I guess it was because I really hadn’t given it any thought, but the veil of darkness that surrounded the last half of my commute home from work yesterday surprised me. I might even say that it came as an unwelcomed surprise. I sometimes joke with old friends (that could have a least two different meanings) about the need for us to do “such and such” while we’re still young enough to drive at night. After yesterday’s commute home from work, the thought occurred to me that I might be rapidly approaching the “not young enough” category. The darkness was a little unsettling.
It was as though someone flipped off the light switch. Darkness immediately limited my peripheral view of anything other than the roadway in front of me. The thing most notable was the bright red tail lights of cars in front of me. As far as I could see, it was almost a uniform patter of red lights leading a path before me. Somehow their color seemed more vibrant than I remember. Of course, an occasional high-beam headlight coming my direction distracted me from my focus of cars heading the direction I was traveling.
For the first half of my commute, I thought about work related issues. I never managed to get around to yesterday’s to do list. My time was pre-empted by the unexpected. Truthfully, that is one of the things I like about my job. The issues that surfaced garnered my attention like the black of night on which I was now allowing myself to focus. What could I learn from it?
I wish I could tell you that on almost a daily basis I ask, “What can I learn from …”, but I don’t. Yesterday was different. I genuinely wanted to explore lessons in the making. I thought momentarily about today’s election, but immediately pressed the “do-not-go-there” button. Even the thought of writing a “call to unity” appeal didn’t resonate with what I was thinking (perhaps feeling is a more honest word). Maybe that means that I’ve allowed some level of darkness to color over and cross out the possibility of “together we stand, united we fall.” Will it ever be? I don’t know.
Darkness – Darkness can stand for the absence of hope. It can sequester dreams and smother any glimpse of delight in the experience of living. I have an old friend (I know – two different meanings) who purposefully tries to stay at least half a step in front of depression. Sadly, he often finds that the pursuit is undoable. At times depression is too quick for him and he succumbs to a listlessness and disinterest in even contemplating the now much less anticipating the future.
Sunday night I quickly looked through some of Max Lucado’s books. A friend at church had asked me for a book recommendation that she could share with someone needing encouragement. When you stop to think about it, doesn’t everyone need encouragement? Almost at a glace, I noticed an illustration in one of the books I picked up that I remembered from years before and had been wondering where I could find it.
Lucado made reference to a friend who worked for a pharmacy in Austin while he was a student at the University of Texas. I guess you could say he was the delivery guy. Of course, back in the day his friend worked there, Austin traffic wasn’t what it is now. His primary responsibility was to deliver prescriptions and medical supplies to nursing homes.
He also had a regularly assigned task of hand delivering a large jug of water to a customer who lived behind the pharmacy. It was only a stone’s throw away, but every four days, he carried water to her apartment. His description merits sharing:
“The customer was an older woman, perhaps in her seventies, who lived alone in a dark, sparse, and tarnished apartment. A single light bulb hung from the ceiling. The wallpaper was stained and peeling. The shades were drawn, and the room was shadowy”. Lucado’s friend simply delivered the water, received the payment, thanked the woman and left.
The delivery guy was surprised to learn months later that the woman had no other source of water. It wasn’t that city water was unavailable. It was, but she opted to rely on the hand delivery method. It was her total source of water to cover four days of washing, bathing, and drinking. Interestingly at the time, she could have gotten city water for about $12 a month. Instead, she was paying the pharmacy $50 a month. Why?
Although city water was significantly less expensive, it was delivered by the turn of a water faucet. The pharmacy’s water was hand delivered. Its arrival was predicated by a knock on the door. It was personally delivered. Could anyone be that lonely?
Loneliness is the silent epidemic sweeping across our country. It’s methodology and caustic nature is slower than an outbreak of Ebola, but the outcome is often the same. Loneliness is no respecter of persons and it impacts people of all ages. It brings with it a sense of darkness. We were created for connection; connection with God and connection with others. When we live with a sense of disconnect, darkness invades our view of the world and limits our vision.
Almost everywhere you look, it is easy to find people who relationally, emotionally and spiritually could use a helping hand. Ours is not a culture where folks intuitively know where to turn. Often the church doesn’t seem like an option because religious people aren’t always known by their kindness. Sometimes instead of being welcoming, we add to a person’s stress rather than offer a helping hand. It isn’t supposed to be like that.
Life doesn’t have to be as difficult as people seem to make it, but almost everywhere you look, folks are having a difficult time. Like I said, “Part of the problem is that we live in a culture that has negated the value and importance of connection”. We try to make it on our own and the process simply doesn’t work. It is like forgetting to add oil to the motor in your car. Simply stated: It doesn’t work.
The motor in your car will not run without oil. Life lived in isolation from God with a focus on me-centric thinking to the exclusion of others will not work. Do you remember Simon and Garfunkel’s musical hit from 1969? It was entitled: “Bridge Over Troubled Water.”
“When you’re weary, feeling small
When tears are in your eyes,
I will dry them all
I’m on your side
When times get rough
And friends just can’t be found
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down”
Isn’t one of the callings of both the family of faith and our individual walk before God to be a bridge over troubled water? How do we make that happen?
One day this past week, I was listening to a podcast. It was a sermon by a pastor I was unfamiliar with, but I loved the illustration he shared. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find it again to capture it word by word. Some of you will not get it at all because you don’t have the same frame of reference. But for anyone who grew up in the 60s, it will resonate with you.
The young man was late for church, but he felt the need to go. It had been a very long time since he had last been inside any church. In fact, he now lived a thousand miles from where he grew up. He was in a very different place and he knew no one in the church.
As he entered the church, he was oblivious to the fact that he looked different and was not dressed like everyone else in the congregation. His hair was shoulder length and his beard? Well it was unkempt and scraggly. Of course, it really didn’t matter, in the 1960s if you had a beard, for the most part you were regarded as bad news.
Entering the church, it looked like the pews were filled. As he made his way down the center aisle toward the front of the church, no one in any of the pews made an effort to make room for him. Finally, standing in the center aisle at the font of the church, he simply opted to sit on the floor with his legs crossed. There was almost an audible gasp from the congregation. Obviously, it was an unacceptable move. Church people can at times be so insensitive and uncaring.
About that same time, one of the men from the back of the church started making his way to the front. He was a deacon, a man in his mid-70s and he’d know how to handle this untenable situation. At least that’s what everyone thought as they breathed a sigh of relief.
Then unbelievably the older deacon slipped off his shoes so he’d look like the young man who was wearing none and sat down beside him on the floor in the center aisle. He also crossed his legs just like the young man’s legs were crossed as they worshipped together.
Wow! That’s the kind of man I want to be! I’m not there yet. I guess I’m still a work in progress, but giving people the freedom to be who they are and coming along side them at the point of need eradicates the darkness, offers a sense of connection and fosters hope. I want to be like that guy. I don’t like living in the dark.
All My Best!