Christmas time and everyone's supposed to be jolly. But for some, it's the hardest time of the year. The contrast between all the expectations and the reality of our lives can even be depressing. We wish that the joy we think others are experiencing would be real in our own lives. Somehow, we can feel left out, an outsider moving through this world.
We're supposed to be happy. We're supposed to be this and that. But inside, sometimes it doesn't seem like that at all.
Everyone's been there sometime, felt the kind of doubt that goes down to your bones and leaves you huddled in a corner of the bed, wondering if it's worth even getting up to begin the day. You "know" that it's not worth it. You "know" that it's worthless; "nothing's going to change."
On this life's journey, it's easy to be discouraged, doubting that you'll ever make it. You think there's no chance at all. No chance to succeed. No chance to find a decent guy or gal. No chance to find "the one." No chance at fixing whatever it is that's really got you upset. No chance happiness will come your way.
Well, that pretty much spells it out. Even though some say loneliness is the universal experience, on the flip side, others say it's the quest for happiness. We want to be loved, appreciated and respected. We want to be happy. "Is that too much to ask?" we wonder.
When you're young, or not so young, and everything seems to be going wrong, the entire world can look like a dark abyss. You may come home to a house that feels as icy cold as Siberia, have a family that doesn't understand you, doesn't want you and you don't know where to turn.
Giving up is tempting. It's like life itself is an Olympic challenge and you don't have the energy ... you can't do it anymore. Maybe some people act like they've never felt this way at some point, but if they really haven't, I doubt that they are even human.
This is something everyone goes through sometime in their lives. The bad days outweigh the good days. You feel helpless. You know people are judging you and finding you unworthy, somehow. Childhood bullies, adult bullies, people who grab and step on you to get to their next promotion, unfair teachers, unfaithful partners, con men, scammers, liars, cheaters, killers. You don't get the raise you want, the job you need, and you don't know how to make it through. You don't have what you need to get by.
Some people push you or your loved ones aside to get what they want. You may have been victimized by some criminal along the way. You look out and see humanity as this big, stinking heap of garbage, something that disgusts you completely. Everything seems dark all around and you're cut off from anyone at all.
I've been there and know what it's like to wonder if there was any way out. And I searched and searched, looking everywhere I could to find a way out of that cold, dark space without hope. There were times when ending it all seemed the only way out, but it wasn't.
What I loved had been taken away from me or didn't exist anymore. Sometimes a mother abandons her children, sometimes a husband walks off without ever coming back, sometimes the one you trusted betrays you, hurts you, and you're left all alone. Someone tells you you're "no good," over and over again. "Not good enough," or you're "never going to amount to anything." Unless you do it their way, live their way, and bury your own dreams.
It is unfair, but it happens. Some people can be dream-killers that pour water on everything you want to do. They disapprove of everything you are. Toxic to your sanity and health, but just think about those who lose loved ones in a war or some kind of death machine! What do they feel? How bad it can get!
Does it matter if you're 16 and there's no one there for you, or your Mom was taken from you, deliberately put on a death "cocktail" when she expected care? It still is medical murder, an intended and hastened death. When her death was arranged by another family member who siphoned off the money, the house and took everything that could be taken, it seems an "open and shut case" of murder for the police to investigate, but the weapon wasn't even a gun. It was a very willing health care system, poised to kill at a moment's notice.
It's hard to accept that not one police agency will investigate, not one district attorney will prosecute, not one person will accept responsibility. Not one newspaper will report it. In the face of injustice from every side, even outright evil, it's easy to despair.
There's no end to the list of evils in this world. Each of us has a story to tell. "They could make a movie about it all!" we think.
And the people around? We could "dissect" the ways they act and find a thousand faults. But that doesn't lead anywhere. Everybody's human. And sure, some are criminal, horrible. And they need to be dealt with. Can we explain it? Some try, but that doesn't change what is.
