So much sorrow and grief in the world…if you clicked on this blog at all, with such a sober title, then you are facing what is true for you, and for all of us.
Take a moment more and let’s sit together over this. Or if you have 2-3 friends or family members you deeply trust, gather them for a talk that will begin the healing of both a current grief or a distant sorrow. Losses, whatever they are, endure in our minds and bodies. If we leave them unshared, we still attend to them, either by the work of keeping them buried or by numbing them with the aid of our idols or addictions.
“When I stopped trying to block my sadness and let it move me instead, it led me to a bridge with people on the other side.” … I learned that sadness does not sink a person; it is the energy a person spends trying to avoid sadness that does that.” – Barbara Brown Taylor
When you think about a sorrow, grief, or loss in your own life (current or past), what comes to mind? Something always comes. We are all experiencing a global sorrow in the war brewing in the Middle East. Here in my town, a young widow and an older one are daily finding their way forward through grief. For you, maybe it is a past loss of great import…or even one you think is only important to you. If it’s important to you, it matters to those who care about you. We self-edit and compare our sorrows, but they stay strong and real in our own life experience.
What can we do to heal the ache of these sadnesses? To refuse to isolate ourselves and our losses from community? To experience hope again?
Adam Young describes the four conditions needed to allow us to work with sorrow and grief:
We own that our sorrows and griefs matter and should be taken seriously.
We need to gradually move from a posture of contempt toward our sorrow and grief to a posture of compassion and kindness and welcome.
We need to find a few people who can be the village for us… allowing us to risk sharing our sorrow and grief with other people.
We need to move our bodies in a way that allows for the integration and release of our sorrow and grief.– Adam Young
We can be very hard on ourselves regarding our sorrow and grief, because somehow we think we should get over it or not care so much or ___________________________ (fill in the blank). Even when we push our grief into the deep interior of our minds, or we try to forget through our “drugs” of choice, it is present. Closer to the surface than we imagine.
In the above podcasts, Adam Young quotes psychotherapist Francis Weller extensively, which is a huge help for those of us who have yet to read Weller’s book The Wild Edge of Sorrow. Weller emphasizes the impact of grief over time, on our minds and bodies and relationships. He encourages community as the place, or people with whom, to release our sorrow.
I’ve been reading The Deepest Place by Dr. Curt Thompson (the fourth book he has written and the fourth book of his I have devoured!). Thompson talks about the common nature of suffering in all our lives. Once we embrace that fact, then we can be more open and honest with “villages” of people who are there for us…and we for them. This has been so healing for me as I’ve opened up about my own sadness regarding the rupture of my extended family and the pain we have all suffered from it.
A group of us just today were hearing an update from a friend who has endured through a chronic illness for which her doctors have found no solution…yet. She is tired and struggling. Reading Thompson’s chapter on perseverance reminded me of her ordeal. Her faith in God and her determination to keep open and close to her community have given us all hope that the future will be brighter for her…and we will be there with her for it.
Many say of me, “God will not deliver him.” Selah But you, LORD, are a shield around me, my glory, and the One who lifts up my head. – Psalm 3:2-3
Blessed be the LORD, for He has heard my cry for mercy. The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in Him, and I am helped. Therefore my heart rejoices, and I give thanks to Him with my song. – Psalm 28:6-7
Casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you. Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world. – 1 Peter 5:7-9
Last night, in the car leaving his taekwondo lesson, our 7 y/o grandson wanted to talk about the most recent conflict between Israel and Palestine. I was shocked that he knew about it given such an adult situation. Maybe he heard his parents talk. Maybe they were praying as a family for the conflict…now war.
He had amazingly mature thoughts and questions about it. You can imagine that it led to a discussion that went all the way back to Adam and Eve and all the way forward to Heaven and Hell. He wondered if America would ever have war and what that would look like. We talked about both the sadness of the situation for Israel and Palestine, and we talked about what our response as Christ-followers must be.
I grew up in the 60s and 70s. During the Vietnam War era. I also grew up with a mom who taught us not to hate. It was never acceptable. If we loved Jesus then we did not have the privilege or luxury or burden (however you see it) of hating another individual or group of people. It went against everything we understood of Jesus, including His very own teaching to love even our enemies (Matthew 5:44).
During the Vietnam war, the culture was mixed (as it is today) with opinions on what was right and what was wrong. In high school, I wrote letters of encouragement to soldiers (brothers, friends, and sometimes strangers who became penpals). Writing to boys only a few years older than me…gone to war.
