Keeping People “Off The Island”

There have been a number of people I’ve talked to lately that have opened up about the presence of “loneliness” in their lives, even though they are (by all outward appearances) typically happy people, with plenty of friends and lots of social activity. In our culture, such an admission seems almost counterintuitive, yet as many are discovering, it’s a growing trend.


Despite appearances, people are largely finding that our busy, stress-laden lives are becoming more and more compartmentalized. It’s almost a necessity for it to be so, just to keep your head straight with all the things vying for our attention. We’ve got the work compartment, the home compartment (with sub-compartments for various family members), the neighborhood compartment, the friends compartment (with its various sub-compartments), hobbies, kids’ activities, social obligations….

It stands to reason with having all these different compartments, being able to “close the file” on one to effectively move our focus onto another is a smart use of our energies. However, there’s a social component to this that we’re starting to see the downside of.

When people have their lives compartmentalized – the way you have files on your computer compartmentalized – that separation between each compartment trains them to not think about things from one compartment while thinking about another. While it might be smart thinking regarding “things” (i.e. work, household chores, vehicle maintenance, etc.), unfortunately people are not exempted from being compartmentalized as well.

What does this end up breeding in our lives? Well, first and foremost it breeds the habit of not thinking about people unless we’re thinking about the compartment that they’ve been assigned to. For example, my wife and I coach our daughters’ soccer teams. Since I don’t spend my entire week thinking about the soccer teams, I naturally don’t think about the team members and their families unless I’m focusing on something that has to do with that “compartment”.

“What’s the harm in that?”, you might be thinking.

Superficially, there might not be much harm in it, because they are very likely not expecting me to be spending my entire week thinking about them. Digging a little deeper though, there might be one kid on one team who doesn’t really have a lot of positive going on at home, and that kid just might be viewing “team time” completely differently – enjoying the ability to have clear-cut goals and things to work on and excel in, and being able to receive positive encouragement from coaches looking for opportunities to encourage them.

“Wait a minute, weren’t we talking about loneliness?” This is precisely where loneliness comes in.

As adults, we’re no strangers to the concept of having responsibilities. There are many places to be and things to do each day, each of which likely having its own “compartment”, which causes us to isolate ourselves from the things within each compartment when we’re not actively engaging them. Again, it might seem counterintuitive to think this would breed loneliness, but look a little deeper.

When do we feel lonely? Don’t get suckered into thinking that it’s something that only happens when no one else is around, though it can happen then. It often can happen when there are people all around us.

I would suggest that loneliness happens more from being (or feeling) disconnected from those around you than from being physically absent from others.

* * * * * * *

When we lead ever-increasingly compartmentalized lives, it becomes easier and easier to be disconnected from people:

“I’d love to spend more time with you honey, but I’ve gotta get to work.”
“I’d love to hang out with you after work, but I’ve got stuff I’ve gotta get done at home.”
“We don’t have time for that right now, we’ve gotta get to soccer practice.”
“Sorry I don’t have time to sit and talk with you after practice, we have to hurry and get some dinner so the kids can get their homework done and get to bed on time.”
“We don’t have time to try to find your doll’s missing shoe, get dressed, we have to get to church.”
“I’d love to sit and chat with you about some things that moved us from the sermon today, but I’ve gotta get to room ____ to serve.”
“Yeah bro, I’d love to sit and catch up with you but we’ve got ____ to do at home.”

* * * * * * *

You might be thinking “That sounds more like disconnection due to an overly busy schedule”, but that would be superficial and short-sighted. No, I’m not trying to be insulting, I’m trying to be real with you.

When things are important to us, we make time for them; when we view things as no more pressing or important than average, we have no problem allowing them to sink back into “the routine” and not put the extra effort into them they might be asking for. It’s just another thing looking to take energy from us, and it’s not worth it enough to us to give that.

This is where this problem is rooted.