Nobody's perfect. But that doesn't change that we've all been hurt, either. If we admit it, we've hurt people sometime, somewhere, too. We like to bury that memory, but it's part of the total picture, the reality of who we are as well. In a world with competing perspectives, someone's bound to get hurt.
We don't like to admit it. It's easier to point the finger somewhere else, forgetting that we are one part of this mass of humanity. Neither totally good nor totally bad, a mixture, however painful it is to face. We think we're "mostly good" and "just a little bit bad," but if we look inside, how much good is there and how much bad? We try to be all things to those around, to please them, gain their trust, gain their love and respect, but no matter how much we try, we miss the mark, disappointing in some way. There's only so much you can do, right?
If we please some, we disappoint others. None of us have failed to disappoint ourselves.
Even if we didn't do terrible things, have we ever considered doing something, been tempted to get revenge, strike out against someone, grabbing what we want? Or been so angry at the terrible things people do that we really wished someone would just die or disappear?
If we, who are supposed to be so good, think these things, can we at least understand that some give in and actually do those things? The things you never speak about, never wish to admit to yourself though you know ..., let alone admit it to another .... We don't want to admit we even have a dark side.
"Me?" "Ridiculous!" "I would never ...."
Many of us stay too busy to even think about it, always looking for entertainment: hours watching TV, using the computers, gaming, listening to the news or music, socializing, playing sports, doing drugs, drinking alcohol, eating. Or, simply sleeping, a lot. It's a good escape!
Never stopping too long to take a look at ourselves and let reality hit us in the face.
Thinking about these kinds of things is, for some, "too heavy," "a drag." They just want to enjoy life, party, have a good time. But reality has a way of creeping in, spoiling our fun when we least expect it.
Jedi Master Yoda of the Star Wars films sent Luke Skywalker into that dark cave to confront his dark side, and it looked like Darth Vader, but when the mask fell off, it was Luke himself. He didn't want to believe he even had a dark side. We're the same: our classmates, co-workers, family or friends, our enemies certainly have a dark side, but not us! "No, that's not possible!" we scream trying to wake from a nightmare, like Luke. But, it's true.
Sure, we've disappointed and hurt others at times, but we "didn't mean to!" Or we didn't think about it when we did it. "It was just an accident." Or, maybe we did.
Escape! That's what we want. There's so many ways, but after all the partying, and doing this or that, there's only so much of it you can do. Eventually, whatever pleasure there is fades and we're brought back to the same reality staring us in the mirror.
We can scream within, "don't judge me!" as long as we want, but we can't escape judging ourselves. Do we measure up to our own standards?
Some think that religion is too oppressive, too judgmental and flee to Heavy Metal music, even satanic metal music, which spreads the message that it's ok to indulge in drugs, alcohol, sex without any commitments while condemning those who condemn, and judging those who judge. The hypocrisy of those who hate and judge the religious is obvious to any who even glance at the irony of it all.
Whether we're teens or older, we don't want to be controlled by others. We want to be free. It's natural. But where does that rebellious spirit lead, anyway? There may be beautiful pieces of rock, hard rock or metal music, but there's also music that energizes through anger and rage. There's satanic or "black metal," "stoner metal," "doom metal," even "death metal" music. They say it's freeing to listen to heavy metal music, that it teaches you to stand up for yourself and not let anyone tell you what to be, how to be or judge you.
But, like I said, those who write and play black heavy metal music judge and condemn those who are Christian or Jewish as if Christians or Jewish people were a cause of the misery and aloneness they felt before. They've even promoted the burning of churches and done it. Is that "freeing" or uplifting? They're just pushing another religion with very different values and ends.
What they miss is that Christianity is not Jesus and Jesus is not Christianity, the religion. Sure, many who are part of the churches are filled with His love, but also many are not. Jesus clearly stated that many of the leaders of society and those who attended the churches of His day were not part of His work and certainly were not living in harmony with God's will.