In college, I, like so many others, participated in protests of a too-long and too-costly war. Protests and prayer vigils.
Address God. (Focus your prayer on the One who hears and answers.)
Pour out your heart. (Bring Him your complaints and concerns.)
Request help. (Ask God for what you need.)
Express trust. (Affirm your faith in His character and His Word.)
Praise Him. (Worship Him because He is worthy.)
“Confessing trust in God is the hinge that turns our grieving into grace, tears into trust, and worries into worship.”– Jennifer Rothschild
If you’re like me, you’ve lost confidence in much of what we see in the news. Or at least, we sift through several accounts of events to determine what might be true.
This I know: something catastrophic is happening in the Middle East right now which will most probably have a wide ripple effect into coming generations. There is much to lament here. God’s face is the only one to which we can look with complete trust and confidence.
Early riser here. In fact, I rarely need an alarm.
In other seasons of life, the morning came with joy. For some time now, I have struggled with negative thoughts…not so much anxiety or depression as much as a certain sense of feeling undone.
Since reading Tyler Staton’s Praying Like Monks, Living Like Fools, my morning routine has changed some. No more mindless scrolling through various social media on my phone. It is no longer within reach. Once up, I make my bed. That lifelong routine continues. However, while still in bed, just barely awake, I now do two things to clear my head and set my heart for the day.
1)I recite the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13). This is actually the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples when they asked him to teach them how to pray. Whether you have a relationship with Jesus or not, if you believe in God, this prayer is one you can embrace. A friend, younger than me, said to a small group of women recently in a study on prayer, “We should memorize the Lord’s Prayer”. It struck me as odd because, in my generation, we learned the Lord’s Prayer in school. Led by our teacher, we recited it as a whole class every day along with the Pledge of Allegiance. Whatever our religion or lack thereof. Until 1962, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled school prayer (led by teachers) unconstitutional.
This prayer helps me to turn my thoughts to God and the creeping uneasiness changes more to hopefulness.
2) I recite Psalm 23. This psalm, often referred to by its first line “The Lord is my Shepherd”, was written by David, a shepherd himself before he became king. In meditating on this psalm, I’m reminded of God’s care of his sheep. No matter what happens, he keeps his eye on us. He provides for us, anticipating our every need, and welcomes us Home to be with Him at the end of our lives.
These two passages are easy to memorize and even easier to make part of a morning routine They have done wonders for my waking to a new day.
So what does this have to do with generational trauma? I’ve written often about this previously (and strongly recommend reading these pieces if you haven’t already).
We have all experienced some sort of trauma through our families, across generations. Some (including in my own family) would rather not “go there”, and I understand. However, it is in recognizing our trauma and taking steps toward healing that helps us to avoid continuing the trauma in our children and grandchildren.
“As adults, we want the same things our children need – to be safe (no “bracing for impact” in relationships), to be seen (truly known by those most significant in our lives), to be soothed (our emotions understood and acknowledged, without judgment, even when they are big and out of proportion), and secure (that no matter what, we are loved. Our persons are NOT leaving the room).
Whatever we may have experienced as children, we can alter our present. Whatever we did as young and overwhelmed parents, we can move, with love and insight, to a better situation with our kids. The past is just that…the past. We can be truly with each other, in the here and now…if we are brave and willing to be humble.” – Deb Mills
The major component of trauma in my own life was abandonment. I don’t know about my grandparents’ childhood, but from my grandparents’ adulthood through the present, my family has felt the sting of abandonment. It is generational and can not only affect us but our children as well. Abandonment is a very real source of trauma and can actually find its way back up the family tree, if we don’t do the work of rooting it out. [The longer stories are in my blogs above.]
What better way to start each day praying to and meditating on a Father who will NEVER abandon his children!
[Below you will find further resources on generational trauma and a helpful graphic on the power of showing up.]
Sidebar: One exchange between Robert Oppenheimer and Niels Bohr has stood out and intrigued the audience. It was an encounter between two of the most brilliant minds the world has ever known. But one of the most puzzling aspects of their meeting is Bohr’s cryptic comment to Oppenheimer. What exactly did Bohr mean by:
“Algebra is more than just reading. You have to hear the music.”
“Can you hear the music?”
