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I have a lifelong friend who is struggling with the middle aged blues. She was widowed at 49 after 20 years of marriage. She wants to be married. She just had a relationship implode. I wrote her, thinking I was encouraging. I said:

I don't understand why some of us spend a lifetime alone with no heart to share while others bounce heedlessly from heart to heart. I don't understand why some ache for a baby that never comes while others neglect the babies they easily conceived. I don't know why some prosper with no talent, no wit, no drive, while enlightened souls struggle for daily bread.

 What I do know is that I have been blessed beyond measure even though I haven't always recognized the blessings until almost too late. I know that I have received mercy and grace beyond measure. And I know that God's love and care is beyond reproach. And I know you know these things too. Take rest in Him dear girl.

Her response bothered me greatly. Will you explore it with me beyond the squiggly?

She said: “I don't understand either except that most of this life isn't at all what He had in mind for us.” This is a theme for her. The Enemy is stealing our joy. We are living in a world distorted by sin and so we struggle daily just to get by. If this was a recent attitude- situational depression, I could understand it. But this is her interpretation of the Christian message. God is perfect so if anything is imperfect it is a deliberate strategy of the Devil to rob our joy or shake our faith.

When my dad died (about 5 years after the death of my friend’s husband), she whispered to me that I would be overcome with darkness and that this was not what God had for us this wrenching of the soul from the body. I felt a peace with my Dad’s passing. He had struggled for 20 years with Alzheimer’s. He was safely in the arms of God. It seemed all part of the cycle of life.

Is this how you see the world? Am I too unaware of the clouds around me? Or is my friend robbing herself of joy? Is this why the Church seems so cruel and unyielding in the social issues of the day? Is this why the religious right is so concerned with punishment and control? Is it commonly held belief among Christians today that we are always an eye blink away from darkness?

I have always held to a triumphant faith. That we struggle against the barriers we come up against, we mourn, we rage, but God is in charge and we know the end of the book. This dark brooding faith is new to me and I just don't get it. When I interact with my friend and those in her Church I am a bit uncomfortable with their imprecations against those who don't believe as they do. Too many people, including me are shut out, even though we serve the same God.

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  •  Well, if "most of this life is not what He had in (24+ / 0-)

    mind for us" is in reference to the Fall of Adam and Eve, well, yes, this is NOT what He had in mind for us. If you like to think of things in terms of the stories in Genesis. (An aside: which creation story do Creationists like best? Creation Story A or Creation Story B? Ask your fundamentalist friends!)

    Of course, that's not what she means. She is stuck, alas, in the sort of twisted and simplistic theology that appeals to toddlers and George W. Bush. A) God actually directs our lives plus B) The Devil™ is responsible for everything bad that happens plus C) Free Will except when the Devil made me do it but if I get a touchdown on the football field, God did it (see: Tebow, Tim).

    I know a little about being "robbed of joy", if that's what you want to call my fiance and the one, true love of my life dying suddenly four months before our wedding date. But see, I don't see it that way. It's tragic, it's deeply sad (I know that I am deeply, deeply sad in a wailing kind of way) but it's also something that happened. Whereby I get to learn something about my relationships both to other people, to God, and to myself. But then, I'm an optimist. I also have a deep and abiding faith, without which I don't know where I would be this particular February night, sitting alone in my condo grieving the past and contemplating the future.

    I have a great deal of sympathy for your friend, and I'm sorry something tragic happened to her and things aren't working out. I feel sorry for your friend because her understanding of God does not seem to allow for possibility and it doesn't seem to allow for her taking a lead in deciding which direction her life is going to go in.

    I hope I don't sound harsh (I probably do, and I'm sorry). But you know, I don't have time anymore for bullsh*t.

    What is truth? -- Pontius Pilate

    by commonmass on Tue Feb 19, 2013 at 06:30:50 PM PST

    •  I worry too about being too harsh (4+ / 0-)

      and I do grieve for her. I never thought much about the idea of optimistic versus pessimistic faith, but I am beginning to believe there are two flavors

    •  You believe in a kinder, gentler God than she does (4+ / 0-)

      Hers sounds liek the sort who Knows Everything and deliberately creates people KNOWING they'll end up in Hell--but Free Will makes it THEIR choice not His, even though...you can see the problems here.  I agree with the Rabbi  who said if we must choose between a God of Love and one who is All-Knowing and All-Powerful, the only one worth worshiping is the God of Love.  And without Deity playing hdie and seek with that omniscience thing, you end up with a DIvine Sadist you really must fear....I think a lot of fudnamentalist Christians  run this way.

      Me? I beleive we are our judges though we get prodded by the Lord and the Lady and the Masters and Mistresses of Karma--and we choose our own situations in the next life so we can learn what we need to learn.   We have time to recover between lives in the SUmmerlands until we go Beyond.