Just like the Pharisees in His day, some tend to condemn the obvious sins of sexual promiscuity or adultery, drunkenness or drug-taking, while others think those are "cool" and condemn financial sins like greed, exploitation, war-mongering and oppression of the weak by the vulnerable. What happens is you have each side believing they're "right," condemning the other half of society. But neither side has the complete truth.
Though some may be upset, it seems to me that Jesus didn't come to start an institution or a particular church, but to light a flame in the hearts of the people, to spread a love for God so real that people would naturally step away from their addictions and preoccupations. And those who accepted Him, these would be filled with the Holy Spirit and become His "church." To the extent they accept His love, they bring more and more of His world into this one on Earth. And those ones, wherever they are, they're the church I look to for inspiration, encouragement and fellowship.
What's the difference between those who rebel against society's traditional values and those who try their hardest to abide by them? They're both trying to find a way to happiness and fulfillment. Whether we choose the rebel path or the traditional path, the reality of life's disappointments cannot be forever pushed away. At some point, whatever brings us enjoyment ends.
What are we to do? It may be hard, but some say that the mind is a creature of habit and like that creature of habit, it must be trained. You can't force a horse to instantly obey every command, but you can encourage it to listen by gaining its trust over time. Like the horse that returns to the stable all on its own, the mind returns to what it knows, what we've been feeding it and where.
If we focus on the hurts we've experienced and the faults of those around, that's what we'll see. If we look for the kindnesses we've experienced and the good things others have done, and there must be something, we'll see something different, a little brighter place in the world. It's a start.
Positive thinking, positive images, and taking positive steps in our lives can help. Thinking about the good, the beautiful and that which is true is helpful. But it's still not enough. Lots of people have tried that. You think it's working and keep pressing, trying to force happiness to magically appear, but it doesn't completely work. Not that it's wrong. But it's not enough. You can read a thousand self-help books and never move an inch out of that dark despair.
Eventually, most people stop trying, stop doing, like the exercise equipment they've finally moved into the basement to gather dust. Why? Because, for many, it is no longer fun. It doesn't come naturally and it doesn't fill the "tank." We still feel empty somehow.
Loneliness is a universal condition and on the flip side, we all just want to find happiness.
We think a lot of things will bring that happiness and cure our loneliness.
Money, name, fame, a job, a house, all sorts of possessions, status, respect, friends, parties, entertainments, music, art, relationships .... Yes, these are the things that fill so many lives. But I've lived among the wealthiest among us and among the poorest and these things alone aren't what cures loneliness or brings happiness, either. You may not accept that, but if you've gotten old enough or experienced enough to see, you know it's true. Something else is missing, no matter how hard we try to fill the gap.
What comes closest is finding "the one," I guess. Or the love of family. Or immersing yourself in the love of something inspiring, art, music, the quest for knowledge, prayer and meditation on Him. All a kind of love. Something inspiring that lets you forget yourself and become immersed in an uplifting wave of love.
There's all sorts of love, and all sorts of fulfillment, but many of these relationships can end, either naturally on their own, or because the one we love is sent away, taken away, or even dies. Circumstances change, life makes demands, sickness and death interfere. Nothing remains the same, and then what?
While we think that finding "the one" is the answer, it's only a part of what makes for a happy life. Because another person can never fill that space inside forever. You can't truly be happy if you can't be happy without that other person. Being totally dependent upon another for your happiness is like a dying tree leaning against a strong one. After a time, the dying tree will fall down and rot away. At some point, though it goes against everything everyone who is newly "in love" thinks, we will need more.
And where do we find that? Like many before, I heard what others said about the path to happiness, but nothing made sense. I had to find my own way, and wherever I looked it came down to searching for a love that never ends, never dies, never fails. I couldn't accept what seemed to me a "preachy" religion: everyone having to dress a certain way, everyone having to pray a certain way, everyone having to live a certain way. I wanted something that was real to me, and that didn't seem real at all.