Niels Bohr’s words, in essence, capture the very spirit of scientific inquiry. His comparison of algebra to music wasn’t merely a poetic expression but a profound insight into the nature of mathematics and, by extension, the nature of scientific discovery. Bohr was trying to convey that, much like how music is not just about reading notes but about feeling and understanding the melody, algebra, too, is not just about reading equations but about comprehending the underlying patterns and principles. – Pooja Mishra
2) Solitude – [Adapted from an earlier blog of mine] – During my angsty teenage years, I would sometimes slip away from my house full of brothers and sit by the lake nearby. It was there that I wrestled with the “what if’s” of life, along with the “what was’s”. Alone, but not truly. Within my thoughts, quietened in those moments, was also the presence of God. In that solitude, anxieties would get reigned in and perspective returned. The walk home was always so much better than the walk down.
Writer, philosopher Zat Rana caught my eye with his article The Most Important Skill Nobody Taught You. Turns out his view of that most important untaught skill is solitude. That ability to just enjoy being alone. Sitting or walking alone. Lost in your own thoughts. Except for a self-portrait for a photography class, you won’t see many signs in my life that solitude comes easy.
Life is peopled. As an extrovert and helper by nature, I have long thrived in the company of others. However, getting older, alone time has become more my experience than in previous years. Is that its own springboard to flourishing?
“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” – Blaise Pascal
According to Pascal, we fear the silence of existence, we dread boredom and instead choose aimless distraction, and we can’t help but run from the problems of our emotions into the false comforts of the mind.
The issue at the root, essentially, is that we never learn the art of solitude. – Zat Rana
My husband, the consummate introvert thinker, often sits by himself at dawn and dusk to recharge. For him, solitude is something that has come naturally. He has been a model for me in practicing solitude.
Rana also talks about how technology has connected us in a myriad of ways but the connectedness is more virtual than real. – “We now live in a world where we’re connected to everything except ourselves.”
“Our aversion to solitude is really an aversion to boredom…we dread the nothingness of nothing. We can’t imagine just being rather than doing. And therefore, we look for entertainment, we seek company, and if those fail, we chase even higher highs. We ignore the fact that never facing this nothingness is the same as never facing ourselves. And never facing ourselves is why we feel lonely and anxious in spite of being so intimately connected to everything else around us.” – Zat Rana
In the articles below, Wilson is interviewed about the inspiration for this song. My main takeaway was how she was comforted by a friend, after her father’s death. He told her, “The conversation continues.” I so experience that. After the death of my mom, in particular, but also many others, including my older brother with whom I had a prickly relationship but one that sweetened before he died and continues to do so…in ways this song communicates.
I watched the film above while on a flight. Crying doesn’t come easy for me, and the tears flowed.
Watch the movie and enjoy the song and think about the richness of our relationships both in the present and in the between times (from past to forever).
4)Two Phenomenal Reads – Phenomenal? Well, I’m counting on it. These are my next two reads. Just got them both and honestly may have to read them together. The authors are two of my absolute favorites: Karen Swallow Prior and Curt Thompson MD.
To get started – while I was waiting for launch day on both of these books, I’ve been listening to podcasts and reading reviews. Until your books come, you can also have a read or listen below.
“I hope readers are better able to participate in the necessary, ongoing process of distinguishing the principles of the Christian faith that are eternal and unchanging from the cultural stories, metaphors, and images that embody these principles in varying degrees of fidelity. Don’t misunderstand me: this entanglement with cultural narratives and ideas isn’t unique to evangelicals, nor is being creatures of culture necessarily a bad thing. In fact, living within the cultures of this world is God’s plan. It is part of being human. I think, however, that because evangelicalism from its beginnings in the western world has been so tied to political power, it has been easier for us to overlook the entanglement that is inherent to being part of any human culture. Yet, our task is no different from Christians within any Christian movement, sect, time, place, or culture.” – Karen Swallow Prior, an interview with Andrea L. Turpin
5) International Food Festivals – Ethnic foods are a favorite in our family…maybe every family. I’m talking from Afghan boulani (flatbread) to Southern biscuits and gravy.
It’s a joy to be invited to the home of friends who bring their gracious hospitality and yummy food to our part of the world. Just recently, I had the pleasure of sitting down to lunch with an Afghan family.
Our town has a host of ethnic restaurants with a few exceptions. Armenian and Egyptian are two types of food for which I’ve not found a restaurant locally. Once a year, we have the treat of international food festivals featuring these cuisines. So good!!
Next weekend, it’s the Fourth Annual Egyptian Festival. How about you? Any foodies out there? Comment below what some of your international favorites are and if you cook them at home or have the joy of a local restaurant or festival.
I know I’m not the only one. The experience of feeling alone (or invisible) in a crowded room. OK, for introverts this may be a welcome experience. I say, however, that maybe we have different experiences of social anxiety – introverts and extroverts.
