As I left our Senior Residence Village today, a woman was just coming in from the garage. She looked like she'd been shopping. She smiled and greeted me.
I thought, she's just lost her husband, yet she's smiling. And I thought, could I do that? If I were alone, no longer with my dearly loved partner in life, could I smile at people? Could I be happy, find useful things to do, be of good cheer? I would find that very hard, I thought.
Yet I know perfectly radiant people around me who are living happily, spending time with children and grandchildren, doing useful work, and seeming to bless the world as they go about their day and their days.
A friend gave me some weeks ago an e-mail blog to read, called, "The Deadly Truth about Loneliness," saying "we continue to underestimate the lethality of loneliness as a serious public health issue."
Below that is the picture of an older man sitting on a bench in what appears to be a subway or train station. He is balding, with furrowed brows, his mouth turned down at the ends, and a grimace just short of a snarl upon his face. His legs are crossed, one hand rests in his lap, the other on the head of a cane. His eyes look off into the distance. He is unhappy, and quite probably lonely.
I feel for him. My heart goes out to him. I want to put an arm around his shoulder and comfort him. I can only imagine what his life story may be.
As I think about him, I am sitting in the back room of the Starbucks coffee shop I love. It is noisy. I have been greeted by name by at least two young baristas, and by Heidi, the manager.
It is the Monday of Christmas week, exactly one week until Christmas Day. I went to two stunning musical worship services yesterday. Molly fed me our toast and eggs Sunday brunch afterward. I napped and then woke to what would be three hours with precious people who are vital in my family - two wonderful daughters, the easy-going unruffled husband of one, and their eager, athletic, world-travelling college senior son. They were soon joined by a beautiful daughter-in-law - and her daughter, husband, and two sweet little granddaughters.
It all was huge joy to my Molly, who had prepared food, and wrapped distinctive presents to give them. We talked and laughed. "I feel Christmas has begun, and all the possible pressures have gone," Molly said. She repeated that several times as we went to bed.
I moved into my slow today, thinking ahead to the high privilege of preaching on Christmas morning in the church I had served so long, many years ago. That too, is joy for me.
Still, the lonely man troubles me. The article cites studies and experiments in the gradually awakening scientific community to the fact that loneliness is lethal, often leading to death.
Jesus was a man alone. But, He gathered friends. He loved them and served them. And, He taught the world: "Come unto Me, all you who labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn of Me, for I am meek and lowly of heart, and I will give you rest to your souls."
Our troubled spirits, our lonely hearts, do find rest in Him. Also, He says, "You are My friends."
The children's hymn is so right, "What a Friend we have in Jesus."
Maybe the best we can do for each other is to offer the friendship of Jesus to the lonely souls around us - by being their friends ourselves, and hold out to them the Jesus Who is the great Friend of our lives.
We want so much to ask these days, "Where are the men?" That is, the men who don't invade the lives of women with their hands or voices. God knows His sons are sinners - all of us - most particularly in ways of pride, of putting ourselves first, somehow thinking the world was made for us to succeed, be noticed in, to have authority and leadership and power in - permitting us to do outrageous, invasive, indecent things to others.
Self-righteousness creeps in, even as we whisper off-handedly about the things we're hearing in the news. None of us has rights of self-righteousness. We are sinners, mercifully forgiven by a Lord who pled for us from the cross, "for they know not what they do."
Alas, it seems on reflection and in prayer, to be not just about individual people and their decisions and behavior. Something has happened to us as a society.
It was taking place courtesy of the sexual revolution of the 1960's, aided by high feminism, and a yearning in our society to leave all restraints behind, to have nothing that could hold us back. Our society experimented in "open" marriages. We saw less and less reason to restrain ourselves from sexual intercourse before marriage. We began to think that that deepest human expression was the privilege of everyone - even those still in their high school years.
We forgot the reasons for chastity before marriage. We made sexual relations a common thing in our minds and then of course, in our actions.
Soon, the whole idea of the sacred, the holy, was gone. It was all about pleasure - pleasing ourselves, fulfilling our own desires.
Why would not a sense of sexual play - in conversations, in roving eyes and hands, in forceful demand - grow in the mind, not just of men, but of our society?
As a culture we have unwittingly lost any sense of a framework in our common life, for morality, for decency, for a sense of right and wrong.
When did we lose it? How did it come about? Surely it was everyone's responsibility. But peculiarly and particularly, the responsibility of the church. We of the church have abdicated our responsibility - in the Name of God - to articulate and uphold a moral framework by which the whole society could know the limits and requirements of decent and thoughtful and humane behavior. We have stepped back from articulating these deep and delicate things in our common life.
These issues, of treating each other with respect and kindness, and love are part and parcel of the Good News of the Gospel. The parameters and privileges of a decent way of life are all described and taught in the Scriptures that are sacred to us.
But, we became afraid to talk about these things, of intimacy and thought and understanding.
Surely it is time to look again, deeply and humbly at these things of truth that are essential in our faith philosophy and now so desperately needed by the society we call our own.
Arthur A Rouner, Jr -
|Arthur Rouner Ministries||
ARTHUR ROUNER MINISTRIES