For When You’re Feeling Abandoned

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A couple of months ago I posted a Facebook status update about an especially controversial issue. Within minutes, and throughout the rest of that day, I was lambasted with comments and criticism from people – mainly Christians — who did not agree with my stance. By the end of the day, there were close to 100 comments, most of them negative, many of them caustic, some downright vitriolic.

A few people messaged, emailed, or called me privately to offer encouragement (not necessarily to agree with my opinion on the issue, but simply to let me know they were thinking about me as I stood in the line of fire), and I deeply appreciated that. But for the most part, few chimed in publicly to stand with me in what came to feel, by the end of the day, like a deeply personal attack.

That day was a lonely one for me. Most of my closest friends in my online community, the people I know and love and who I know love me, were largely silent. I know they were there, listening and watching that ugly “conversation” unfold on Facebook, but most of them said nothing. They had their reasons; and those reasons were good, sensible, respectable, rational reasons. I certainly don’t blame my peers for not leaping into such a divisive public exchange. Had I been in their shoes, I suspect I would have made the exact same choice.

Yet at the same time, I felt abandoned and even a little bit betrayed. While I certainly hadn’t expected everyone to agree with me, I had expected they would defend not my stance on the issue necessarily, but me, as their friend and fellow human being. I hadn’t expected to feel so alienated and alone and for that to hurt so much.

I suspect that’s what Paul was feeling when he wrote this at the end of his second letter to Timothy: “The first time I was brought before the judge, no one came with me. Everyone abandoned me.” (2 Timothy 4:16).

In those two simple sentences I hear Paul’s sorrow, loneliness, disappointment and defeat. I hear what I felt that day on Facebook.

Yet in Paul’s next words to Timothy, he says something important: He acknowledges that although he was abandoned by his earthly friends, God stood with him, strengthening him, rescuing him and delivering him “from every evil attack.” (2 Timothy 4:17-18)

Clearly my situation on Facebook was markedly different from Paul’s. At the same time, though, Paul’s words helped me understand that God does not abandon us, even when it looks as though we’ve been abandoned by everyone else.

What’s more, God does not leave us, even when we are wrong. God stands with us, even when we go wildly astray.

God loves us unabashedly, no matter what.

When I feel utterly and completely alone, it helps to remember God’s promise: he is with us, always, even until the end of time. God stands with us, strengthening us in our weakness, rescuing us from defeat, pulling us from the abyss of loneliness.

God is with us always. We are never as alone as we might feel in the moment.

 

What a Japanese Garden Taught Me about My Spiritual Life {and my closet}

JapaneseGarden3Ed

Lately I’ve been busy pruning. First I pruned my closet, keeping only the clothes I love and that fit (I finally parted ways with my favorite red pants because clearly “just three more pounds” is never going to happen).

Next I pruned my backyard, yanking errant coneflower, goldenrod and phlox from the flower beds and clipping dead branches and twigs from the river birch and magnolia trees. Eight leaf bags later, I now see open space and bits of sky and earth instead of a tangle of unruly branches and unkempt perennials.

I’ve altered my work space, too. I switched from the small antique letter desk I inherited from my grandmother to a larger table, removed all but three of my favorite knickknacks and wiped the surface clean.

A couple of weeks ago my family and I returned from a ten-day trip to the Pacific Northwest. We spent our last day of vacation at the Japanese Garden in Portland, Oregon, where our guide explained the gardening technique referred to as “pruning open.” She pointed to the various maples, pine and dogwood surrounding us, all of which had been dramatically pruned to reveal an aesthetic presentation of limbs, branches and foliage.

“Pruning open” allows the visitor to see up, out and beyond to the sky and landscape, our guide informed us. It creates a sense of openness and lets in the light.

JapaneseGarden2Ed

JapaneseGardenEd

As we meandered along one of the garden’s wooded paths, my son Noah noticed that everyone in our tour group whispered as they walked. In fact, every guest we passed during the more than two hours we spent in the garden that morning spoke in hushed tones. Something about being in such an uncluttered, serene landscape naturally quieted us.

I’ve thought a lot about the concept of “pruning open” in the days following our visit to the Japanese garden, not only as it relates to my physical surroundings – my yard, closet and workspace – but also how the practice might impact both my mental health and my spiritual life.

Like most twenty-first-century Americans, my days are cluttered with demands, responsibilities, deadlines, errands and appointments. My personal calendar is full of social obligations, and even my supposed down time is comprised of a cacophonous mix of television, the Internet and social media. My smart phone is always in my purse or my back pocket, and the moment it dings, I pull it out and swipe its face.

What would it look like, I wondered, to “prune open” not only my physical surroundings, but my personal time and my inner life, too?

In light of that question, I’m trying to carve out a bit of time each day, even as little as a half hour, in which I do nothing but sit quietly in the chaise lounge in the corner of my back patio. I leave my phone indoors, and I don’t read or write, text or talk. I simply sit with no goal, agenda or purpose. I do nothing, and in the process, unclutter my mind and spirit, at least for a short while.

We can’t “prune open” our entire lives; after all, we have jobs, families to tend to, demands to meet and duties to perform. But we can “prune open” a small space and a sliver of time each day in which to quiet ourselves – a clearing in the jumble and tangle of our busy lives that allows us to see up, out and beyond ourselves.

{This article ran June 27 in the Lincoln Journal Star}

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