It happens to me in the church lobby of all places after the Sunday morning service. If I didn’t walk out into the lobby with someone, it is like I could walk straight through without being seen. Skirting around various little circles – backs to me. Sometimes, I engage with a set of eyes, not wanting to break in or interfere with a conversation, but too often, it’s eyes forward with the exit door in view.
You might be thinking “How weird”. I agree with you. My aim on Sunday gatherings is to watch for loners, new people, those outside of the small group conversations. Dr. Curt Thompson puts it this way: when we come into the world, we are looking for someone looking for us. We have that need for attachment throughout our lives. I want to be that person looking for the someone looking for someone looking for them (was that understandable?).
However…there are days, not just on Sundays but at work and definitely in any large group setting, that my default is awkwardness which is even odd for me. This has not always been my modus operandi. It seems to have crept up on me later in life…but I fight against it!
Just a few days ago, I read a piece and heard a song that have both encouraged and fortified me.
Have you ever read something or heard a piece of music that went right to your core? This:
Singer/songwriter Savannah Locke authored the article and co-wrote the song. She talks about how we can feel orphaned in life for various reasons. Those orphaned especially need to know they have a place – a real belonging somewhere (Psalm 68:4-8). We can take comfort in close friends and family, but the confidence of knowing we always have a place, Locke writes, comes from experiencing the love and care of God.
Abiding in God slowly heals the part of me that is convinced I am on the outside; slowly thaws the part of me that has iced over in hyper-vigilance. – Savannah Locke
It’s been decades since my college years, but there is one book I kept from those days. Through all the moves and all the pain of downsizing our book collections, Paul Tournier‘s A Place for You has remained.
Tournier writes “What we are looking for is not someone who will cut through our dilemmas for us, but someone who will try to understand them. Not someone who will impose his will upon us, but someone who will help us to use our own will. Someone who, instead of dictating to us what we must do, will listen to us with respect. Not someone who will reduce everything to an academic argument, but someone who will understand our personal motives, our feelings, and even our weakness and our mistakes. Someone who will give us confidence in ourselves because he has unshakeable confidence in us…The ideal support, then, is a presence, a vigilant, unshakeable, indefectible presence, but one that is discreet, gentle, silent, and respectful…All [people] are looking, in fact, for God’s support. It is an absolute support that men and women are looking for, a support without limit – and it obviously can come only from God.”
This is the place we need…this place that bolsters us in times of stress, fear, betrayal. This place, this Person, where our own struggle can point us to those with similar struggles and we can make room for them as well…see them as we are seen.
As I was sharing all the above with a friend, she pointed to a similar point of connection from a podcast she watched. Lysa Terkeurst was speaking about her own social anxiety, entering a room full of people alone. During a quiet moment after such an experience, she sensed a word from God in the following:
“You were walking in that room desperate for acceptance and approval. Instead of walking into that room bringing My acceptance, bringing My love into that room, bringing My peace into that room. Every single person in there is desperate for that same kind of acceptance, approval, and love. I don’t want you walking into any more of those rooms begging others for scraps of all that. Live from the place that I have accepted you; I love you. You are a conduit of My peace, My acceptance, and My love to other people. You walk into that room bringing that with you and the atmosphere will change for you…Doing that practice of walking into rooms eager to give that [peace, acceptance, love] to other people (will) change something in you. Live from a place of love, acceptance, not desperate for it from other people.” – Lysa TerKeurst, YouTube podcast with Louie Giglio, Minute 33:30+
Such a great word for me, too.
So…if you see me in a crowd of people, not engaging, and you also are trying to make a quick get-away, I’m looking for you. You have a place. We can all hold space for each other, especially when we trust in the One who is doing the same for us, and making a place for us…forever.
[Adapted from my presentation at a home-school conference. Part 2 – Raising Adults – Creating a Culture of Serving can be found here.]
Being a parent is a humbling work…one way or other, it takes us to our knees at some point. In thinking about how we shape our little ones and raise them into adulthood, I was driven to prayer…a lot.
“Oh God, You have given us such crucial work in raising our children to adulthood. Help us to be faithful to live in the tension of remembering they are still small/young and yet pointing them to their place in this world and Your Kingdom. In Jesus’ name. Amen.”
In the book of Genesis, we have a beautiful picture of God’s work – His eye for detail, His gift of order – He provided everything that was needful…including work for us.
God has given us all work to do. It was His plan from the beginning… In training up our children, we will always push against the counter-pressure of entitlement in our kids’ lives (and in our own)… but we are not alone. He’s already promised that “His yoke is easy, and His burden’s light”.
