In 2017, two surveys highlighted the growing number of lonely people in the UK. One report claimed that some eight million men felt lonely at least once a week, with an estimated three million experiencing it every day. Another survey of more than 2,000 people suggested that nearly 75 percent of young people with disabilities suffered from loneliness.
In a previous ministry position, I was responsible for directing pastoral care at a church. My job was to remind people of God’s presence through my presence and prayers as well as to oversee those offering care to others. When someone was sick or dying, a family was going through a crisis, or a newborn baby was brought home, I was there to offer care, as well as discover if and how our church family could help further.
I love how joy can bubble up, unbidden. It can surprise me when I walk next to a gurgling brook or when I catch a glimpse of the faces of family and friends. Even when I fret about the friend whose feelings I’ve hurt, I can seek God’s help and peace as I release to Him my anxiety and receive the gift of His joy.
During a visit to Melbourne, Australia, my hosts took me on a mini-tour of the city. Along the way, they pointed out some buildings that had been converted from churches to bars. I’ve learned that this is a common practice—not only in Australia, but around the world. Troubled, I wondered what the future held for places of worship. Imagine my elation when I read of a bar that’s reversing the trend and returning to its roots as a church!
Poet Christian Wiman, some time after being diagnosed with an incurable form of blood cancer, reflected on his ordeal, writing, “I have passed through pain I could never have imagined, pain that seemed to incinerate all my thoughts of God and to leave me sitting there in the ashes, alone.” But he found hope in the powerful presence of Jesus. “I am a Christian because of that moment on the cross when Jesus, drinking the very dregs of human bitterness, cries out, ‘My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?’ ” (Matthew 27:46). In times of great suffering, Wiman realized, only the One who carried all human suffering can sustain us.
As I waded through a sea of vendors and their handmade crafts at an outdoor market in East Africa, I came across a woman so poor her inventory consisted of only a few cheaply made bracelets. To help her make ends meet, for that day at least, I purchased a few of her items. One of the bracelets I selected had the name “Jesus” woven into it. After paying her, I put it on my wrist and—referring to the name Jesus—said to her, “Sometimes I need a reminder.”
Marilynne Robinson, the Pulitzer-winning author of Gilead and Home, has, in addition to her marvelous fiction, also spent much time pondering the current plight of modern America. Robinson has especially contemplated Christian faith in these times, and how modern pressures erode and distort our faith in insidious ways. Though there are numerous causes for our predicament, Robinson suggests that these questions always return her to a two-part conviction: “First, contemporary America is full of fear. And second, fear is not a Christian habit of mind.”
In 2005, two researchers coined “moral therapeutic deism” (MTD) as a description for the prevailing religious views of younger Americans. MTD is a constellation of beliefs that can be summed up this way: God exists and provides a moral way of ordering your life so that you can fulfill the ultimate goal of your life—to be happy and feel good about yourself. Although God is mostly removed and uninvolved in your life, He will welcome you to heaven when you die if you’ve been good.
Not placing an order at a pizzeria may have saved Kirk Alexander’s life. When Alexander, who’d been purchasing pizza almost daily since 2009, hadn’t placed an order in more than a week, the restaurant’s manager asked a delivery driver to go to the customer’s house and check on him. Sure enough, Alexander didn’t answer the door—even though his lights and TV were on. Thanks to the driver’s 911 call, Alexander—who required “immediate medical attention”—received treatment and survived.
At the outset of World War II, a man—who would eventually rescue 669 children from Nazi slaughter—helped two Jewish boys secure passage on a train escaping Czechoslovakia. After the war, the boys received a final letter from their parents who had died in a concentration camp.
When my wife and I chose her engagement ring, I suggested she pick out whatever setting she wanted. But I asked her if I could select the center stone, so that I could personally choose a special representation of my love for her. I wanted to demonstrate my commitment to her with a beautiful symbol of our life together that she would cherish—just as we both celebrate the relationship God has given us.
A few years ago, writer Maureen Dowd was in Australia to promote her book Are Men Necessary? At one event, Dowd and a female interviewer were on stage when a member of the audience asked if a podium blocking her view could be moved. In an instant, two men heaved aside the heavy podium as the audience began to laugh. “Are men necessary?” the interviewer quipped, “I think the question has been answered.”
Most people and animals escaped the flames of a fire that destroyed the Canadian town of Fort McMurray. A black cat named Tux, however, was left behind. Firefighters eventually found the feline, unharmed, inside an overturned stove. The firefighters suggested that an explosion must have blown an opening in the appliance, allowing Tux to jump inside. This safe place allowed him to survive the blaze.
“It was a bit painful. I didn’t want to go back into my life and imagine things that I hadn’t understood so far.” Those words from Ian McKellen, the actor who is perhaps best known for his portrayal of Gandalf in the movie trilogies The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, help explain why he cancelled a book contract for his autobiography. It was too painful.