      All Gods are One. ALl Paths are One.  

      And I am someone else who has lost a great love. We got to marry and have 7 years, but it was far too short a time. I've had 23 with my second great love, though it was fraught with stressors (mostly his military career and the loneliness and financials trains form my lack of employment) but it's been worth it.  Yet though I've been happy--I still cry over my first husband, and always will.  SOmetiems, though, I have felt like Tevye, saying, "I know we're your chosen people, bust just once, could you choose somebody else?"

      Hug Geoffrey the cat for me.

      ANd if you need to talk--kosmail me.

      The last time we mixed religion and politics people got burned at the stake.

      by irishwitch on Tue Feb 19, 2013 at 08:39:03 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  I don't know the answers to your questions (9+ / 0-)

    especially when it comes to religious beliefs, but maybe I can help a little.

    I always try to be an optimist, and sure, there have been many, many bad things that have happened in my life - too many deaths of loved ones for example - but I've always tried to overcome and carry on and strive for happiness and light.

    Many years ago, I read the "Power of Positive Thinking" by Norman Vincent Peale.
    I knew nothing about the book or the man and bought the book on a whim from a clearance rack at a book store.
    That book changed my life.

    Norman Vincent Peale was a minister, and I can't say if I would've bought that book had I known it.
    But he took the life of Jesus and compared our daily struggles to the struggles of Christ.
    It just made sense to me.
    The things Dr. Peale addressed were all common sayings that we've all heard our entire lives and he explained the truth to those sayings.

    Such as - misery loves company, so his advice was to avoid miserable people because they will only make you miserable.

    Or notice how people, usually not always, greet dogs and he explained that dogs are usually, not always, very happy and excited to meet people and that we should imitate that behavior by smiling and being friendly to people we meet or see everyday.

    He spoke about forgiving yourself, because if you can't forgive yourself then how could other people forgive?

    He talked about guilt and losing sleep and worrying about what other people might think about us, and he explained that people generally think mainly about themselves, so your worry is unfounded and unnecessary.

    He talked about God and Christ wanting us to be happy and that we all deserve to be happy in life.

    I can't explain it all but if you haven't read that book, maybe it could help you, too.

    Good luck.

  •  We should never be denied love in our lives (14+ / 0-)

    A good friend in a retirement community I worked with had his spouse pass in his early fifties.    He was married to his second wife, also a widower in their late fifties.

    I still see them often, and almost 15 years later now in their early eighties they are spry and happy.

    They talked recently about how much their first marriages mattered in their life, and how much they loved them - and still do.   But living a life where they were not willing to be open to love seemed like a betrayal to them of the relationship they had with their spouse.

    I've thought about this a lot as well.   We get very fixated on "there is one person for the rest of our life", and that is true for a great number of us; my wife will always be "the one" for my life.  

    But I cannot dismiss anyone I loved before I knew her.   They were important to me, and their love and affection changed the way I view my life as well.   In the same way that the love I have for my family, friends shapes my life.

    If I were to pass on suddenly (I sure hope not, but let's just say) if I did, I would hope my wife would find someone to make her happy.   What we shared shaped our lives for the better; but it would be utterly cruel for me to think that she doesn't deserve and can't find it if I were gone.

    It's a tricky battle for us.   I believe we open ourselves up for as much love as we are willing to handle.   I dislike greatly the entire concept of "you only get one chance", because I believe you have infinite chances as long as you are open to them.  And I think every love you have in your life defines you, and even if it doesn't last, it changes you in some way.

    This can be very difficult; I've seen people really, really suffer with the loss of a spouse.   But I've also seen members who eventually come to terms with the loss and embrace the fact that the person they are now, after their significant other is very different then the person at the beginning of the relationship.  And it is the fact that their spouse/SO loved them as they did that changed them into who they are now.  

    And that's what they will carry forward with them.

    Gandhi's Seven Sins: Wealth without work; Pleasure without conscience; Knowledge without character; Commerce without morality; Science without humanity; Worship without sacrifice; Politics without principle

    by Chris Reeves on Tue Feb 19, 2013 at 06:46:59 PM PST

  •  First of all, I wouldn't visit, much less join (9+ / 0-)

    a church that claimed to know God's will beyond the greatest and second greatest commandment. And I generally try to focus on the second as fulfilling the first.

    I think your friend is depressed. Time will help, but having someone to talk to and do things with may help more quickly.

    It's easier to believe a religion has the answers. If you just believe (or say you believe) this and light that candle and sing this particular hymn everything will be fine.

    However, I have never found that to be true.