The Scripture is full of wisdom pointing us toward teaching our children to become responsible adults…understanding the importance of showing up, working in whatever capacity they can.
So we built the wall and the whole wall was joined together to half its height, for the people had a mind to work. – Nehemiah 4:6
Anyone who can be trusted in little matters can also be trusted in important matters. But anyone who is dishonest in little matters will be dishonest in important matters. – Luke 16:10
Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.– Proverbs 22:6
“Whatever you do, do it enthusiastically, as something done for the Lord and not for men, knowing that you will receive the reward of an inheritance from the Lord – you serve the Lord Christ.” – Colossians 3:23-24
What goes into raising adults? Teaching our children and giving opportunity to see the value of work, to treat people and possessions appropriately, and to see themselves as a responsible part of a larger community. When does it start? Very early.
Author and parenting coach Reggie Joiner talks about the key to raising responsible adults is to give them responsibilities…now.
We are called, by God, to work…from the beginning…to have dominion…and to essentially clean up our own messes. As we learn to do that at home – caring for ourselves and contributing to our family – we can quite naturally expend the effort, and extend that, toward our larger community.
Joiner defines responsibility and counsels parents how to train it:
“Responsibility is an interesting word. It’s actually two words. Response and ability.
Do you see the link between the two concepts? If you want to raise kids to become responsible, then lead them toward a life where they develop the right attitude toward work and tasks. Give them chores at every stage.
Lead so their response reveals their ability.
Lead so their response matches their ability.
Lead so their response grows their ability.
Think about it this way: Home should be the first job every kid ever has. What kind of experiences are you giving your children to prepare them to be responsible adults?” – Reggie Joiner
Sometime ago, I was listening to a podcast from Liberty University (would have linked it but it is no longer at the original link). The guest was writer, thought leader, and world-shaker-upper Karen Swallow Prior:
Prior talks about this being the anxiety generation. Some of that anxiety revolves around the pressures coming out of social media. “There is an existential anxiety that goes with having so many choices in front of you and being afraid you’re going to make the wrong choice and miss out and go down the wrong path.” – “Everything you do in life [marriage, work, weekends] is supposed to be this huge self-fulfillment…such that you can post it on social media.” Too often, our experiences aren’t fulfilling and then the anxiety comes, “did I make the wrong choice?” – Notes from the podcast with Karen Swallow Prior
Dr. Prior supports education as a help in correcting the “tunnel vision and distorted vision” that can evolve in young people’s thinking. Work throughout our children’s growing up years can also impact thinking as well…restoring perspective.
Instead of asking: “What will keep our teens out of trouble?” “What will make them happy?” or “What will get them into college?”, we need to switch our focus to a different set of queries: “How can we introduce realistic elements of adulthood into their worlds?” What activities best provide real feedback about their effort and skill?” and “Which other adults can we recruit to help pass our values on to them?” In short, we need to switch our focus from activities that reflect living happily as a teenager to activities that let our young people actually use their energy, connect with adults, and make choices that matter in order to begin moving successfully into adulthood. – Allen & Allen
In their helps for parents of teens (and younger children), the Allen’s coach how to guide kids to become contributing members of the family, how to give genuine, real-world feedback toward maturity, how to connect their kids with role model adults (including the parents themselves), and how to positively stretch their kids toward skill- and confidence-building.
Writer and stylist Jo-lynne Shaneshares a ‘raising adults” system she used with her three children.
[Her] system based on the following principles:
logical consequences vs discipline and anger
choices vs commands
questions vs lectures
no idle threats
You see, when you allow them to experience the natural consequences of their choices rather than resorting to nagging, yelling, idle threats, and unrelated punishments, you put the responsibility for their actions on their shoulders. Too often parents make their kids’ problems their problems. Then the parents get angry and the kids learn nothing.
By giving them choices rather than commands, they don’t have the option to disobey. The key is to give only choices that you can live with, and then to be willing to follow through.
Asking questions instead of lecturing encourages kids to think for themselves and be discerning. – Jo-lynne Shane
All our children are, bit by bit, becoming adults. [Like we are often told, it comes faster than we can imagine.] We as parents recognize the adult inside each one and build scaffolding, just enough support, to help each child grow into that adult. At every age, they can see it matters that they show up. It matters.
Mary stood outside the tomb, crying…she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know it was Jesus. “Woman,” Jesus said to her, “why are you crying? Who is it that you’re seeking?”
Supposing he was the gardener, she replied, “Sir, if you’ve carried him away, tell me where you’ve put him, and I will take him away.”
