Archives For Hope

When Christmas Is Lonely

Mark Beuving —  December 22, 2014 — Leave a comment

My pastor is good at reminding us that the Holidays can be a difficult time. We look forward to time off work to relax and catch up with our families. But what if you have no family? What if you’ve recently lost a loved one? What if your family gatherings are tense, argumentative, and discouraging?

Though we tend to speak about Christmas as a warm, happy time—the most wonderful time of the year—Christmas for many is a reminder of brokenness, loss, or loneliness.

If you find yourself in that position, Christmas is still for you. Perhaps Christmas is especially for you. Christmas is the celebration of God coming to earth as an infant. And that journey to earth where God took on baby-smooth flesh happened because this world is broken. We are lonely people. We are quarrelsome. We are hounded by illness and death. And for that very reason God entered our world.

Christmas

Jesus came because our world is broken. He came because we are broken. And he came as one of us so that he could lead us to healing, to wholeness, to reconciliation. The birth of Jesus was the rekindling of hope. It was God insisting that sin and death would not have the last world. All would be well. The angels appeared to the shepherds and announced peace on earth with the arrival of Jesus (Luke 2:14). And Paul reminds us that “he himself is our peace” (Eph. 2:14).

So if you find yourself alone this Christmas, or with an empty chair around the dinner table, remember that Jesus was born. Remember that because Jesus became a human child, sacrificed himself, and defeated death we will see our loved ones in Christ again. Remember that Jesus promised those who had chosen to follow him rather than clinging to family that they would be rewarded “a hundredfold” with family, “brothers and sisters and mothers and children” (Mark 10:30).

This does not make loss or loneliness enjoyable, nor should our goal be to keep a stiff upper lip. But you need to know that no matter how bitter your loss or persistent your loneliness, you have one and only one hope for wholeness, and we celebrate his birth at Christmas time. Strategies, platitudes, and self-help books are not enough to get you through. What you need is a Person, and he came as an infant in a feeding trough for your sake.

And if you find yourself in a tense family environment with irreconcilable differences and constant antagonism, or if you find yourself relatively alone on Christmas in an effort to avoid such a situation, remember that the baby you celebrate this Christmas season came to reconcile two groups who warred against one another:

“For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near.” (Ephesians 2:14–17)

This does not make complex family dysfunction enjoyable. These situations are not easily reversed. But Christmas means that healing is possible. The only hope you have for restored relationships is the baby who would one day give his life to absorb the hostility of angry, selfish, sinful people.

I don’t write this in an effort to convince hurting people to cheer up. Grieving, hurting, and weeping may be the most appropriate thing you can do this Christmas season. But I do believe that we all need to see that the most important thing any of us can remember at Christmas time is the birth of Jesus. We need to remember him as we brave the shopping malls. We need to remember him as we happily unwrap presents around the Christmas tree. We need to remember him as we enjoy our families.

And we need to remember him as we feel the sting of loss. We need to remember him when once-comforting traditions turn into reminders of our pain. We need to remember him as we endure criticism or try to love the unlovable.

We all have only one hope, and at Christmas time we celebrate his humble arrival to earth, where he would grow into the Man who conquered every power, including death, and who will one day return to wipe our every tear and rid our world of evil once and for all.

“The angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

‘Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!’” (Luke 2:10–14)

Boston Tragedy HelpersYesterday we were horrified to learn about another tragedy, this time in Boston—explosions, fear, injuries, and deaths.

When things like this happen, we ask ourselves questions that we already know the answers to. Why? (Because the world is fallen.) When will we stop doing this to each other? (When the Lord returns to set the world to rights.) Why can’t we stop this? (Because evil is pervasive, and hearts must be transformed.)

Of course, knowing the answers doesn’t make dealing with the realities easy. There is still pain, doubt, and fear. This is life between Eden, when the world was unstained by sin, and the New Jerusalem, where God will right every wrong.

As I looked over my Facebook friends’ reactions to this tragedy, I came across a quote, claiming to be from Mr. Rogers (it seemed legitimate, it was written on a photo of him…):

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things on the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”

Whether this quote is authentically Rogersian or not, it reminds us of two important things—again, things we already know:

  1. This world is full of evil, and human beings often labor for evil rather than good.
  2. Human beings still bear God’s image (even after the fall, see James 3:9), and often labor for healing and restoration rather than destruction.

Whenever we see a tragedy, then, we are reminded of the wrestle taking place in every inch of creation:

“For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved.” (Romans 8:20–24)

Though we cannot do anything to reverse such tragedies, we can continue to labor as those who bring healing, hope, and peace. We still sense God’s goodness and possess an impulse toward compassion. We can be the helpers in every area of life.

And while death shows up on every page of the Bible after the first two chapters, it was dealt a fatal blow at the cross, and death is expelled forever in the last two chapters of the Bible.

Last night, as I sang with my daughter the song she always requests we sing, I was struck by the appropriateness of the lyrics:

“This is my Father’s world,
O may I ne’er forget
That though the wrong
Seems oft so strong
God is the Ruler yet.”

The Perks of Being a Wallflower PosterBefore Thanksgiving, my wife and I watched The Perks of Being a Wallflower. As I’ve been looking at the movie lineup this Christmas season, I’m realizing that The Perks of Being a Wallflower is one of the best movies I’ve seen in a while. Not everyone will agree. Viewers seem to have liked it better than critics (which surprises me a bit), but I suspect that most of the Christian community would be uncomfortable with the film. (There are a few mild spoilers below, but you’re likely to forget them by the time you watch the film, so keep reading anyway).

