On Combating Loneliness


image by : Lukas Rychvalsky

written 4/1/2019

A recent study by Cigna found that about half, or one out of every two Americans, feels lonely. (1). In the age where everyone and everything seem more closely connected than ever, especially by the Internet and social media, this statistic is particularly alarming. Moreover, a study by the CDC, found that suicide rates are also increasing by as much as 30% over the past decade (2). In fact, during junior high through my sophomore year in high school, when I felt the loneliness, I often had suicidal ideations. Thankfully, God, in His mercy and sovereignty didn’t allow me to go through with that option.

We were all created for community. Even when Adam was surrounded with animals, God acknowledged his need to be surrounded by at least one other person when God said in Genesis 1:18 (KJV), “It is not good that the man should be alone.” So, after that God created Eve from Adam’s rib. Even Jesus, in order to fulfill the purpose which the Father had for Him, had to be surrounded by people, at least some of the time.  Believers in Christ or not, we are all created to be with at least one other person. This doesn’t have to be in the context of a romantic or marital relationship, but we do need some kind of relationship with another to truly be content with our lives.

When I was growing up, I didn’t really feel connected with my community at school and I rarely attended church. As I consequence, I struggled on and off with loneliness throughout most of my childhood.  Many people, especially the younger generation, sadly feel the same way I did when I was growing up. 

Though we are, in some ways, more connected to each other than ever, through phenomena like globalization and the Internet, we can also be more isolated.  While we may have more virtual connections, our face-to-face connections as a society have suffered.  Because many people may see that their face-to-face connections are suffering, instead of confronting this problem head on, they may be tempted to retreat into virtual reality.  For instance, in my personal life, I found that when I am stressed and/or feel lonely, I tend to isolate myself more. 

One of the things that God has taught me through all that, is not to isolate. For instance, about two weeks ago, I was so depressed I couldn’t get out of bed to go to church!  However, later I decided I should try to go the evening Sunday school class at church, so maybe I’d feel better.  Not only did I feel better, but some of my friends were able to help me through what had been causing me to feel depressed in the first place!  Also, when we are part of a community, there is place for both accountability and vulnerability. (Yes, there are toxic communities where people will not feel safe to be vulnerable or accountable. In that case, I would find another, more genuine community, and not give up until I found the right one.) . In a community, we can learn from one another, be accountable, and can encourage one another. That is why, in Hebrews 11: 25, Christians are encouraged not to forsake the assembly of believers (i.e…Don’t neglect your local church community).

Another thing that God has been teaching me about combating loneliness is the connection between being lonely and the temptation to forge idols.  I know several people who have turned to idols, whether it be smoking, workaholism, alcoholism, gambling, or a number of other life-dominating vices, because they sensed a void, or loneliness, in their lives.  One of my pastors said that the reason that many people turn to idols because they have a mistrust of some aspect of the character of God.

So, God has been teaching me, that In order to combat true loneliness, I need to forsake any idols that I have used as a “filling in” for any of my perceived feelings of loneliness.  One thing that I have realized combats both the loneliness and idolatry is basking in God’s presence and learning about and believing His character.  In my class that I attend Thursday nights at church, when I learned about God’s steadfast love and that He would never leave or forsake me, through Scripture, I found that I became more joyful and more aware of His presence in my life. It goes without saying, that I no longer felt stressed or lonely that day, in dealing with life. Also, I was surrounded by a community of believers that were able to help and/or teach me to overcome some of my temptations to idolatry, so I would be less likely to fall into that trap again.

God has also been teaching me that some people are lonely because they feel afraid to forge connections with others, even though they may crave it.  This may be due to a number of reasons, but one of the major reasons I found in what I have observed with people around me, is that people don’t want to forge connections because they are afraid of getting emotionally wounded by another person again.  They have been wounded, manipulated, and/or betrayed by so many people in their lives; they would rather risk loneliness than be abused again. I don’t blame them for this reaction, but ultimately it will ruin them as well.  I used to be one of these people who was afraid to be vulnerable and really connect with others, and thus, I was constantly depressed and lonely. However, I found that when I became vulnerable and was able to be myself that I not only became less lonely, but I also became more confident of who I was and where I was going in life.  So, how was I able to be more “real” and “vulnerable” with others?  First of all, I surrounded myself with people that really had my best interests in mind and were supportive and caring, even in my darkest times.  I also strived to forgive those who had hurt me somehow. For instance, I forgave several managers at work who I had bitterness and anger against for a long time. Since a lot of people respected them, I sometimes felt alone.  However, when I let go of my bitterness and start to consciously think good things about them, not only did I not feel alone anymore, my relationships with these managers also started to improve dramatically!  Also, in order to not feel lonely for a prolonged period of time, we must persevere in forging relationships with others, even though it may be difficult at times. People may irritate us, be rude to us, or treat us unkindly, but that doesn’t mean we should give up on relationships completely.  Also, God may want us to learn something, even if it is how not to be, from these rude or irritating people.