Jesus said to her, “Mary.”
Turning around, she said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!”—which means “Teacher.” – John 20:11-18
Exhausted from grief and bleary-eyed from crying, she was expecting to have a bad day. When she found the tomb empty, and not remembering what Jesus had said before (about his own resurrection that would come)…she grew even more inconsolable.
At first, still consumed by her “bad day”, she hadn’t recognized him. This One who had restored her mind and redeemed her life. This One who knew her perfectly and loved her completely. She thought him a gardener.
He spoke to her but she turned away, in grief, thoughts clouded, blinding her awareness.
Until…He called her by name.
Then, she knew! She came back to her senses. The expectation of a bad day vanished as she refocused on the living Lord rather than the dead one.
We all struggle when a day looms full of dark possibilities, dread, or even deepening disappointment. Some of us have a bent toward being pessimistic,contrarian, or a diminisher. These bring a realism that has its own usefulness at times (well, not the diminisher…no, not ever useful in any positive way), but we don’t have to set up camp there.
If a day is beginning with a downward spiral (even if it’s only in our minds), we can (as my husband sometimes reminds me) “pull up”. Our perspective, our focus, is totally within our control. The same friend above also told a story about recently taking back her Saturday, so to speak. A bad storm had passed through and left trees leaning and branches littering her woodland yard. As she sat on her deck, looking at all the devastation, she was troubled at what it would take to restore order. It wasn’t going to happen that morning and no amount of thinking about it was going to make it better. So what did she do? She turned her chair…such that a different, more lovely view was in front of her.
[Thanks, Kathy, for that good word.]
Sometimes, we have to turn our chair…or as Mary Magdalene did, turn back around to the one speaking to her. What we think should be but may not be could just be in our perspective…how we’re looking at things. It also could be remembering that we are never truly alone in the prospect of a bad day. Look for helpers…it’s good advice.
That bad day we were anticipating may just turn out to be a bad few minutes in an otherwise good day. We can make it happen…by tuning into a familiar voice or turning our chair…for a clearing the head moment.
[Pet peeves are not anything we want to cultivate or nurture…I get to a more positive place at the end so hang in there with me.]
US culture has changed – especially related to encounters with strangers or those we consider insignificant or irrelevant – as shown by turned down or away faces, looking beyond people, or not engaging with those we don’t know or don’t care to know.
People passing in hallways as if a living human being isn’t within their visual field. Charting a course from Point A to Point B, maneuvering around people without words. Stepping aside, disengaging, when someone else enters the space and greets one of the two in conversation. Disinterested.
I don’t understand this lack of desire in connection. This avoidance of engagement.
Where does it start? I occasionally teach elementary school-aged children, and even at this early age, there are kiddos who seem to easily engage across groups and with authority figures, others who are shy to engage or are awkward in social interactions, and, finally, those who only engage with their buddies (unless pressed to engage with others). Is it a personality thing? A social anxiety? Is there an environment (classroom or home) that sets a pattern for the children who see and engage with those around them and the ones who refuse to see beyond their friend group? It’s probably complicated, right?
We have grandchildren that look, gaze, see others…and refuse not to be seen. I hope it never changes as they grow older. How did they get where they are as children? I need to ask this question of their parents.
Eye contact as a behavior of connection can occur on a spectrum. No one wants the gift of creepy, penetrating stare-downs. A more subtle or passing gaze could communicate a desire for engagement but accompanied by a further desire not to intrude. Or at the opposing end of the spectrum, the total lack of eye contact as if there is no one there…or the hope, with social anxiety, that if I don’t look, you don’t see me. However, somewhere in the middle of all this, is the one who makes steady and engaging eye contact. That one that says with their eyes and facial expressions, “I see you”. Conversation may or may not follow…but to be seen and acknowledged is a small and precious gift we can present to another.
A life habit easily developed is to determine to see those around us. To make meaningful eye contact. To honor those in front of us (whether a store clerk, fellow employee, or guy in the gym). Lock eyes, a head nod, a smile, a greeting – communicating “I see you”.
This comes to play in all sorts of situations. It is a humanizing practice. A situational awareness that goes beyond keeping ourselves and others safe. It communicates that we matter in the spaces we share.
In our city, as one for instance, we see people with signs at many of the intersections. Beggars. Homeless. Not really sure. The very least we can give them is our eyes…acknowledging them whether we give money or not.
