as we should have. Or else we think about the future, about what we’re going to do tomorrow, what precautions we should take, what dangers await us around the next corner, how to avoid what we don’t want and how to get what we have always dreamed of.” ― Paulo Coelho

Who wants to spend today, sitting in the crippling past, waiting for who knows what future to come? Instead, get up each day and make something new out of your life. That’s my challenge. Find something new in the produce section to buy! On this trip I bought some bok choy.

 

 

Learning to Fly

Well, some say life will beat you down
Break your heart, steal your crown
So I’ve started out for God knows where
I guess I’ll know when I get there

I’m learning to fly around the clouds
But what goes up (Learning to fly)
Must come down

I’m learning to fly (Learning to fly)
But I ain’t got wings

– Tom Petty, Learning to Fly

Do not allow this world to mold you in its own image. Instead, be transformed from the inside out by renewing your mind. As a result, you will be able to discern what God wills and whatever God finds good, pleasing, and complete.  – Romans 12:2 (The Voice)

I get to keep my grandson this weekend. It’s one of those rare treats that don’t come along often enough. He just turned two. Every time I see him he seems to have changed. He’s literally growing up right before my eyes.

Every now and then I see a former student of mine. It seems like I’m stuck in time, they always look so grown up. These college graduates have launched themselves into careers, families and difficult but bright futures.

My peers at my church Bible Study all have grown up children. I’ve gotten to watch them move through school, off to college and now entering into the world of work. What’s always remarkable to me is the tremendous change that always takes place in the lives of these young people. They each become their own marvelous version of an adult right before our eyes.

“If the point of life is the same as the point of a story, the point of life is character transformation. If I got any comfort as I set out on my first story, it was that in nearly every story, the protagonist is transformed. He’s a jerk at the beginning and nice at the end, or a coward at the beginning and brave at the end. If the character doesn’t change, the story hasn’t happened yet. And if story is derived from real life, if story is just condensed version of life then life itself may be designed to change us so that we evolve from one kind of person to another. ” ― Donald Miller, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life

I must confess, when I do run across former students or people from the past, I’m not sure there’s always much change in my own life that’s evident. I look back over years of journals I keep and, sad to say, there’s not much progress. I’m too often writing the same lyric over and over. You know what that’s like, being stuck in the car for a too long road trip with only one tune on the radio?

But, keeping track of myself by writing it all down, does help tremendously. I am able to see patterns that all too often lead to ruts in the road. There are also breakthroughs that demonstrate, little by little I really am making forward progress in the process of transformation.

“Either your purpose is running your show or your process is.” ― Jim Lawless

What about you? What transformation is taking place in your life? Is it intentional? My grandson is really working on learning words because he wants to be more specific with his important constant stream of requests.

When all of us get to a certain age, we tend to sit back and just let things happen. Until an emergency knocks us off our groove. But you don’t have to wait for a crash to start moving out of the lane you’re in right now.

“If you spoke to your friends the way you speak to yourself – would you have any friends left?” ― Jim Lawless

  • Keep a journal each day and reflect on where you’ve been and where you’re going
  • Easier to do if you get in the habit of self-talk, while you’re alone in the car, waiting in line, sitting by yourself for a few minutes
  • Self-talk is much more constructive if you turn it into prayer

“And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”  ― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Ongoing internal conversation can help to raise your awareness of both external and internal reality. This practice builds your connection between who you are and how you are transforming. Regularly let someone in to listen so that you can remain grounded in social reality as well. Transformation isn’t a solitary experience.

Becoming more self-aware is usually the first step in transformation.  The next step is to start making some realistic goals. Find some more ways to love, that’s always going to be the right move.

“When we love, we always strive to become better than we are. When we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better too.” ― Paulo Coelho

Someone Out There Needs You

There are no words to express the abyss between isolation and having one ally. It may be conceded to the mathematician that four is twice two. But two is not twice one; two is two thousand times one.   – G. K. Chesterton

This is a photo of an event that took place in 1989 that became known as The Baltic Way. Two million people, across three countries (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania), joined hands to protest their subjugation to the Soviet Union.

It’s always amazing when we see people come together en masse to accomplish something great. I think it’s also incredible when we as individuals come alongside others every single day and keep someone’s head above the waves.  There is someone near you right now who needs you. Maybe it’s something as simple as a smile.

“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson

Don’t you already know the people in your life who need you? A child, a spouse, a dear friend, a partner-in-crime?

There may be people out there who need you every now and then (and then they really do!).

What about people in your life who don’t realize (yet) their need for you (or anyone else)? You’re not one of these kind of people are you?

“You have not lived today until you have done something for someone who can never repay you.” ― John Bunyan

Of course you old folks out there are familiar with Barbara Streisand’s version of People Who Need People -but Shirley Bassey had a version too. Remember Bassey? The only singer to to three James Bond theme songs. Can you name all three?