We were not created to be alone. That is why children and adults who are isolated from others for a long period of time, may have irrevocable damage and trauma from that experience. However, when we experience true unity among one another, we can find love, joy, fulfillment, and community in our lives that gives us purpose and hope for this hurting, broken world.

Source:

  1. Jenkins, Aric. (1 May 2018). Study Finds That Half of Americans — Especially Young People — Feel Lonely Fortune. Retrieved from: http://fortune.com/2018/05/01/americans-lonely-cigna-study/.
  2. Hedegaard, Holly, etal. , Centers For Disease Control and Prevention. (June 2018). NCHS Data Brief, 309. Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/databriefs/db309.htm.

How To Be Truly Happy

All my life, I had wanted to be happy and be loved. According to Pastor Mark Jobe, it’s a desire of 95% of people you may meet randomly on the street. I even remember reading an article ( I don’t remember which one.) that quoted A.J McLean of the Backstreet Boys saying, “ What do people want? They wanna be happy!”

      However, the longer I have lived, the more I have realized that the pursuit of happiness isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. I found that for many people that their pursuit of happiness often turns into self- indulgent hedonism that can quickly spiral out of control if one isn’t careful. But being happy isn’t a bad thing. Moreover, if these things are true in your life, you may be well on the way to true and lasting happiness.

Image by JacLou DL from Pixabay

In order to be truly happy, we must live with an other- centered focus. If we live with a self-centered focus, we will most likely sprout seeds of discontent in our lives because there will always be some people and situations that won’t comply with our wishes! We will also miss opportunities to truly make a positive difference in others’ lives because we would be too busy thinking about ourselves. A self-centered focus always demands more for itself, and thus is never satisfied with what one already has. However, if we live to see that others are happy as well, we will be too busy serving them to even think selfishly. Moreover, we may even see the fruits of our service to others, and there is great satisfaction and joy in that. For example, my former pastor served faithfully at my current church for over 40 years, and, as a result of the relational investments and services he made to others, many people he mentored are either now in leadership positions in my church or on the mission field. These people are likewise also actively serving in their communities. Thus, we are able to make a great impact on the world and the heavenly Kingdom as well.

Another thing we must practice in order to be truly happy is being grateful for all God has given us. I have observed and realized that people who constantly complain are one of the most miserable people on the planet because they only focus on what is wrong in their lives, completely ignoring the positives. Gratitude is why the Apostle Paul, in Philippians 4:11, is able to say, “[I] have learned in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.” (KJV) One way to be more grateful is not to compare yourself with people having “ more” of what you desire than yourself, but to compare yourself with those having less than you. This thinking has not only helped me be more grateful for what I have, but also be more compassionate to others in need.

In order to be truly happy in life, along with being grateful and other-centered, we must strive to try your best in life. One area we could do this in is our jobs. Most people I encounter approach their work and/ or careers as simply a means of earning a paycheck. But what if we approached our work as a way to serve others and make a great impact on changing our world for the better? What if we served God in our jobs wholeheartedly, instead of only doing the minimum required to “get by”?

Why should we give our best, not only at our jobs, but in all aspects of life? Not only because we will feel better about ourselves and reap the rewards of doing right, but because we will greatly please God and glorify Him. We will also reap much greater rewards if we know we have done our best we could in serving God with our whole lives than if we just did the minimum or accomplished something with minimal effort because we will be able to have a much greater impact and influence when we are passionate about living life positively the best we can.

True happiness, otherwise known as “joy,” had eluded me for many years. I have struggled with depression on and off for more than half my life. However, thanks to God, and to all my past and present teachers of God’s pure and unadulterated Word, I have learned these secrets of joy– having an other-centered focus, being grateful for all I have, and giving God the best in my life, and serving Him with my whole heart. May you, likewise, live in true happiness today by applying these secrets of joy to your life!