Because we’ve allowed ourselves to become so compartmentalized, we don’t have nearly so many relationships that “transcend the compartments”. If my wife needs something right now, I’m going to drop what I’m doing and do what I can to meet that need; likewise with my kids, if they truly need something right now (not, “Daddy, I neeeeeeeeeeeeeed to find my dolly’s shoe or I’ll just die!”), I’m going to stop what I’m doing and meet the need. But those are relationships that are expected to “transcend the compartments”, and indeed we know in some unspoken place that we’ll even be looked down upon socially if we fail to do so. But what about the relationships that are not so expected to “transcend the compartments”?

*What about that neighbor down the street you don’t really know very well, but you see they might be needing a little bit of help – do you break routine and offer?
*What about the guy at work you notice is “going along with the crowd” in some crude way but you can tell he’s uncomfortable with it – do you seek him out one on one at some point to ask him about it?
*What about that friend at church that you haven’t seen in a while or that you can tell is really going through something – do you say to yourself “I’ll pray for them” but never step forward to be there for them?
*What about those people who you get along with when you’re “in their compartment” (leisure activities, sports contests, kids’ activities, etc.) – do you reach out to possibly bring them into another compartment (telling them about a job opportunity in their field where you work, inviting them to church with you, invite them and their kids over to enjoy an afternoon, etc.)?

Going back to “loneliness = disconnection” for a second, we have to recognize that we’re not always going to recognize loneliness in other people. Some people are really good at hiding it and “putting on the smile”, some people are good at using defensive reflexes (like humor or deflections), and sometimes we’re just flat-out not paying attention. We have to be somewhat vigilant – IF indeed we care about the people whom God has put us in contact with – to invest ourselves in people, and part of that is being on the lookout for any that are “on the island”. (I don’t mean militantly investigating people’s lives either, but rather just paying attention and being able to read between the lines of what might be going on in their hearts and letting them know we’re available to talk.)

I can tell you from personal experience, people “on the island” will certainly send up “smoke signals” hoping that someone will break through the compartments and take the time to engage them, seeing what’s going on and in some small way, help them re-connect and break through. They also will not continue sending up smoke signals forever, because of our culture’s recent emphasis towards people reaching out for help as being “needy” or “whiny”, and nothing adds insult to injury more than, well, adding literal insult to emotional injury.

It’s easy to say “Hey bud, if you’re feeling lonely, why don’t you just get re-connected to people?” Usually though, it’s not just a case of a natural introvert just slinking back from people and disappearing – there’s typically something external that happens to push someone away, with the person hoping that someone from the “compartment” will reach out saying “I’m not giving up on you.”

This isn’t intended as an indictment but as an exhortation – we all can do better with this, on both sides of the spectrum. I would encourage you today to get engaged with those around you, to remind people you’re there for them. If you name the name of Jesus, be reminded that He said “Love one another, even as I have loved you” (John 15:12 & 13:34).

We’re responsible for each other as Family. Do we forget that we have a common enemy, one who seeks to separate us from each other, to isolate us so he can “steal, kill and destroy”? Therefore, as much as the hustle and bustle would try to force us into compartmentalizing people just as much as things and events, we must – MUST – simply refuse to let people evaporate from our lives. It makes a world of difference.

Categories: Family, General Interest, Thoughts and Daily Insights | Leave a comment

Staying In “The Place”…

There’s been a bit of change in the air recently here in “the Compound”. My wife’s been contemplating a transfer at work in order to get closer to home (and farther from her long commute), we’ve been looking for a home to purchase for some time now, and from time to time it seems as though one particular area of service plucks at a heart string and the tune it plays is “More should be done here.”

My wife has sort of set aside the transfer thought for now — not changing course, but just letting it sit on the back burner, the ball in someone else’s court — and we just got home a few hours ago from looking at a few more potential homes. I admit, these current options have me a bit antsy inside…one particular home fits just about everything on our list except for the area it’s in. We prayed about it at lunch this afternoon, and I’ve been mulling it over ever since. For some reason, I picked up a book that’s always on my desk and opened it, and this kind of jumped out a bit at me:

“Make every occasion a great occasion, for you can never tell when someone may be taking your measure for a larger place.”

