A series of 13 reflections for Mental Health Week
Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted. Relieve the troubles of my heart, and bring me out of my distress. Consider my affliction and my trouble, and forgive all my sins.
Loneliness is an experience that we can all relate to, but almost 1 in 5 people in the UK often or always feel lonely. The figures are higher for the elderly and for young people. If you are lonely, it would seem, you are not alone but that is unlikely to provide much comfort. We are social creatures. We need to feel connected to others.
It is possible to feel lonely in a crowd, or in a marriage. It is equally possible to be alone and not to feel lonely. Feeling lonely and being alone are different things. Loneliness is more about the company that we would like to have and do not have, the discrepancy between the way things are and the way we would like them to be.
Enduring loneliness can be both a cause and a consequence of mental ill health. The Psalmist is lonely and afflicted, distressed, and troubled. In Psalm 25, loneliness is associated with troubles of the heart or, as we might say, depression and anxiety. Pain and trauma can create, and perpetuate, our feelings of loneliness. We can feel abandoned even when others are trying to show that they care. We may feel that others do not understand what we are going through.
The Psalmist turns to God for help, and asks that God will turn to him. Prayer is not a magic solution for loneliness. Nonetheless, like the Psalmist, we can be honest before God; there is no need to pretend. We turn to God for God’s sake, not simply to ask him to fix things. God is always there, even if it does feel as though he has turned away. When feeling lonely, turning to God, and asking God to turn to you, is not a bad place to start.
A “Have a Go” habit: Prayers
- Photos of family and friends, and other reminders around the home, can trigger feelings of loneliness, but they can also be good prompts for prayer. They can remind us to write, or send a message, or make a telephone call. Imagine that God also gets a copy of the letter/message, so that it becomes a part of your prayer.
- Pray for neighbours and for God’s creation (and that we might all look after it better). If you can’t get out, make use of magazines, TV, internet and other media to provide points of contact with the outside world. Use these things as reminders to pray for others.
- Try writing a letter to God – what do you want to say? What would you point to in your life? What would you ask, and what kind of answer would you like back?
A series of 13 reflections for Mental Health Week
The hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each one to his home, and you will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone because the Father is with me. I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace.
Self-isolation is much talked about as a way of protecting ourselves, and one another, from coronavirus. Even for those of us who like solitude, this can be too much of a good thing. For others, the thought of being cut off from others for a long time is little short of soul-destroying. Isolation can be a cause of anxiety, fear and depression.
As the coronavirus crisis has developed through Lent, it is timely to recall the isolation that Jesus experienced when arrested, and to remember the enforced isolation of many around the world who are in prison for what they believe in.
There is a stark contrast between Jesus’ confident assertion in John’s gospel that, even when deserted by all his disciples, he will not be alone, because the Father is with him, and his desperate cry from the cross in Mark’s gospel: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15.34) Perhaps the different Gospel writers emphasised what spoke most powerfully to them – confidence or vulnerability? Or perhaps it reflects the difference between theory (the things we know are true) and painful experience, with all the confusion and emotions that it evokes? Or, perhaps it is more about appearances? Jesus – appearing and feeling forsaken, is not alone. The disciples – scattered to their homes, have isolated themselves from God.
It is easy to say, “You are not alone; God is with you.” It is not easy to live with isolation from the warmth of human company. However, isolation is not really, or only, about how many other people are in the room or house with us. It has more to do with who is in our hearts and minds, and how we may reach beyond the confines of rooms and homes to connect with those we love.
A “Have a Go” habit: Praying in isolation
- There are different ways in which people experience isolation: socially, physically, emotionally, spiritually. Who do you know who is isolated in these ways? Remember them (in thought or prayer) each day, as an affirmation that they – and you – are not alone.
- Use the internet to find out about the plight of Christians, and other religious minorities, around the world who are isolated because of their faith. Whether in prayer, giving, or writing letters and e-mails, be “with” them.
- We are fortunate in the 21st century. With phones, tablets, and the internet, we can break barriers that would previously have been insurmountable. Can you reach out and have a conversation with someone who may struggle on their own today?
A reflection for World Environment Day
Andrew and Maria Leake have been mission partners in the Chaco region of northern Argentina for more than two decades, monitoring deforestation and standing with indigenous people on land rights issues. Here, Andrew reflects on being in it for the long haul.
Jesus said that “No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62). There is a logic in that statement, particularly for those who engage in Bible translation and for those whose missional calling is to environmental advocacy and action. These interventions are often only successful over the long-haul. Ironically, one of the ways we can be aware of this is by taking a quick peek backward to see where we have come from.
If I just look at what I am doing today, especially now that Covid-19 restricts travel, it would be easy to despair. I get the sense I am doing nothing. Yet, looking back over 30 years of service, first with Tearfund, then SAMS, CMS, and more recently Compassion International too, it is abundantly clear that the fruits of our service, combined with that of many other people and organisations, have rarely been immediate. Significant fruits tend to come over the long haul.
Planting a seed that saved a forest
With Tearfund, we spent four years in Honduras. Our mission was to establish and develop a programme that would enable indigenous communities to secure legal rights to their ancestral lands and forests. We did what we could, but no land titles had been acquired by the time we left. Unbeknown to us, and some 23 years later, those claims we helped start resulted in the Honduran state ceding communal land titles to more than 10,000 square kilometres of jungle-covered territory in the region of La Moskitia. Some of our work even contributed to the creation of the Patuca National Park (3,700 km2), something we did not consider even in our wildest dreams at the time!
Land rights landmark
A similar pattern has just occurred in Argentina. A struggle of more than 50 years for indigenous land rights is only now yielding results. This process, which began with initial land surveys conducted by SAMS mission partners Bishop Pat Harris and Kevin Bewley and was often led by Anglican missionaries, has just recently yielded a high profile ruling by the Inter American Court of Human Rights. This puts significant pressure on the Argentine state to provide not only land titles but also to ensure the ecological restitution of forests degraded by cattle and illegal lumber extraction.
Finding identity in Scripture
Bible translation is another of those tasks that require a commitment to the long term. My grandfather started to translate portions of the Bible into Toba back in the late 1930s. Here again, these efforts, with support from SAMS and CMS, have yielded significant fruits only after decades of effort. The New Testament has been translated into Toba and Chorote, and the whole Bible into Wichi. Interestingly, the work around these tasks, which in the case of the Toba translation of the Old Testament is still ongoing, has also served to strengthen the recognition of indigenous languages and cultural identity within national society.
Encouragement for challenges ahead
So, a little peek over one’s shoulder now and then may not be bad if it serves to encourage us going forwards. When rowing I have often looked at the boat’s wake as a means of keeping a straight line and gauging the distance I have traveled. My sense, therefore, is that Jesus does indeed want us to commit to the long haul. He certainly does not want us to look back in terms of “going back”, but a little peek over the shoulder now and then can provide the reassurance we may need to keep going forward.
Church Mission Society
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They say a picture paints a thousand words, but our teenagers have many different pictures of the same thing. Which do you think works best?
We wanted to mark St James Day, on July 25th, and to have some way of marking when our summer fete would have been. So here is an alternative – an online flower festival. It won’t be the same, but thats’ the point – it will help remind us of what we’re missing. But it will help us appreciate the beauty all around us, and celebrate each others gifts and offerings.
It is open to all, and there is no fee, and this is not a competition!!