I was having an outdoor lunch with some friends today and a thought occurred to me – something I already know but had buried. I often talk about it in grief presentations. I have experienced it in relation to other life circumstances as well. Simply, we won’t know for a while what this has done to us.
There are some individuals who are extra self-aware who may not experience this, but I think most of us need some distance to gain perspective. In the year after my son died, I went through a thousand shifts in attitude, perspective, feelings, and attempts to cope. Even so, it wasn’t until about two years later that I felt myself emerging from the fog of grief. And then about six months later, I had the same sensation. It took a good bit of time for me to understand what had happened to me and what it meant.
I’m sure there is a good psychological term for that, but that’s not my training. I’m just observing that our grappling with a pandemic has been chaotic, uncertain, confusing, and sometimes frightening. So in the conversation today, as I listened to my friends talking about their COVID experiences, I realized that we are all still trying to quantify what this means for us. We can only do that to a point, because we won’t know for a while what this has cost us. What it has meant to our mental and physical health? How it has impacted our faith? What this has done to our children? How it has adjusted our view of the future? What it has done to our relationships with neighbors or even government?
We will be able to answer those questions eventually. Sometime in the future we will have enough distance and see enough evidence to piece it together. So, for today, just try to focus on what makes today worth being here. Faith, prayer, love, service, compassion, friendship, and purpose. Smile (even if behind a mask) and find some joy.
Maybe when we have achieved our distance from the pandemic we will be able to look back and think that we made the best of it, even on the hardest days.
This article from my files is from The Exhorter, the weekly bulletin of the Duncanville, Texas Church of Christ, Vol. 7, No. 35, 1989. Charles Hodge was an author and quite a personality, well known for his ‘Hodge Podge’ sayings. On my shelves his books have had a home. Books like Will God Run, Hodge Podge, and Amazing Grace have blessed me. I used to happily anticipate his weekly bulletin article, known as ‘From the Banks of Onion Creek“. His style of writing can be detected easily and likely he could be identified as the author even if his name wasn’t listed. Brother Hodge passed from this life early in November 2020. He lived an influential life that called attention to Jesus. – JED
New Year Resolutions
Tragically, New Year Resolutions are on the “out list.” Only 2% will make serious 1989 resolutions. Of course, reality can account for much of this. ‘we made them only to break them. Resolutions have lost their punch. I started to title this essay, “Now that we have broken all our resolutions for 1989…” Most of us have. The biggie? To lose weight. Yet we get bigger and bigger. Yet decisions must be made; resolutions must be made before changes will be made. Success does begin with a goal. Dreams can become reality.
(1) Don’t make little resolutions. This is so true down at church – you cannot act bold unless you thought big! Big plans stir men’s bones. Don’t ask a little – ask a lot. resolutions must be significant, meaningful, life-changing. Trivia may be a game but not life. Make resolutions that can challenge your life.
(2) Be serious about these resolutions. If they are treated as a “joke” they will become a joke. “Jokes” do not change lives. Resolutions are a serious business. they can make or break our lives, save or damn our souls.
(3) Tell someone. Go public. Lay your reputation out on the line. Seek their help. WE may wink at our own failures but others will not. Enlist your family and friends. KEEP YOUR RESOLUTIONS!
Actually, our problem is not keeping our resolutions … our problem is still in making them. We either do not make resolutions or make them trivia. The art of keeping resolutions is in making them.
In 1989 ….
I will be faithful in attendance at all services.
I will faithfully give weekly as I have been prospered.
I will read the Bible daily.
I will pray daily.
I will do my fair share at Big D. (a reference to his church – JED)
This is a good New Years article from my files by Joe Wrape. Joe was the preacher where my brother and his family attended in Bay City, Texas for many years. He had a fiery but loving presence that reached many people for Christ. After retiring he returned to Bay City to preach in a revival, during which he had a heart attack and passed away. He lived and died preaching the gospel. At the bottom of every one of his church bulletins was this attention-getting sentence: Our Only Limitation is the Size of our Faith! I’m glad I saved this article and the memory of brother Joe. – JED
I will not harbor unclean thoughts.