Remember, I spoke earlier of a pet peeve not being something I want to indulge, right? So…
A pet peeve is a button pushed. Long ago, I made it an aim to get rid of the buttons in my life. They divide us and there’s enough division out there already.
This is one I’m still wrestling with…and not to my credit. It becomes easy for me to intentionally ignore, or see past those who see past me…or those who “refuse to see” ones who matter to me. Yet…am I not doing the same thing then? By faulting those in my small opinion are “refusing to see”? When we fault people, without understanding them, we don’t really see them either.
Is it writer’s block? Words have always been a friend to me, but they are hard-won in writing these days.
Christmas is a time of tremendous joy for me…deeper than happiness. Much deeper. For in the joy are such things as longing, grief, disappointment, anxiety. Most of the time, I can shake those off so as not to miss Christmas. Most of the time.
Here’s a tiny example. You may think it frivolous but it is reminiscent of something more. Our children grew up doing the nativity story as part of our Christmas traditions.
It was fun and chaotic – never sure how it would turn out, but for several years, the kids just acquiesced to the direction of the grownups in their lives. Some of it, I’m pretty sure they even enjoyed. Fast forward to them now being adults who bring their children – our grandchildren – into the picture.
For a year or two, our grands have also been caught up in the wonder of the Baby, donning costumes, and waiting patiently (sorta kinda) for the narration to move them to the next point of action. Not all of them wanted to participate but they were close at hand to add to the drama of the moment. It was sweet.
This year…it didn’t happen. In an attempt to do the play earlier (taking some stress out of a Christmas time together), we experienced a great divide – two eager and willing older grandchildren dressed in Middle Eastern garb, and, at the same time, being brilliantly silly with their parts. So…looking the part but definitely not in character. The other two younger grands…just not interested; not even present in the room. Now, Christmas weekend is still a few days away with another family occasion planned, but I have no inclination to revisit this tradition. Maybe next year.
After giving up on the play, and rejoining the rest of the family, I asked the kids to pray for me. Somehow longings and expectations had clouded my mind, and joy was left trembling at the edges of my heart. Such a small thing (right?)…it revealed more than just a family tradition in transition. It revealed an idol of some sort – so small but effective, distorting the reality of this beautiful time of the year.
In the chapter “Honest Songs”, Sauls proposed the ordinariness of distressed feelings. He wrote how some of the Scripture writers laid out these “negative” emotions, along with their praises, before a God who understands and loves us through them, not in spite of them.
In referencing Ecclesiastes, Sauls writes: “Like a skilled songwriter or poet, Solomon made sure that was was genuinely inside of him also came out of him. [Herman] Melville likened Solomon to Jesus, whom the Bible also describes as a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief…The Suffering Servant [Jesus] fully embraces, and is careful not to diminish, dystopian stories as well as the happily-ever-after ones…He refuses to whitewash the darker parts of our history.” – Scott Sauls, Beautiful People Don’t Just Happen
He goes on: “The Suffering Servant invites us, in our pain, to wipe disingenuous smiles off our faces and start living honestly concerning how damaged and hurt we feel…Jesus loves humans, and when the humans you love become injured or threatened, the natural and godlike response is to get angry and feel the swell of energy directed toward righting a wrong…There is a solidarity to suffering that we are meant to embrace, so that no one might suffer alone. Sharing in one another’s suffering binds us together in the deepest form of fellowship.” – Scott Sauls, Beautiful People Don’t Just Happen
So what’s the connection between a situation of no Christmas play this year and the suffering of a grander scale? You probably already know. The play is not the point. It wasn’t about our darling grands meeting any expectations I might have…it was the larger story. How the play reminded me of sweet memories, and sad ones. Of parents no longer with us who I miss terribly. Of grown up children I want to pull in and keep close (they are close…but a mother’s heart seems never full…again a larger story). Of the account of Christ’s birth that is so magnificent and miraculous…and how He laid down his life, just a few years later, through death on a cross…for us. How do we communicate such grandeur to our little ones?
Our kids will figure it out…and we will support them.
So…how about you? My example probably seems so mundane. I could have shared heartache over a painful family rift. Or about a friend in a terribly troubled marriage, or one who lost both parents within weeks of each other, or another struggling with mental illness, or another praying her heart out for a grandson white-knuckling through early sobriety.