Image by galadrim from Pixabay

What I Learned From My Pastors

written October 31, 2019

October is Pastor Appreciation Month, and I am blessed that God has provided me with two wonderful pastors, and one Pastor Emeritus who have served and labored over my local church for many years.  I have been in several different churches, but my current church has been the best so far.  I have learned more in the past three years, than I have in the previous sixteen years in the Lord. I owe all this to God and His sovereignty in placing the people in my life today, especially the pastoral leadership of my church.

One of the major things my pastors taught is how to more effectively relate to others.  About three years ago, I had a tumultuous work relationship with one of my managers at the time.  One day, things became so bad between the manager and me, that I actually went into one of the services upset and very bitter towards this person, even though I was not scheduled to work that day and hadn’t even made contact with this person in a few days.  So, I decided as a last-ditch effort to maybe quell my intense emotions and be able to concentrate on the sermon that night, that I would talk to Pastor John* about what was going on.  (You can read the whole story here.) Pastor John gave me a few poignant Bible Verses. I told Pastor John, “I tried to be nice to him [meaning my manager], but I don’t think anything is happening. “  Then, Pastor John told me something I will never forget: He said, “Patricia, you have to trust God’s timing.  Just because your manager hasn’t responded now, doesn’t mean God will not work in his heart later.”  This not only convicted me to be more patient with my manager, but also helped me to see that I hadn’t really been trying that hard at all at being kind to him.  That night, I wrote an apology note to my manager, asking him to forgive me of my bitterness towards him. The next day, I was able to see my manager as a person in need of grace and love, rather than the monster that I crafted into my mind for one and a half years. Thus, Pastor John was instrumental in helping me reconcile with my manager, whom I’m pleased to say I’m on good terms with my now-former manager and he’s happy where he is at now.  Pastor John recently helped me to think differently about my job, through one of the sermons he preached. Instead of thinking of my job as a “necessary evil,” especially when I’m stressed,  God spoke through my pastor, and they helped me realize that I am at the job I’m in for a reason—to give hope to others and to spread Christ’s love there.  Yes, my job gets very stressful at times, but as long as I’m doing what God (and those He put over me at work) commanded me, God’s sovereign will and His faithful love will cover me during those times.  Pastor Don* and Pastor Todd* also taught me how to more effectively relate to others through how they are patient with others and willing to serve wherever they are called.

Another thing that my pastors have taught me is how to be more authentic, both in my relationship with God, and others.  One of the things that I always appreciate about people in general is their willingness to admit fault and to be vulnerable, and not try to maintain this “perfect fake image” in front of others.  All my pastors model this to a good degree, but I have especially appreciated this coming from Pastor Todd. One time he admitted on the pulpit that he got pulled over for speeding! Thankfully, because the police officer liked our church, Pastor Todd got off with a warning.  I found this vulnerability and honest confession refreshing in an age where there are many church leaders who will try to hide their sins and flaws; with the appearance that they know “everything” and that they are “holier-than-thou.” There were other times too that Pastor Todd was open about his personal struggles with sin and temptation. This is refreshing to me because I feel that Pastor Todd’s honesty makes him more relatable to someone like me, who also struggles with sin and temptation on a daily basis. In other words, his vulnerability and authenticity makes him more human and trustworthy!

One of the most important things that my pastors have taught me is how to be more passionate about Jesus Christ.  All of them have emphasized, over and over again, God’s love and sovereignty over the whole world.  I learned from Pastor John that God’s sovereignty intervenes in our whole lives, down to the bosses we will have and the parents we have.  I learned from Pastor John that if we loathe our bosses and constantly complain about them, we also have a problem with God, because it is He who put them there in our midst, possibly to teach us something or for God’s sovereign and good purposes in our lives!  This has taught me in order for me to be more passionate about Jesus that I need to trust Him even in the tougher circumstances of my life, and not to complain about the people He decides to place in my life.  I learned from Pastor Todd that in order for me to be more passionate about Jesus, I need to learn that Jesus loves me very much and He always has good in mind for me, according to His purposes.  I learned from Pastor Todd’s teaching on the book, “God is More Than Enough,” that when I become discontented with my circumstances, I need to check my heart to eliminate any worldly and selfish desires on my part, especially the want for something more than what Christ has already graciously provided me.  Pastor Don, Pastor Todd, and Pastor John all have taught me the importance of spreading the Good News and to show God ‘s love to all those around us, even those we may consider our enemies.

Because of my pastors’ commitment to teaching exactly what Jesus taught, and because they strive to live authentic and blameless lives, they have helped strengthen and shape how my faith is today. Of course, none of us are even close to perfect, but I will always appreciate the good that these three men have done in our church and in my life.

