I am one of those people who isn’t afraid to ask the tough question. I love to get people thinking about opposing viewpoints or scenarios. When these are thoughtful civil discussions, we can begin to see that the alternative perspective has merit. We can begin to incorporate those perspectives into our own and realize a change in ourselves.
I was asked the other day to think about the things that matter to me the most, the things I am passionate about, and those things that bring me joy. I am at a crossroads and seeking how to hear God in new ways and to uncover where he is leading me next. My mind went from what I do and what brings me joy to what really gets under my skin that I have been ignoring out of a fear that I will once again be rejected for what God is putting on my heart. So here I go with phase one of my journey of discovering where God and I will be walking next.
What Gets My Goat
– or those issues I see around me in a church setting, in religious discussion, and inflicted upon people I love and care about. They break down into four key issues of imparity or inequality. Race/immigration, age, gender, and marital status. Places where I have seen, and in some cases experienced, discrimination against someone because they are from outside my culture, older or younger, male, female, part of the LGBTQ community, and unmarried persons–be that never married, widowed, or especially divorced. I have walked through all of these areas as a senior citizen, a mother and friend, and as someone married, divorced, and widowed. I have sat with people living through the pain inflicted upon them by people at work, so-called well-intentioned friends, and religious communities. Unfortunately, their stories are painful and seldom filled with the love and joy that Jesus wished for us and commanded us to offer. The “church” can do better – we can love better, we can stand stronger as allies, we can follow Jesus and enter into places that seem so unholy and care better.
I can do better.
We are in a new era of forced isolation. There is no telling how long this will last. For those in their late-50s and older, “social-distancing” could become the new norm for us because doctors can’t say if the Coronavirus, or an offshoot of it, may come back next year. For an age group that is already trying to stay physically fit and actively engaged, this is like a slow death sentence. Melanie Joosten, a researcher at the National Ageing Research Institute (NARI) wrote that aging women especially experience a growing sense of becoming invisible. This feeling could become more of a reality as we carefully choose our external activities and social/work relationships to protect our health.
Women feel this sense of social isolation and lack of relevance much more than do men, according to coach Dr. Louise Mahler. In a 2016 NY TimesDr. Dhruv Khullar wrote: “About one-third of Americans older than 65 now live alone, and half of those over 85 do. People in poorer health — especially those with mood disorders like anxiety and depression — are more likely to feel lonely. ” He continues to explain that social separation is bad for our physical, cognitive, and mental health and that those who are isolated from society tend to die within seven years.
The need to be seen as relevant and as a contributing member of society matters for those entering their ” twilight years.” Regular social contact and involvement is key. Dr Khullar quoted one senior as saying: “Your world dies before you do.” For our older population that is even more real today than ever before. As I have spoken with seniors in my community the past few days, I am finding that while their faith is keeping their spirits up, they desperately miss even the little bit of friendly contact that came from socializing in the grocery store. No longer is the store, the coffee shop, the neighborhood diner, or their place of worship a available to them to get out of the house and interact with friends and family.
For many seniors, participation in their ministries and charitable organizations has been a lifeline and provides a sustained a sense of purpose and contribution to society. Religious organizations bring a sense of spirituality and connection with community. For those who continue to work, they have the opportunity to share their experience while learning new skills and keeping their minds sharp and engaged. Take that away and loneliness, isolation, and depression are likely to set in. This is even more true for older adults living alone who today are unable to meet family, see grandchildren,or venture to their communities and jobs.
‘You shall rise up before the gray headed and honor the aged, and you shall revere your God; I am the LORD.
Technology has helped to bridge some of the gaps older adults are feeling during social distancing. Once they get the hang of all the processes available to them to video chat and participate in streaming religious services or exercise classes, they may feel a momentary sense of connection and belonging. However, the crucial piece is to help them find relevance and purpose. If all they do is take in information they still lack an ability to contribute to society. This could lead to a greater level of social anxiety, depression, or other mental health concerns, according to Good Therapy. These factors tend to be more prominent in women; however, because of their tendency toward transparency in expressing loneliness. This again goes back to a societal response that respects maturing men over aging women and the notion that men still have something to contribute despite their age.