What on earth (if anything) does that have with what’s going on? I continue reading:

“Marsden’s quotation would make a good text for a sermon. If I used it that way, I’d probably say that it contains at least four implications: (1) our work is supposed to make us grow; (2) we’re always being measured; (3) each job prepares us for the next one; and (4) the Lord may move us when He sees we’re ready. If I wanted a Biblical text to back it up, I’d quote our Lord’s statement in Matthew 25:21…

“If our service for the Lord doesn’t make us grow, two things may be true: either we’re in the wrong place, or we have the wrong attitude towards the right place. Both are tragic. But being miserable in your place of Christian service doesn’t necessarily indicate that you’re in the wrong place, so don’t be too quick to back out.”

Sounds like something I’ve been sharing with a few others lately. Reading on:

“God may have put you there for your good as well as for the good of the work. Maybe He has some unfinished business to accomplish in your life.

“I’m a person who likes to be comfortable in what I’m doing. I don’t like too many changes or surprises. My comfort zone isn’t big, but it’s well-protected. However, the Lord sees to it that my defenses are regularly knocked down. He doesn’t want me to get too accustomed to the challenge or too comfortable with the work. If that happens, He knows I’ll stop growing; and then my work will start to have the quality of a flea market leftover…”

Ouch, flea market leftover. That sounds positive. He continues:

“The difficulty of the task God gives us is one of His loving gifts for our maturity. American industrialist Henry Kaiser, whose factories turned out a ship every six days during World War II, used to say that “problems are only opportunities in work clothes.” When the Lord sees me mentally wearing pajamas and a bathrobe, He starts shaking things so I’ll change clothes and get to work. [How faithful He is to do that!] I need the work more than the work needs me. Christian service is supposed to make us grow, and it will if we’re in the right place with the right attitude.

“We’re always being measured: God is measuring us, and people are measuring us. When it comes to Christian service and servants, other people can make mistakes, and we can make mistakes. Most Christian workers are prone to think either more highly of themselves than they should (Romans 12:3) or less highly. If we think too highly of ourselves, we’ll get proud and start pushing our way into what we think is a more important place. If we think less highly, we’ll get discourages and want to quit. Both attitudes are wrong.”

God, where is this going?

“The Lord is the only One who can accurately measure both us and our work, but He doesn’t always tell us what He thinks… When God wants to encourage you and let you know you’re measuring up, He sometimes prompts people just to say thanks. They might phone you, write you a letter, or perhaps thank you personally…. Another evidence that you’ve been measured and approved by the Lord is the opening of new doors of opportunity. If you’ve been faithful with a few things, God will give you more things. Of course, that means more work; but God has measured you and is sure you can do it. Over the years, it’s been exciting to watch faithful servants grow and expand in their ministry to the glory of God. It’s one of the few rewards of old age.

“The important thing is that we do our work and not waste too much time measuring ourselves. ‘[People] who do their best always do more, though they be haunted by the sense of failure,’ said Scottish minister George Morrison. ‘Be good and true; be patient; be undaunted. Leave your usefulness to God to estimate. He will see to it that you do not live in vain.’…

‘Haunted by a sense of failure’…that sounds about right. Oye…

“However, I must issue a warning at this point: God’s servants must never use their assignment as temporary stepping-stones for something greater. There’s no place in the Lord’s work for ‘pyramid climbers’ who are so anxious to get to the top that they forget that ‘exaltation comes neither from the east nor from the west nor from the south, but God is the Judge: He puts down one and exalts another’ (Psalm 75:6-7). If you ever find yourself promoting yourself for a promotion, read the book of Esther and get acquainted with Haman. God wants us to be ambitious, but be sure it’s godly ambition.

When it comes to moving His servants, God’s plan is never wrong, and His timing is never off. Sometimes He moves us to a bigger place, but He may move us to a smaller place that we’re supposed to make bigger. He may put us in a situation for which we feel totally unprepared and in which we aren’t at all comfortable. So much the better; He’s giving us room to grow.”

Wow. What chatterbox said all that crazy talk? None other than Warren Wiersbe in his book “On Being A Servant Of God”. (If you’ve never read it, buy it, get it from the library, borrow it from a friend, whatever it takes…it’s life-changing.)

