Monday, January 13, 2014

Making Friends with Loneliness

            I’ve already talked a bit about my ongoing struggle with loneliness.  Over time, I have learned to be content with it, to not fear it so much (for the most part).  In fact, I’ve learned to enjoy it (kind of . . . in general).  And while it’s not a one-size-fits-all kind of answer, I want to share with you some keys for learning to be lonely.  And they would probably work for other types of discontentment, too.  So, in no particular order, here they are:

            1.  Let go of your expectations that life “should” be different!  Strive for joy, not happiness!
            We can exhaust ourselves running after fleeting happiness, finding the newest little thing to make us smile or trying to make life match up to our expectations of how it “should” be.  Or we can learn to be content with the way it is, to find joy in it.  Of course, there’s nothing wrong with trying to make life “better,” but when it doesn’t work and we are getting discouraged, it might just be time to lay our expectations down before God and let Him change them.  It might be time to learn to find the goodness and blessings in life the way it is.  God is in the here-and-now, but we need to open our eyes to find Him.  Happiness can be bought cheaply in a new toy or fun experience, but it doesn’t last long.  Joy, though, is long-lasting, and it comes when we learn to find God, His goodness and blessings, wherever we are.

            2.  Notice the small things! 
            Open your eyes to the details around you, the blessings in each moment.  The coolness of the breeze across your neck.  The way a squirrel cocks his head to look at you.  The fresh-fallen snow, unmarred by human footprints.  The way your child’s eyes light up when they laugh.  Notice these things.  Soak them in.  Drink them up.  Close your eyes and listen to the wind in the trees.  Stand outside in the rain with your face to the sky.  Pull up a chair, grab a cup of cocoa, and watch the thunderstorm.  Learn the specific types of plants and birds and trees.  Live life more vividly.

            3.   Write them down! 
            Do as Ann Voskamp says and start writing a list of 1000 things that you are thankful for.  Look for these blessings and gifts like you are searching for hidden treasures.  And don’t forget to also look for the silver linings on the clouds in your life, the roses on the thorns.  Write those down, too.  It’s remarkable what it does for your spirit to shift your focus like this.

            4.  Spend more time developing a God-glorifying hobby and more time in the place you feel most alive and closest to God! 
            Maybe it’s visiting the seashore.  Or taking a walk.  Or reading an inspirational book.  Or painting.  Or running.  Or building something.  For me, it’s gardening.  I feel alive and so humbled and thankful and in awe of God’s goodness when I am working with the plants that He has given us.  Whether it’s tending to my rose garden or raising vegetables or simply watching the birds at the feeders, just to be around these little blessings from God makes me feel His smile.  To me, gardening is an act of worship.  It’s where I find myself surrounded by all His goodness, and falling down at His feet, worshipping the Creator of all these good things.

            5.  Make un-conventional friends!
            This kind of goes along with previous ones.  But make an effort to invite un-conventional “friends” into your life.  Put up a bird-feeder.  Find an author that you love.  Listen to a godly radio station.  Put on some godly music.  Find some godly blogs.  Plant a butterfly bush.  Plant hummingbird-friendly plants.  Learn to embrace the quiet.  Get a dog or a cat.  We may not have the kind of human friendships that we want, but that doesn’t mean life has to be empty.

            6.  Praise Him Regardless!
            1 Thessalonians 5:16-18:  “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
            It is God’s Will that we praise Him.  I think this is not just for our emotional health, focusing on the good things instead of the bad.  But I also think it’s for our spiritual health.  When we wallow in negative emotions or behaviors – stewing in anger, yelling at people, gossiping, being envious, wallowing in depression – we put out a “welcome mat” for fallen angels.  We give evil a foothold in our lives and our hearts when we give it a foothold in our minds and emotions.  So even if we don’t “feel like it,” we should still praise God, thanking Him for whatever we can find to be thankful for.  Because doing this is repulsive to the devil and demons, and it keeps them back.      