I will not speak harshly or unkindly of anyone.
I will not hold malice in my heart toward anyone.
I will withhold my words when there is a doubt as to my motive in speaking.
I will no criticize anyone to his back but will go directly to him or hold my tongue altogether.
I will not receive an unfavorable report concerning the life of anyone, unless it is supported by the testimony of two or more witnesses.
I will refrain from all gossip and will not tell or repeat anything that might cause ill feelings between people I will not sow discord among my brethren.
If my brother is overtaken in any trespass, I will go at once and endeavor to restore him in the spirit of meekness, looking to myself lest I also be tempted.
I will have faith and confidence in my fellowman, and will cultivate the habit of putting a charitable construction upon his words and actions. I will believe the best, not the worst, about him.
I will do all in my power to help the weak, lift the fallen, encourage the fainthearted, feed the hungry, clothe the naked and comfort all who mourn.
With the strong that God gives, I will do all the good that I can in every way I can to as many people as I can. I will endeavor to make this world a better place in which to live and move upward to the higher realm.
I will love you, even if you don’t love me. After all, that’s what my Father would do.
I hope your Christmas Day 2020 was one that gave you some reason to smile, some blessing to count, or some love to give to someone else. We usually go out of town during Christmas but not this year. The family we usually travel to see are here with us. And aside from the hazards of COVID-19, our home just last week received the final repairs from damage from Hurricane Laura (now the yard is another story, but the house has finally been repaired). As you can guess, home repairs are costly, so we stayed home, which was fine.
Christmas songs have a way of touching our hearts in special ways. While there are lots of funny lists of the worst Christmas songs (I know what my vote is!), there are so many more that express our hearts desire in the most anticipated holiday of the year. Many artists have recorded the song Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas. My personal opinion is that no one can touch Judy Garland’s performance in the movie Meet Me In St. Louis (link). It’s a wistful song that attempts to choose to have a merry Christmas when things aren’t so merry. This year I noticed some phrases in that song that particularly resonated with this Christmas.
Next year all our troubles will be out of sight
With the advent of vaccines for coronavirus, there seems to be some light at the end of the tunnel. We are looking at months before it has been distributed to a wide population. There seem to be many unknowns. Do we have hope that next Christmas all of this that we have been dealing with will be out of sight? Later in the song the writers suggest that, “Next year all our troubles will be miles away.” Our children and grandchildren will be hearing about this experience for the rest of their lives. We will re-live the moments when we couldn’t be together, when sick family members were in hospitals alone, and when the empty chairs at the table would remind us that we are now missing loved ones. It is easy to settle into a maudlin perspective that sees no hope. Christ, however, is our greatest hope. Whether it is next year when our troubles will be miles away or some other point in time, we know that Jesus will make all things right in His time. The Christian perspective is never without hope.
Faithful friends who were near to us
“Someday soon we all will be together” – at least that is our hope. Friends and family together during the holidays is what our hearts long for. That togetherness is the substance of the memories of Christmas past. Many families did gather today, in spite of warnings about the danger of households mixing. Everyone has to find their own path through this pandemic, so I do not judge you. But I do know that a lot of people chose not to gather in larger crowds. What many of us missed for most of this year is the freedom to spend time with friends without considering the presence of an invisible contagious virus. Maybe that day will some again. For Christians, there is hope of a grand reunion where no more tears or sickness will be a part of our experience. I know there are loved ones I long to see. As the death rates have climbed in our country (and in our world), many are missing their loved ones. I hope the message of eternal life promised by the blood of Christ will call to many people to follow Jesus.
Until then, we’ll have to muddle through somehow
This line doesn’t make into all versions of the song, but it is in Garland’s version. And it connects with me. We are going to have to muddle through somehow. To me that means that we will do our best. It may not be the perfect holiday celebration, but we will express love to one another, gather as safely as we can, call and talk to our loved ones, and remember the reason why we are having a holiday. As we move into 2021, I’m sure we will be muddling through in many ways but we will be moving forward. We never give up. Not when it hurts, not when we are tempted, not when we are confused, not when we are lonely – our Christian commitment will not let us give up. Jesus experienced the struggles we face. He was without sin, but He has understanding of the effects of these challenges on our hearts.