So what am I to take from all that?

As I sit here at my desk and ponder what the Lord would have me to do regarding our house hunt, not thinking even one bit about “being estimated or measured” at church, reading the chapter that came from was, at first, a bit confusing. “Great, thanks God, now I’ve got one more thing to be confused about.” But I think in a way, it was a reminder — there’s important stuff to be done that my wife and I are here to do, stuff of eternal importance. Which neighborhood I live in, whether our house has “proper office space” or not, whether there’s enough square footage of grass space for the dog, and what the last digit of our zip code might be probably don’t fit into the category of eternal importance, yet they’ve (lately) been consuming a disproportionate amount of time.

As a husband of one fantastic wife and a father to three beautiful daughters, I want to give them the best that can possibly be given. The problem with that is, of course, that I’m assuming I can best discern what “the best” exactly entails.

Since God is the only One who knows the end from the beginning, the only One who could possibly calculate every conceivable variable to determine what exactly “the best” is, I have to come to the place of recognizing that I’ve been trying to approach this home search “by sight” rather than “by faith”. What’s worse, I’ve been talking about how it’s “all in His timing” and “wherever He wants us to be”, yet I’ve been the one who (with my wife) has been determining all the parameters for our future home.

Shame on me.

It would be easy to determine that the service I give at church would be what Wiersbe’s words were speaking towards, and on one level they certainly might be; the Lord certainly knows that I’d love to serve there in an occupational capacity. But on a much more basic level, my “everyday ministry” is the one here at home, to my wife, to my kids, being the kind of husband and father they need for them to walk wisely and be supported in all they do. And though I might want them to have “the best house” in “the best neighborhood” with “the best schools” and “the best neighbors”, all those “bests” might be quite a bit different in reality than what they might look like at face value.

So as of now, it’s not in my hands. Actually, it never was anyways, we just like to think that it is. So I will continue to pray and ask for His leading, and proceed as He directs.

But by faith this time, and not by sight.

Categories: Family, General Interest, Thoughts and Daily Insights | Leave a comment

The Day.

Almost two years ago, Leah and I were called by our social worker and asked if we’d consider having a 2-year-old little girl come home with us — and if we’d also consider bringing her 5- and 6-year-old sisters home with us as well. (To read the original post from September 2010, check out “Beyond All We Can Ask or Think”.)

We’d been expecting the arrival of one; we didn’t have any idea that we’d even be asked regarding three. After lots of prayer and an odd sense of peace, we gave the ok to being considered. About a week or so later, we were sitting in an office with two workers we’d never met discussing some pretty horrific background information regarding two of the three girls.

About a week or so after that, we were standing outside the house of more people we’d never met, the family who had been taking care of the girls for the previous year and a half. We were introduced, played some games, asked some questions, then planned to meet the next day at the office for some play time. A trip to Chuck E. Cheese, a trip to Wal-Mart, a dinner date at our house and a sleep-over later, they returned to their foster home for one last weekend to say goodbye and prepare for their new adventure.

Come Tuesday, they’d be going home to their new forever family.

It’s been almost two years since that October day when we went and got them. It’s been more than a year since all the visitations with birth parents have ceased. There have been sleepless nights, frustrating days, smiles and laughter and sadness and tears. We’ve gone fishing, camping, theme-parking, dancing and swimming, soccer-ing and softballing. We just celebrated the sixth girl’s birthday a few days ago.

We’ve been their legal guardians with parental rights for a year; educational rights had to wait until the appeals period expired, so we received those a few months back. A few weeks ago, we went down to the county office and signed a stack of papers of a thickness typically reserved for house purchases.

The only day left in this transitional process taking us from strangers to forever family is the day we go down to Family Court in San Bernardino, meet with the judge, sign the last of the papers, and be officially a legally recognized forever family.

Today, June 14th, 2012, is that day.

In just a matter of hours, the five of us will be heading over to the court, grandparents in tow, and finally — finally! — the process will be completed.

And the Arnold girls will be permanently home.

Categories: Family | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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