So what can we do in this period of forced isolation? Reach out on a regular basis to your older friends and family. Find a video platform that they are comfortable using because it helps to actually see the faces of our friends and family. Find some way for them to help. Maybe they can write letters or make phone calls to people in their religious and charitable organizations. Visit them from a safe social distance. Give them tasks to complete for which they are responsible. Acknowledge their skills and contributions, no matter how minor. Help our senior citizens feel that they are respected, needed, and connected and they will come through this crisis stronger and more engaged then ever before.
Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another–and all the more as you see the day approaching. Hebrews 10
The Single Walk is not always an easy one. It is frequently more difficult for people who have been in long-standing relationships who now find themselves walking alone. Singles struggle to find a new way to fit into community, especially religious community, following the end of a life with a partner.
Some of us are single because the person we planned to spend all our years with has died or left us. The singleness that comes from the death of our partner can leave us in un-imagined pain and grief. A divorce, or end of a committed partnership, can do the same for many; even when we might agree with the decision to terminate the relationship. We go from two to one. We are no longer part of the “couples community” and we aren’t quite ready to function as a single person. This is especially true for the widow/widower who may remain married in their heart.
It takes a deliberate effort, and probably a fair amount of time, to see the truth in our lives. We may hear it and know it, but in our hearts, we just don’t want to believe it. Denial. That’s what counselors and 12 steppers call it. I call it: the lies we tell ourselves because it is easier than facing that a painful change may be coming. In Psalm 25, David asks God to “lead me by your truth” (NLT). David, of all people, knew how hard it would be to face the truth and to turn his life in a new direction. But he was willing to listen to a wise man speak the truth and he was forever motivated to alter his lifestyle.
One of the most difficult areas for us to hear the truth is in our relationships—be they romantic, friendship, or work. There are times when we need to stop and evaluate where these relationships are taking us and determine if they are right for us or not. I walked away from a very lucrative job with great potential—not once but twice—because I came to understand that I was not the right fit. Many people thought I was, but in my heart I knew it was time to move on. I let go of the love of my life because our values were different. He was, and is, a good man, but I need a man to share my faith commitment and the lifestyle I am living today. I had to let go of family that I love dearly because there was no way to resolve our conflict. Rather than continue to hurt each other, we have moved on with our lives, without each other. I walked away from living a life of pretend to a more simple life without the stress of keeping up with the DC or LA crowd.
Each time God inspired me to change, I fought back. There was a fog over my life and I had become comfortable with it. The fog kept me from seeing my true potential and the purpose for my life. When I began to ask God to show me the truth, the fog began to lift. I saw my real calling—my new job if you will. I saw how loved I am by those closest to me and I am no longer on the hunt for that great love. I have done my best to love and pray for my family and God has repaired some relationships. I have a new family in my church. I am surrounded by good people who motivate me every day on my new journey.
I can see clearly now. There is hope for my future. There is peace in my heart. There is joy in my life. Ask yourself some questions about whatever is keeping the fog in your life:
• How is this relationship impacting my relationship with God?
• How are these friendships supporting me on a right path with my faith?
• Am I hiding something so others won’t be hurt?
• How is this job affecting my joy and my dreams?
• Am I happy where I am and do I see myself happy in 5, 10, 15 years from now?
• How is this lifestyle effecting my financial situation?
• How is this situation affecting my emotional well-being?
Prayerfully consider your answers to these questions. Write down your answers and share them with someone who will objectively listen and ask you more questions. Be honest with yourself. Bring light into the fog. If you begin to see the need to change, start the process by making one small change. Think what that change should be and then do it. Do it for you. Do it because you deserve to live the life God has in mind for you.
“Jesus said to the people who believed in him, “You are truly my disciples if you keep obeying my teachings. And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
John 8:31-32 New Living Translation