Facing despair, feeling I'd never find "it," I was confronted with myself, something I tried so hard to avoid. I was alone in this world, seeking to bridge that gap. And the only thing that pierced that aloneness was love, a love that lasts.
I wanted to find a way out of the storm, a way out of the pain.
That's what Christmas time is supposed to be about. Right?
It's not just about families getting together, sharing presents and good food.
Christmas is about finding refuge, though most people don't think about Christmas that way at all.
Remembering Jesus is not just an exercise in historical knowledge. It's what the wise men came to do. Not just to recognize that He was born, or to honor Him or to present gifts. Not at all.
They were there, because they knew what He was about. And they were there to adore Him. They took refuge in His love and found the peace they were searching for.
We see so much darkness and evil in the world, so much suffering, death and even murder. And we grow tired, so utterly convinced there is no hope at all. There's always something that can trouble us, and after a while we look for a release from all of it.
"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." (Matthew 11:28)
That's taking refuge.
"Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." (Matthew 11:29-30)
We may resist, thinking He is judging us and we certainly don't want to be judged. We don't want to be condemned, but none of us are perfect, no matter how much and no matter how long we try. Eventually, if we are honest with ourselves, we see that whatever we try, it isn't enough. We grow so tired of it all.
He's not going to reject us because we don't measure up. He knows we don't measure up, but He loves us anyway.
Like a mother runs to grab a toddler who disobeyed her and starts running into the street. She picks that child up and loves it just so much more, knowing she almost lost that child.
If you have ever experienced that fear, you know how urgently a mother or father runs to and reaches for that child. God's concern for us is even more urgent, purer and perfect:
"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)
I tried everything my own way, but it wasn't enough. Finally, I reached out to Him and found a sweet peace and renewal. Greater than any love I've known! Never-ending. Like oil pouring into a cup of oil, His love overwhelmed me. Beyond what I could contain. King David wrote about this and said:
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. (Psalm 23:5)
It's not hard, though I made it hard for myself. Just opening our arms and reaching out for Him is all it takes.
Years ago, the Holy Spirit spoke through the prophet Isaiah:
"But they that wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; they shall walk, and not faint." (Isaiah 40:31)
Loving Him doesn't make me or any of us perfect, nor does it immediately solve all our problems, but His love lives within us in spite of our imperfections. I no longer have to search anywhere for fulfillment. What He has given is so much more than enough! And the words spoken by the Holy Spirit through the prophets now speak to my heart and make sense.
It is a wonderful thing, that He loves each one of us unconditionally, even with all our imperfections and the ways we have strayed. We only need to recognize that we need Him and accept the Love He offers us, opening our hearts. And when we do, we no longer despair. Everything seems different and brighter.
An endless love covers us with grace and shields us from the pain that can come from living in this world and saves us from the sin, the dark side within each one of us.
Taking refuge in Him brings us into His world, his kingdom, extended by grace to us.
And for this purpose, He came into the world, to demonstrate victory over the evils of this world and death while saving us from our own heavy sin. Today, it's not politically correct to even mention "sin," but that's some of what I've been talking about here, the dark side within each one of us and finding a way to reach the Light. We can't do it alone. Like travelers sinking in quicksand, we need someone to help us out. There are some things we just cannot do on our own.
I couldn't do it alone, even though some would have us believe we can. We are not gods, and each of us will die one day. We are simply men and women walking on this Earth, journeying through a life that is fairly short and given an opportunity to experience all the beauties of this world along with all its evils. We each have different abilities, but we still fall far short of what would be required to enter into the Lord's presence as worthy souls. We are offered a gift of grace, something we absolutely do not deserve.
So, take refuge in Him. Kneel at His feet. Know His love!
This is why Yeshua, Jesus, is the Messiah or promised One, the Christ, the Savior.
Despair not, my friend. This is what we celebrate on Christmas day!