Compass for Lost Islands

     Made freshly aware this week of how much more painful life is for my children’s generation, I pause my Dwell retreat reflections to raise a cry on their behalf for us to reach out even more intentionally to the Millennials and any other category of youth, set adrift by our God-hating culture. We hold in our hearts the Antidote.
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     “Man is lonely by birth…” are words from a song I first encountered in the context of morning devotions at a Catholic High School in Kingston, Jamaica. It was my first full-time job as English teacher and Sister S ran a tight ship conducting ‘Assemblies’, for example, by two-way  telecom set up throughout the classrooms and other buildings of the school adjoining the Church of the Divine Childhood (names changed to protect identity).
     As the thought came flooding in this morning my mind cast about in search of the Truth to counter the allurement to despair that the idea engendered.
     The subsequent thought was no more encouraging, “It’s the uniqueness of our individual pain that isolates us”. Here the Proverbs readily supplied Scripture’s relevance, from 14.10, “Each heart knows its own sorrow, and a stranger does not share its joy”.  My own previous musings supplied the next thought, that “Our own various efforts to deal or cope with our pain, in isolation, traps up even more firmly in loneliness”. ‘Shared joys are made even sweeter by the sharing’ and ‘tears shed alone are bitter’, are proven maxims of past generations.
     Another chorus sung devotionally throughout the school system in the Jamaica of my youthful years flooded in…
“No man is an island,
No man stands alone,
Each man’s joy is joy to me,
Each man’s grief is my own.

We need one another,
So I will defend,
Each man as my brother,
Each man as my friend

Bridge:
I saw the people gather,
I heard the music start,
The song that they were singing,
Is ringing in my heart!”
     I realize, now, that the benign, ecumenical nature of the song’s non-specific bridge, worked just fine in our context because we were a Christian school in a Christian nation, in a world that still held to the one grounding, centering worldview, of Christianity —
     The people we “saw gather” would be the Church, our ‘gathering’ would be unto the Lord of all the earth; the ‘song they were singing’ would be the music of our worship to Him, and its lyrics exalting His gloriously excellent attributes, His love for mankind and the Truths associated therewith. These were the thoughts that filled my mind and those of my peers back then. 
  But today, for youth (Christian or not) inundated as they are in the secular worldview of popular culture, it’s like being launched out to sea, having had all your navigational equipment smashed (deconstructed?) and being told to enjoy the free ride…to nowhere.
     The bearing of each other’s “joy” and “grief” is a distinctly Christian value, exemplified supremely by our Lord Himself.  The Apostle Paul, elaborating, writes to the Galatians (6:1-5) to… 
     “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”  
     The primary ‘bearing’ being the conveying of the burden to the Triage Room of prayer, where the Great Physician Himself makes clear that He alone, ultimately, bears all our sorrows and griefs; as the great Prophet Isaiah foresaw and fore-wrote…
     “Surely he hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we did esteem Him stricken, smitten of God and afflicted.” (Isa. 53:4)
     His suffering, His substitutionary death: the ultimate antidote for both our pain and its source – our individual and universal sinfulness.
     But like petulant children we foolishly turn our faces away from the cup bearing the healing elixir – demanding the spoonful of sugar, not ‘to make the medicine go down”, but ‘instead of’ the medicine itself, because it makes our taste buds happy.  Like a good parent to ailing children reluctant to take the pill, the Apostle Peter admonishes (in the wonderful spirit captured by the Message Bible) in I Pet. 5:6-11…
     “So be content with who you are, and don’t put on airs. God’s strong hand is on you; He’ll promote you at the right time.  Live carefree before God [casting all your cares upon Him!]; He is most careful with you.” Keep a cool head. Stay alert. The devil is poised to pounce, and would like nothing better than to catch you  napping [in front of a screen, perhaps?].  Keep your guard up.  You’re not the only ones plunged into these hard times.  It’s the same with Christians all over the world.  So keep a firm grip on the faith.  The suffering won’t last forever.  It won’t be long before this generous God who has great plans for us in Christ – eternal and glorious plans they are! – will have you put together and on your feet for good.  He gets the last word; yes He does!”
 Amen!
     My own devotional musings complete, I sat back, relieved at three certitudes: 1) Despite seasons of loneliness, God provides good friends, grace-gifts we can call on at any time; 2) Biblically-based houses of fellowship still exist (I’m a part of one; not perfect, but being polished); and, should even those fade, 3) The faithfulness God who assures that,
     “…neither death , nor life, nor Angels, nor principalities, nor powers,  nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from ( His Love)  which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:38-39)
     Reminded thusly, that pain was still securely on my Father’s leash, I rose to face my day with its challenges, including the worthy challenge of communicating, to the most informed generation ever, these unchanging  truths supplied by the One who Himself became the compass, the Way, for every pain blinded soul or island adrift. May we all sign up for this urgent task.
     

His Feathers

Our morning conversation did not entertain too much small-talk today — grace-filled, honest, tearful, challenging and encouraging all at the same time. My friend, my sister, my mentor, with kind but deft, insistent fingers, handled my heart and teased out questions and answers with skills learned through diligence and study, and gifting , yes, but also through wisdom gleaned on her own pain-filled but God-directed life-journey.

As we closed in prayer, I identified with her mother-heart’s cry for her youngest, who that very moment was in a mental health evaluation facility. All who know her scream a collective “Why!?”. Yet we have learned the grace of the open hand through this faithful, warrior-Mom’s example and, with her, stand on our watch to see what He will do. 
Standing with her this morning in prayer, I saw the Lord’s assurance of His Sovereign grace over this situation in the form of His Hand as a massive, wide-spanning wing over that health facility, over that precious righteous seed. Each feather soon became identified as an aspect of the select care He was overseeing for her (nothing random here)— the medical professionals, the medications she would imbibe, the therapists, the treatments— all established, pinioned and aligned to suit a purpose momentarily veiled to our earth-bound eyes.
What assurance! What a place to fix our eyes when we long to rail against the darkness, the clouded, the shadowed, the Hard. Remember, then, my fevered soul, you are no ordinary chick, you are His. There settle down and ride it out; you are under His Wings.
With apologies to William Cowper:
         “Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take,”
            Lift now your burdened head
            See over all and underneath
             Eternal Wings outspread-
           Resplendent pinions flashing fierce
           With span too grand for earthly sight
           Are still the tender, broody kind
           That succor and give might.
To you my friend; you make me want to be brave too.
                                                                               DSA