*=names have been changed for privacy reasons

Hope-Giver

 

written:  11/30/2018

Once I was lost and alone

Looking for hope and love

The true kind from up above

The kind that would never die

 

I was dealing with much pain

People caused me much hurt and strife

But you came into my life

And brought healing to my soul

 

You gave me true love and care

You gave me value and hope

When I was on my last rope

You are my great hope-giver

Dying Well

I have been repeatedly reminded in these past few weeks that nothing on earth is going to stay the same or remain forever. To that end, I have also been reminded that one day I will pass from life on this earth, to life in eternity with God.  I have sensed in my heart that God has been whispering to me over and over again, “Patricia, you don’t have much time left.”  The following is the message I believe God is relaying to my heart, and also, I believe, God’s message to all of us, to live life so that we will die well:

I know no one wants to ponder their death. It all seems so depressing and final—but it doesn’t have to be.  Dying well, to me, does not mean having all the toys and grandeurs of this world. One can have that, and still not die well.  Dying well does not just mean being popular and having everyone love you.  To me, dying well means to have lived knowing you have fulfilled your purpose and that God will say to you when you come before Him, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

So, how does one fulfill his or her purpose? Well, first one needs to find out what it is!  I believe that my overarching purpose can be surmised in the Westminster Shorter Catechism, where it says, “The [purpose] of man is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.” If you are a follower of Christ, that should be your purpose too. 

However, I think God gives us different assignments, if you will, to help us fulfill that purpose, through both our circumstances and the people He puts in our path.  For instance, despite the stresses that my day job brings, I believe He has and continues to use that job as a calling for me to minister to broken and hurting people around me and to strengthen my character.  In this job, I am learning, not only some marketable skills in my job, but also how to be more patient, kind, caring and at peace with life.  I have learned that anxiety gets me nowhere, but trusting God does.  When I cooperate with God in these lessons, I am much better able to fulfill His purposes for me.  When it is my time to depart this world, if I persevere in this and all other assignments He gives me to fulfill His purposes, then I would die well.  

Another example is my faith hero, Rachel Joy Scott. She became a Christian a few years before her death in April 1999, and God used people in her school, her church, and her job to strengthen and build her character and to be a dynamic example for those around her that would be recounted long after she had departed this earth.  Although Rachel died what many consider a tragic death, I think she died well, not because thousands of people came to her funeral, but because of the positive impact she had and continues to have in millions of people’s lives today because of how she had lived her life and fulfilled her God-given purpose.

I believe to truly die well, we must die to self. In fact, in Luke 9:23-24 (KJV), Jesus says, “ If any man should come after me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me.  For whosoever will save his life shall lose it, but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it.”  Jesus is saying that in order to live, and, ultimately, die well, we have to be willing to give up our selfish desires, ambitions and hopes for the benefit of others.  I can attest to this fact in my own life. When I am thinking selfishly, I often find that I don’t get what I wanted anyway, and my life unravels before me. Not only that, people often lose respect for me, and I become an angry, resentful and bitter mess. However, when I humble myself and submit my desires and ambitions to God, I find that I am more at peace, no matter what my circumstances are, and things often go a lot more smoothly.  I also find the same is true for those around me.  Those around me who complain the most are often, and not just coincidentally, the same people who have not submitted their selfish desires and ambitions to God!  What a miserable way, not only to live, but to die! Many people think that when we die to self, we will live a miserable life and never get to do what we want to do. I won’t lie; sometimes I am tempted to believe this very lie!  However, in reality, the opposite is most often true.  When we are willing to sacrifice for others, we become more fulfilled in our God-given purpose and are more likely to be content with our lives, rather if we just lived for ourselves and our desires.

Another part of dying to self is being willing to serve others. Helping others not only encourages us to keep the focus off ourselves, it also makes us more content and fulfilled with our lives, because we sense we are making a positive contribution to this world. For instance, when I work to focus on making the customers satisfied and happy with our products and service, I find I feel much more confident and willing to serve them, rather than if I am focused on just checking something off my list. Dying well, means having died knowing that you served others the best you could, and were not just out for yourself.

In order to truly die well, I believe we must strive daily to fulfill our God-given purpose for this life, deny ourselves, and be willing to live to serve God and others with a whole heart.  As God has said in my heart, repeatedly, “You don’t have much time left.”  Yes, we don’t have as much time left as we may perceive in our minds, but we can use what is left to make sure we die well, and full of purpose.  