I left the theater feeling somewhat uplifted, but Wallflower is a dark film. Its PG-13 rating comes from sexually suggestive scenes (mainly springing from the groups’ fascination with the Rocky Horror Picture Show), heavy themes (including sexual abuse), and drug use. It’s fair to say the film’s content is less than wholesome.

But as I’ve argued elsewhere, the content alone shouldn’t determine the value of a work of art (otherwise we’d have to ban much of the Bible). It’s the way the film interacts with, speaks to, and frames that content that really matters. It is from this perspective that I think The Perks of Being a Wallflower is an excellent movie.

The “wallflower” in the story is a high school freshman named Charlie (Logan Lerman), who is aloof, alienated, and bullied. He is befriended by a complex, flawed, and wonderful group, and the film follows their struggles with growing up in their relationships with each other and with the world around them. All of the characters are broken in a number of ways, whether it be drug use, the lingering effects of sexual abuse, or struggles with homosexuality.

The most fascinating character is Charlie, who befriends all of these obviously flawed people and loves them unconditionally despite their oddities and dysfunction. Charlie is an excellent picture of love and acceptance. And though the group has its ups and downs, it ultimately finds hope and even healing.

The Perks of Being a WallflowerFor the characters in Wallflower, salvation comes through love and the conscious decision to enjoy life in the moment. Though faced with the unbearable darkness that often finds us in life, these characters find healing as they cling to the love they share and find meaning in the moments in which they feel most alive. The memorable scenes in this regard involve Sam (Emma Watson) and eventually Charlie standing up in the back of a pickup, arms spread and head back, listening to just the right music, as they speed through a tunnel. They are embracing the meaning of life as it hits them in that moment, and this meaning carries them through the dark moments.

There is much to appreciate about the hope offered in Wallflower. Love is indeed the answer. We do find deep and supernatural love through the people who accept us unconditionally. John even suggests that the love we feel from these kinds of people is ultimately God’s love for us (1 John 4:7, 11-12). Not only that, but we should also embrace the life that God has given us. Too often, we let life’s unbelievably rich moments pass us by as we focus on trivialities or get so caught up in finding a grand purpose that we miss the meaning and glory in the small things.

But we should also be cautious here. What Wallflower is presenting to us is nothing new. It’s actually a philosophical system known as existentialism, which seeks to find meaning in a defining experience in life. Who we are is determined by our experience with the world, not the essence of who we have been designed to be. Again, there are positive (biblical) elements here. But I find it fascinating that old philosophies (how many high school students have heard of existentialism?) keep popping up in trendier dress. (As a side note, there is also more than a hint of existentialism inherent in the YOLO mentality.)

The Perks of Being a Wallflower Snow AngelI appreciate the humanity, the unconditional love, and the deep (non-superficial) enjoyment of life that The Perks of Being a Wallflower commends to us. But it’s important that we follow these themes far beyond the film. In the real world, these characters would remain broken. They would find these moments of healing, but they would continue break down. As we know, the only lasting solution to our brokenness is Jesus, who embodied to the fullest extent humanity, unconditional love, and a non-superficial enjoyment of life. Wallflower points us in the right direction, but as with all good things, the deepest expression of these truths is found in Christ.

We used to think that technology would solve all of our problems. During a recent trip to Disneyland I got to thinking about how cool “Tomorrowland” must have been back in its day. It’s funny to think that when Disneyland opened in 1955, this is what they thought the glorious new world would look like.

With all of the literally unbelievable scientific advances that came during the twentieth century, I can’t blame them for hoping that the future would bring a world that was better in every way.But still, it’s funny to think that the Leave It to Beaver generation would look ahead and think that our best days were still ahead of us, that the Jetsons might stand a better
I see the opposite trend now. Though few want to give up on the conveniences of ever-improving technology, our society seems to be getting more nostalgic. Take a picture via Instagram and you can choose from twenty different ways of making your modern life look old. The ultra modern aesthetic seems to be waning; many of us would rather shop at an antique store than Ikea.chance at happiness than Andy Griffith.

I don’t want to read too much into anyone’s style, nor do I think I have a firm handle on any cultural trends. But I do see a common thread that seems to run through this apparent shift from futurism to nostalgia:

We all want to experience a golden age, and we’re quite certain that this is not it.

Our best days are ahead of us. No wait, our best days are behind us. If we could only live in the world of the future, where every wrinkle has been ironed out by technology. If only we could live in the world of the past, where life was simpler and families were happy.

The lie inherent in the search for the golden age is that our salvation lies on a timeline. If we do want to be timeline oriented, there are a few key dates that we need to focus on. Those first seven days B.C. when God spoke all of this into existence. The shift from B.C. to A.D. when God began to play a human role in the drama of redemption. Thirty some years later when He conquered every enemy by rising from the grave. The Day of the Lord, coming at some unidentified point in the future, when all the world will be set to rights.

And the date that we often overlook on the timeline: today. Read through Hebrews 3 and 4 and feel the urgency in the use of the word “today.” This is our time to act, to be the people God has made us to be. This is the only golden age we get until time and eternity meet and everything is transformed. God has placed us at this moment in history to fulfill some great purpose. But we will never find that purpose—let alone fulfill it—if we are always staring wistfully at the future or the past.

 

 

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...