The apostle Peter wrote to the emerging Christian church these words:

Most of all, love each other steadily and unselfishly, because love makes up for many faults.  (1 Peter 4:8, The Voice)

Do you see the important instructions here?

  1. He has shared a lot of wise counsel, but tells them, “most of all” to love each other. Can you think of anything better to do when you are living, working and sharing with others?
  2. Don’t love just on Valentine’s Day, do it steadily, because doing it that way keeps our relationships moving more securely and in staying in balance. Be someone who is a constant and consistent presence to others.
  3. Don’t look for anything in return – be unselfish in your giving of love, which means the giving of yourself, which means time, attention, resources. If you don’t take people seriously they can tell, they then get the message that you don’t really love them (only in word not in deed, 1 John 3:18)
  4. You’re going to make all kinds of mistakes if you live with people. I know I do, every single day! But if I just demonstrate love it tends to cover over all the failure. If you’ve ever baked a cake and part of it sticks to the pan, you know you can overcome those holes by using extra icing.

“Love is the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth… Love is as love does. Love is an act of will — namely, both an intention and an action. Will also implies choice. We do not have to love. We choose to love.” ― M. Scott Peck

What’s your advice about helping others? Post a reply. It will help me!

Advice to a Younger Self

“Don’t ever take a fence down until you know why it was put up.” ― Robert Frost

“Do not complain beneath the stars about the lack of bright spots in your life.” ― Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson

“I am glad that I paid so little attention to good advice; had I abided by it I might have been saved from some of my most valuable mistakes.” ― Edna St. Vincent Millay

Every day I’m around people who are looking for sound advice about the future. Or I’m around people who ought to be looking for this sort of advice and don’t know it yet.

I need your help right now. What advice would you give a younger you? What do you NOW wish you had known THEN?

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“Always and never are two words you should always remember never to use. ” ― Wendell Johnson

What Did You Promise Yourself?

Driving home down that same highway
Sun in my eyes this time
Trying to find a song on the radio
A tune I haven’t heard a million times before
Something that resonates with my mood today
Reliving today’s missed opportunities
What’s at home for dinner?
This life is still strange to me
I don’t have the right rhythm yet for this new dance
I promise I’m going to figure this out
And continue to become who I’m supposed to be

“Sometimes people don’t understand the promises they’re making when they make them. But you keep the promise anyway. That’s what love is. Love is keeping the promise anyway.” ― John Green,

Twice over the past six months I’ve heard different people say that the promise of a marriage was worth breaking if happiness was at stake. This was hard for me to hear. My wife and I were married for 35 years and spent the last five of those years fighting cancer together. She was so strong and valiant. While I wasn’t always a very nice caregiver (think Nurse Ratchet), I never thought about jumping ship. We weren’t very happy during this battle. But leaving our marriage never crossed my mind. Now, over those 35 years we had many ups and downs. I honestly don’t think either of us spent much time tossing around the idea that abandoning our marriage was one of the choices we could consider. Regardless of how happy we were at any given moment.

“A good marriage is supposed to be one where each spouse secretly thinks he or she got the better deal.” ― Anne Lamott

The more I think about it, I wonder if it’s the promise to someone else that’s easier to back out of?  Don’t you think we live in a world where commitment is never certain in anything anymore? People back out of contracts, loans, friendships, etc. every day. Maybe it’s always been like that?

Are most people living together rather than getting married today because they area afraid to make promises they can’t keep?

cohabitation 1

My subject is marriage but the promise that I think is essential here is the one we make to ourselves first.  I believe it’s the promise we make to ourselves that makes the promises to others possible. Relationships work – even when it’s terrible – because we’ve first made a deep internal promise that affirms who we are and what we actually believe. People who can’t make that kind of promise or at least start the process, don’t make it very well in the relationship journey.

“We make promises to live, not to keep.” ― Marty Rubin

In order to start a relationship on the right foot and keep it heading in a healthy direction – each partner must be able to make a promise and keep it. The first thing to understand about making promises to other people is that they never work if you can’t hold on to promises you’ve made to yourself. I don’t think my wife and I would have made it for 35 years if we hadn’t, prior to marrying, each carried within us the promise that marriage was permanent. Then we could make the same promise to one another. I think keeping a promise with each other depended, in a large part, on our promises to our selves.

“The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.” ― Ernest Hemingway

You already know that you can’t change someone else. You can’t make other people keep their promises to you. What you can do is make certain you keep your own promises. The place to start is to be certain you are true to the promises you’ve made to yourself. Most of these promises center around who we believe we are (and are becoming).

What kinds of promises do you make to yourself?

  • to live up to your roles (parent, spouse, friend, employee, etc.)
  • to put others first
  • to keep changing , growing and learning

“I beg you, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”  ― Rainer Maria Rilke