As we have made our way through Luke’s account of the birth of Christ at our church, I am struck by the nobodies. Mary, Elizabeth, Zechariah, the Shepherds, Anna, Simeon … none of them are worthy to have something to do with the birth of the King of Kings, but God chose them. All of them were in some way or another experiencing isolation, troubles, uncertainty. The Hope of the World came to the nobodies – and that gives me such gratitude. As a nobody, I know now that God notices.
Hey friend, whatever you’re going through … however long the journey … when the tears fall and you’re just trying to have a merry little Christmas, remember that Out Here Hope Remains. In case you’re wondering, the only thing that really matters about Christmas is that you know that God thinks you are worth it. That’s the main message of the manger. You are deeply loved. Yes you.
Christmas is such a mixed bag for so many people most any year. Everyone deals with the varying religious traditions, family rituals, and the overblown commercialization of gift giving. Add to that the loneliness many feel during the holidays as well as the emotional connections to past experiences that can be difficult. But we are used to all of that, aren’t we? We deal with this every year. This Christmas feels different, just like this year has felt different.
How many people are celebrating Christmas alone this year, due to fears of spreading coronavirus? Those who made the transition this year from independent living to nursing home or assisted living structures are unable to have family or friends visit with them. Even if you live at home, to have multiple families join you for extended periods of time in closed-in places is risky at best. Some people who are struggling with health issues already cannot add COVID-19 to the list and survive.
How many people are facing a Christmas season for the first time without a loved one?
How many people are facing a Christmas season for the first time without a loved one? In our country we are over 300,000 deaths from the virus. That’s a lot of empty chairs at the Christmas tables across America. We can’t forget the many who lost their jobs or businesses during this time of restriction and recovery. Through no fault of their own, the financial damage is done.
In Louisiana, there are many people who are still recovering from two profound hurricanes that did a tremendous amount of damage. Some are still displaced and uncertain.
Mental Health Impact
This reminds me of what my friends Nick and Amber White at Firm Foundations Family Counseling (and many other therapists) say often: the mental health impact of this year may be greater than all of the other impacts. So, how’s that Christmas looking?
I think one of the things we need to avoid is glossing over the Christmas season, especially this year. This post is not meant to be depressing, it’s meant to acknowledge that Christmas is different this year. We can pretend it’s not, but ultimately that will work against our spirits. There are enough Christmas movies, gifts, foods, and decorations to distract us for a bit. Maybe that’s ok for a while, but I’d recommend that we not ignore the struggles.
But that’s not to say that there’s no joy to be found in Christmas.
There is joy – that is a constant in our lives. I think it’s just that this year the joy will coexist with the sting of 2020. When some of those discordant emotions and feelings come your way during this season of lights and gifts, I will simply encourage you to think about the first Christmas. That is what all of this activity is about, after all. I think we can find some solidarity with the uncertainty of Joseph, the discomfort of Mary, the disconnectedness of having to travel for a census, the despair of finding no place to lie down when a baby is coming, the humility of being in the barn, and yet…
The joy of the angels, the determination of the magi, the curiosity of the shepherds, and the mother who kept all these things in her heart. It wasn’t as idyllic as our imaginings of the nativity scene may be, but it was as amazing an account as one could experience.
The news that set the world free arrived in a setting of uncertainty, discomfort, questions, pain, detachment, isolation … and joy.
How’s that Christmas looking? Well, Mary and Joseph and Jesus and Me and You are in this together. We recognize the difficulty and we know that joy exists beyond the hurt. In the mean time we will smile when we see God planting unexpected blessings throughout our experience. He is near. He is with us. Immanuel. Amen.
Lord Jesus, Master of both the light and the darkness, send your Holy Spirit upon our preparations for Christmas. We who have so much to do seek quiet spaces to hear your voice each day. We who are anxious over many things look forward to your coming among us. We who are blessed in so many ways long for the complete joy of your kingdom. We whose hearts are heavy seek the joy of your presence. We are your people, walking in darkness, yet seeking the light. To you we say, “Come Lord Jesus!”