Tuesday, June 28, 2016

When We Feel Lonely

Yesterday I felt a little lonely. Not the deep loneliness many feel in our world, but that sense of isolation that creeps in from time to time. One ongoing reason this pops up for me is that my work has been a major people-connecting venue for so long, for years in a physical office, where I made some of my best friendships, but now primarily online as I work in a home office. On some days, I get no work communication from the outside. No calls, no email, no texts.

So sometimes this working-by-myself life feels a little lonely. I have family and others around me, I have clients all over the country, but their jobs, after all, are not to keep me from ever feeling isolated!

What to do? 

While waiting for a new freelance project scheduled to come in today, I started looking at some writers’ conference websites. Maybe that's what I need. To go talk with people in my publishing tribe. Oh, look! I know some of those people on the faculty! Or at least, I kind of know them or would like to know them. It might be fun to be there. In truth, the main reason I’ve attended writers’ conferences has been to hang out with publishing people, not to learn more about writing or to pitch proposals to authors or agents. But that once-or-twice-a-year opportunity might not be the best reason to spend money.

Yes, I’ve read all the advice for those of us who work alone from home (and that includes stay-at-home parents or others who are at home most of the time): join online and community groups, find a coworking space, go to the library or a coffee shop or a park. Have lunch and coffee dates with friends. In other words, go where you’ll find some people. Get out with people you know. 

But to be honest, working best in almost absolute quiet with a job that has multiple deadlines works against all that. Even the volunteer work I do tends to be on my laptop. In addition, being introverted (too much interaction with or close proximity to lots of people can drain me) is a challenge, and I know I'm not the only person out there wired this way. Introversion spills into how we do church, how comfortable we are in groups, and how often we open our homes despite all the sermons we've heard on hospitality.

When I begin to bug myself with insecurities, I sometimes turn to Scripture to remind myself what God thinks about them. (He and I have had a lot of practice with my insecurities.) BibleGateway.com told me the NIV translation of the Bible has 2,690 references to people, so, um, I decided to look up the word lonely instead. A verse in Psalms jumped out at me among the four references I found.

The psalmist is talking about all the ways God has saved his people, and right in the middle he says “God sets the lonely in families” (Psalm 68:6 NIV). Of course, I first thought of families as people who live together in one unit, who do life with one another every day in the same household. But he doesn’t say God sets the orphans, those who have no family at all, in families (though he does that too); he says God sets the lonely in families. Maybe he’s talking, too, about placing us with people outside our household or even extended families who can help make us feel less isolated. People we can help feel less isolated too.

People need people; God made us that way. But sometimes, for all kinds of reasons (and excuses), we can cut ourselves off from people way too much. That’s something for any of us who sometimes feel a little lonely or isolated to think about. Does God want to put us among a family outside our own but we’ve been too blind to see?

Perhaps, for those of us who sometimes feel isolated, it’s time to seek out more family, to ask God where he wants us, to make an effort we've never thought about before.

The Bible also says God knows the secrets of the heart (Psalm 44:21), and maybe for any of us, it’s best for the secret of felt isolation to be handed over to the One who sets the lonely in families, no matter the cause of our isolation. To put one foot after another as he leads us to seek out people he chooses to keep us going. To offer, too, people-need-people connection to others.

photo credit:  http://www.publicdomainpictures.net/view-image.php?image=104003&picture=person-alone-on-the-beach

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Fathers—in Life, in Books

For Father's Day, I'm re-posting a piece from 2014. I hope it will be meaningful for you.
Anne and Matthew

How grateful many of us can be this Father’s Day for our earthly, though imperfect fathers or stepfathers. Others, I know, live with stories of not just imperfection but brokennessnot in books but in real life.

You see, the one thing I know for sure about my maternal grandfather is that he broke my mother’s heart.

“Before Daddy left the last time,” she once told me in a rare conversation about her father, “I begged him not to go. But he did, and I never saw him again.” 

Abandoned. She also shared some good and funny memories from her childhood from time to time, but, still, eventually she was literally, physically, heartbreakingly abandoned.

I never knew my grandfather, and I only know that his reasons for those decisions to leave—or at least the driving forces behind them—probably included alcoholism and marital issues. I don’t want to judge; he probably loved my mother very much. I know she loved him. But for my mother, his only child, especially that final decision to leave had a huge impact. Through a Salvation Army service to locate those who were missing to their families, my grandmother and mother learned decades after the fact that my grandfather died in another city, probably alone and destitute. Maybe he had intended to come back, but he never did.

Yes, their story may one day appear in a novel that swirls around in my head and heart. But it is books with beloved, not hurtful, father figures from my childhood that are easy for me to remember and love to this day: Steady Charles Ingalls in Little House on the Prairie; the March sisters’ absent, perhaps somewhat irresponsible but oh so loved soldier father in Little Women; and my favorite: shy, loving, foster father Matthew in Anne of Green Gables. When Matthew (spoiler alert) dies . . . well, I really loved that man. I even named one of my sons Matthew, who is a great dad, to the dismay of a nurse in the hospital who was appalled we did not choose an A name to go with his siblings' names, Amanda and Adam. Perhaps she had just never read about Matthew Cuthbert.

Books . . . If you ask me, they are one of God's great gifts. And no matter what our experiences with earthly fathers have beenin real life or in bookswe can seek and know him, our heavenly Father, the same loving, trustworthy, always-present Father my mother found when her earthly father had gone. 

The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed,
    a stronghold in times of trouble.
Those who know your name trust in you, for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you. 
(Psalm 9:9-10 NIV)
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