Butterfly

You thought no one would want you

You thought you were hideous

That none would truly love you

That you were doomed forever

 

But then you saw a bright light

Someone who saw your beauty

And not just an ugly sight

Giving you true hope inside

 

Despite all you have gone through

You are a true butterfly

And I will always love you

And the beauty inside you

What I Learned About God’s Goodness This Month

Photo by Charles 🇵🇭 on Unsplash

     This month (August 2019, as of this writing) has been a busy and stressful month, but I am grateful for all God has done in my life during this time.  Right now, we are in the process of remodeling our countertops, since ours was outdated. We had waited for a month to get it done. During that time, my family and I were tempted to question if it would ever get done. We had to take out the kitchen sink, so we had to walk to the laundry room sink to cook or even wash our hands.  Everything in the drawers and cabinets also had to be taken out.

Right now, I hear the workers coming in and out of our house to set the VERY heavy countertops in our kitchen.  Thankfully, the weather is nice, and not excessively hot or cool, so opening the door outside is not a problem. Also, the workers would not get too exhausted, since it is not excessively humid or hot. 

Not only in the matter of the countertops, but also in other areas of my life, God has been working to show me that He is always good, even when we, or our circumstances, are not.  I learned that:

  1. God puts trials in our lives to grow us.
  2. God always provides for our needs.
  3. God always works things out for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28)

First of all, God puts trials in our lives to grow us.  I will be one of the first to admit; I have an aversion to trials, mostly because of anxiety and fear that things may turn out disastrous once I’m in the trial.  However, thinking about some of the trials that I have been in throughout my life, even this month, I have seen that most of them have helped me grow in my character and trust of God.  For instance, this week I worked at another location than the place I normally work.  Because I have a tendency to get lost in place where I’m not familiar, I had someone drive me. However, their car overheated on the way there.  Immediately in our minds, we were understandably (my co-worker more than me) stressed out and I even was thinking that I may not be able to get to the location at all! However, I tried to stay calm, while my co-worker asked for help.  Eventually, we were able to get to the location we were supposed to be working at after that.  Moreover, God provided someone else to drive me back to my regular workplace safely, and a friend to take my coworker to get his car towed and repaired.  Through this little trial, God taught me to trust Him to provide for me, and that I didn’t have to panic or get anxious during a trial.  Sometimes, I have even found that God allows trials in our lives to prepare us for the future. For instance, the experience with not having a kitchen sink for a month, and even working in another location, may be preparing me for something in my future or even to grow more versatile career-wise.

Second of all, I learned that God always provides for our needs. Even when we didn’t have a kitchen sink, God provided the laundry room sink so that we could wash our dishes, our hands, and cook (to get the water).  When I worked in the other location, I learned to be grateful that I am working where I am at now, and not to gripe about it, even if others around me may be.  I learned that where I’m working at now is really a decent place to work and is the right place for my personality, my giftedness, and the season of life I’m in right now, despite people around me quitting or encouraging me to quit.  When God provided a job for me at my current workplace location (On how I got my current job, click here.), He knew what He was doing, and His plan was good and perfect for me! 

Finally, God always works things out for the good of those who love Him.  Last week, I was a little bit concerned about having to work the whole department by myself this past Monday and Tuesday.  God knew I would be overwhelmed if I had to work those days in my normal location. So, an hour after I was clocked in on Monday and started doing freight, one of my managers asked, “Patricia, would you like to work at [name of other location]?

I said, “ I can’t drive far distances in locations I am not familiar with.  First of all, I don’t have GPS. I also get lost really easily when I have to drive to places where I’m not familiar with, but if there is someone that could drive me there and back, I could.”

My manager replied, “if [name of a co-worker] is willing to drive you, would you come?”

I replied, “Sure.”

So, I ended up working at the other location on Monday.  After I came back to my normal workplace location, one of my higher up managers wanted me to work at that same location I was in Monday, and I agreed.  My anxiety over having to work the entire area by myself on Monday, and especially Tuesday, melted away, because I didn’t really have to work the department at all!  Moreover, there were not too many customers those days, so the area wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be when I came back to work in my regular location on Wednesday with my co-worker Todd*.

This sure has been a busy and hectic week, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything, because God has taught me so much.  Though I knew intellectually that God is good, now I can see God’s hand and His goodness more clearly in my life.  May you see the goodness of God in your life as well!

*=name has been changed to protect the privacy of the individual mentioned.