Distress messes with our joy. Let’s not let it isolate us…drawing us away from each other to suffer alone. Being real with people is complicated. “Real is unsettling, scary, even traumatic. Take the risk anyway and lean in. Leaning into lament is a necessary skill in the art of rejoicing…Almost every person is insecure and underencouraged. Almost no person wants to admit it…There is no shortcut past Good Friday to get to Easter. There is no joy without a sorrow, no rejoicing without mourning, no comfort without distress, no rest without weariness, no gain without loss, no songs of joy without songs of lament, no rejoicing from Philippians without the vapor from Ecclesiastes.” [Scott Sauls, Beautiful People Don’t Just Happen]
That day this weekend, when the Christmas play didn’t come together, my kids prayed for me. I don’t even think it seemed silly to them. [Dave was grilling our supper or he would have been right there in all that struggle with me.] Distress happens, and when it does, call on those who care for you to come alongside…for comfort and for joy.
Have you ever found yourself in a season of waiting that seemed as if it would never end? Maybe you’re there right now.
The more pivotal thing about waiting is what we do with it…can we stay on top of the entitlement and all its turbulent emotions when they are unsatisfied? That is a goal worthy of pursuing. Treating the waiting not as a waste but as a way to wisdom.
Just this morning, I was waiting with a friend for a promised outcome. She is an old grandmother, resettled here from another country, with few resources.
She had the hope this morning of receiving some much-needed dental work ( in process for several months now). Today was to be the day for her to receive the last treatment – the fitting of a partial denture which would allow her to enjoy eating again.
It did not happen.
For whatever reasons it was delayed and more appointments would be made. Apologies and explanations were made, and the grandmother pulled herself up out of the dental chair one more time. We weren’t entitled to a different outcome. She is receiving free care through a local university and foundation. So why did this make me so angry and sad at the same time?
I was sad for this sweet grandmother who has already been through so much this year. Sad for myself, as her driver, for another series of appointments ahead of us. Even a little sad for the dental student breaking the news to us. And close-to-tears angry that either we misunderstood or someone somewhere dropped the (proverbial) ball.
As I collected myself and came back to my senses, I was reminded (in the conversation going on in my head) that this was a small thing. What if I was waiting on a big thing?! What would my response be to that?!
In years past, cancer nursing was my profession. Talking to a friend about this whole waiting thing, she recalled what so many cancer patients go through in waiting – for biopsy results, for treatment decisions, for blood counts to come back, for reevaluations of their cancer, for…for…for. We wait. To conceive that much-longed-for baby. To meet that person we will spend our lives with. To hear the outcome of elections or military coups. To determine if we prepared well enough for landfall of hurricanes.
Big things and small things all require waiting in life. We either wait in wasteful, blaming, soul-diminishing ways or we wait in wisdom.
Maybe it’s in the wait that we find what matters more.
In the minutes that tick by, we re-order our thoughts toward life and hope and possibility. Photo Credit: Heartlight
By the time my grandmother friend and I left the dental clinic this morning, we were better. No blaming. No feeling mad or bad. We accepted that today wasn’t the day we would say our goodbyes to this long waiting. It was just another day situated in between more to come. I didn’t resign myself to the disappointment, but rather determined it would not rob me of the joy of the day. We would be back, and, one day, she would get what we originally came for, months prior.
Don’t get me wrong about waiting. I have, at times, pushed back against it. Not just for myself but because it was a disservice to someone else. There does seem to be a pecking order in waiting…the poor and marginalized are required to wait the most, it seems.
When waiting generates a disturbance in our hearts that takes us nowhere good, then we must check it, and check our reaction to it. In that space, we can choose to change direction and keep our heads and hearts at peace. We can choose a way to wisdom, rather than an explosive, diminishing waste of the waiting.Photo Credit: Elisabeth Elliot, AZ Quotes
Waiting can be exasperating…and any engineering to decrease it is a beautiful thing…so there’s that for which to be thankful. Also, what is the object of our waiting. If we look to people to always deliver (in a timely fashion), they (we) will disappoint. If we can take our eyes of people and on to God, waiting becomes a very different experience.
Two of my favorite verses from the Old Testament speak of this:
I waited patiently for the Lord;he inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me up from the pit of destruction,out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock,making my steps secure. – Psalm 40:1-2
Those who wait on the LORD Shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles, They shall run and not be weary, They shall walk and not faint. – Isaiah 40:31
Even Jesus on his last day of life on earth waited…until all of the prophecies were fulfilled. While hanging in pain on the cross, He waited until just the moment all were fulfilled, and then he gave his last breath. Wow!
May we learn to wait as the Messiah did with loving perseverance and hope of a greater future.
“While we are waiting for these things to happen, make every effort to be found living peaceful lives, pure and blameless in His sight. Consider the patience of the Lord as salvation.” – 2 Peter 3:14-15