    *There are two sides to every horseshit.* Kos

    by glorificus on Tue Feb 19, 2013 at 06:48:14 PM PST

  •  This is How Authoritarian Religion Operates, (14+ / 0-)

    it focuses on guilt and punishment and easy, certain knowledge of the mind of God, and routine collaboration with the supernatural whether it be God or Jesus or saints and holy artifacts.

    Most of this is justified by the few scattered parts of the "Old" Testament such as the law and the wilder prophets they obsess on.

    It's not really their fault. Because it's not their book.

    It's rare for people in these dysfunctional communities to wake up and join the rational world.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Tue Feb 19, 2013 at 06:54:11 PM PST

  •  Religious etiquette (10+ / 0-)

    Being an atheist, I can presume to be an impartial judge between you and your friend.  You each have radically different solutions, as it were, to the problem of evil.  For you, evil is something we don’t always understand, because we lack the infinite wisdom of God; for her, evil is the work of Satan, who fills the world with sin and suffering.

    The thing is, each of you has come to terms with evil in a different way, and each of you finds the other’s way disturbing.  For you, the world is essentially good, and you find her dark views depressing:  instead of being under God’s care, we are really a plaything of the Devil.  For her, your talk of the goodness of God is irritating, because it suggests that her suffering is really a blessing somehow. She wants to accept her suffering as genuinely evil, and you are suggesting that she just doesn’t understand it.

    My advice is more a matter of etiquette than of religious truth.  When someone is suffering, keep your views about religion to yourself.  The only one who should express any religious sentiments at a time of grief should be the one who is grieving.  And whatever her beliefs may be, do not contradict them.  Her beliefs are the ones that are a consolation to her.  If you presume to introduce your own beliefs, then to the extent that they differ from hers, they will undermine what little consolation they provide.

  •  When I die (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Ricochet67

    I want the last hymn of my "Witness to the Resurrection service" to be "Morning Has Broken" because, to me, that is what death means.  In our society, we are encouraged think of death as failure or punishment when most faiths seem to indicate that death is the beginning of another phase of life.  What a horrible place this earth would be if there were no death and no new birth ... we need to make room for each other.

    When I was a chaplain, I always wondered about people who said "God was with us" when someone recovered but seemed to think that God was not with them when the person died  ... it made no sense to me when at the same time they waxed poetic about heaven. Mostly, I think that most of us have made no peace with life, putting life "on hold" for the perfect moment, the perfect love, the perfect whatever.

    That said, we all grieve in our own way and in our own time. If it has been very recent, it is mostly unhelpful to expect her to "get with the program" since she will need time to grieve things in her own way. However, you seem to indicate that it has been several years since your friend lost her husband and in that case, she should probably be encouraged to learn find the color and positive in life.  Part of the problem is that we all get a little tired of years of someone having a "pity party" and they end up isolating themselves and getting even more depressed.

    I happen to think more like you do, and would also find your friend and her church a downer. I like to remember that the Creation stories state a couple of things right up front:  "It was the evening and the day ..., and
    God saw that it was good." Life starts before we can initiate and continues long after we are gone and life is meant to be good. If your friend and her church believe that the devil is robbing them of joy, why are they helping the effort with their depressing way of living?

    But I digress ... only you know how important this relationship is to you and only you can determine how much effort you want to put into it. Good luck with this.

    (Sorry about the typos, doing this with a grandbaby in my arms.  Talk about joy!)

    "Life without liberty is like a body without spirit. Liberty without thought is like a disturbed spirit." Kahlil Gibran, 'The Vision'

    by CorinaR on Wed Feb 20, 2013 at 08:00:38 AM PST

  •  Pain robs perspective before it robs joy. (0+ / 0-)

    Joy & pain naturally go together if self-awareness & perspective are developed & maintained.  As Khalil Gibran put it, "The deeper sorrow carves into your heart, the more joy it can contain."  The profound endorsement of hope here matters only if one is able to maintain a perspective in which the unimaginable obstacles & horrors of the past--&, in other nations, the present--persists despite the pain of present.  It's remembering the arc of history, the universe, & that it bends toward justice....

    ...

    ...

    ...over a loooooong, long time.

    To get into the religious aspect, much of Western Christianity as currently practiced maintains a separateness from God that allows us to wail that God Up There is doing Bad Stuff to Us Down Here.  We forget that We Are God Down Here.  We forget Job.  We aren't in the habit of meditative prayer that puts us in touch with God (Buddhist Emptiness).  The danger of the "personal relationship with Jesus Christ" is the ease with which one can resent what Buddy Christ is doing to us, when accepting the example of Buddha Christ will help us endure the unforgiving physics of the only Universe that can possibly exist.

  •  Romans 3: 21-26 (0+ / 0-)

    it isn't this life that is important it is eternity that is important.  That has always been my problem with the christian faith, it reduces the individual and discounts their life.

    best to just accept that the kingdom of heaven is among you and move on.

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