            7.  Immerse yourself in God’s Word and pray all through the day!
            This should go without saying, but take time every day to connect with God.  To draw nearer to His mind and heart through His Word, and to let Him nearer to your mind and heart through prayer.  And be honest with Him in prayer, be authentic, be transparent with what you are thinking and feeling.  Any sort of dishonesty closes off a small part of our hearts to Him.  We need to invite Him into all parts of our hearts and lives by being completely honest with Him and open to Him.  Even with the ugly things.  The things that we think might displease Him.  Honesty is what draws us nearer to His love and healing and truth.  Oh, and pray for contentment.  Pray that God helps you learn to be okay with the life you have.  We can’t do it on our own; we need His help. 

            8.  Focus on glorifying Him today, doing Today’s job to the best of your ability! 
            When we curl up in the corner in a ball, lamenting our sorry situation, we forget to be faithfully obedient in the job that He gave us to do today.  But to be more in line with His Will, we need to put our focus on glorifying Him daily, doing the job that He gave us to the best of our ability (while not taking on ourselves the responsibility for the jobs He didn’t give us).  We might still be lacking things that we want, but our lives can still be glorifying and honoring to Him.

            9.  Look for ways to help others, to brighten their day with no expectations for a return!
          We all need encouragement.  And one of the best ways to overcome our own discouragement is to look for ways to bring a little joy into someone else’s life.  Did the guy in front of you at the store – the one trying to buy a hot, ready-to-go chicken for dinner - forget his money?  Pay for it yourself and send him off with a “God bless you” when he thanks you.  Do you see a shy girl with glasses looking down at the floor?  Tell her that you think her glasses are cool, and watch her mom mouth the words, “Thank you” to you, letting you know that this girl had been feeling ugly and self-conscious about it.  How about a guy that dropped a carton of blueberries at the store?  Bend down and help him pick them up so that he is not on his knees cleaning up the mess all alone.  What about the woman wearing a pretty sunflower pin?  Tell her that you like the pin, and she might just open up and tell you that she’s wearing it in honor of her sister who died recently.
            There are so many moments when we can make others feel like they are noticed or spread a little joy to someone who might desperately need it.  How many of those moments slip by us, lost forever?  It’ll make your life a little brighter to see the smiles that you can spread.    

            10.  Become someone you like!
            Work on developing your godly spirit, being graceful, gentle, loving, forgiving, putting others above yourself, etc.  Not having many friends leaves you with a lot of time being with yourself.  Become someone you like.  Become someone that others admire and respect and like to be around, even if it’s only for a moment.  Become someone God can be proud to call “Friend.” 

            11.  Stop talking so much and learn to listen!
            Learn to listen to God, to the Holy Spirit’s nudges, instead of spending all your time groaning to Him about your unfair life.  It’s amazing the lessons we learn when we stop and listen.  And learn to really listen to other people’s stories, their thoughts and feelings.  By all means, share about yourself with them and try to build up a real two-way relationship.  But with some people, that’s not possible.  In those cases, try to be the “listener” instead of the “talker.”  They might just be aching to be heard, too.  And when you feel the need to be heard but can’t find anyone who will listen, talk to God.  He’s always ready to listen.  

            12.  Simplify your life and your home!
             Get rid of the many things and activities that you have filled your life and home with in an attempt to be “happy,” to make life worthwhile.  Pare it all down to the things that are necessary and the things that really mean something to you and uplift you, and get rid of the distractions.  It’s hard to feel relaxed and at peace and to find the hidden blessings when you run yourself ragged all day.  Make your schedule something that lets you feel like you are doing the things that matter and that lets you feel alive and enjoy your time.  And make your home a pleasant place to live.  It’s hard to feel positive and uplifted if your home has become a dump.  Make it a welcoming place to be, so that you can feel joy when you look at it.  Put flowers on the table.  Clean up the piles of paper.  Put up some pretty art.  Make friends with your home.

            13.  Remember that God cares!
          He sees you.  He cares about you.  He loves you.  You matter to Him.  And He is always there, waiting for you to reach out to Him!  Run to Him, find Him everywhere He can be found.  And learn to live fully in the moment, in the quiet, in the solitude.  Learn from it and grow from it.  Make friends with it.  And let God meet you there as you discover all His goodness and blessings.  Hidden in plain view.
            (And one more suggestion: If you are like me and your mind tends to go to dark, depressing, self-demeaning places, listen to good Christian music regularly.  Sometimes the best way to prevent these thoughts is to not give yourself too much quiet time, time that your mind will want to fill with negative thoughts.)