Saturday I was alone.
It doesn't happen often. I have four daughters, aged 7, 6, 4 and 2, and a husband who works five or six days a week. But yesterday was my birthday, and the babysitter fell through, so I asked the husband if instead of taking me out to dinner, he would watch the kids so I could have the entire Saturday by myself. I planned to leave before the kids woke up and come home after they were in bed.
That means, of course, that the girls woke up an hour earlier than usual and cried when I said goodbye to them. But I said goodbye anyway, took my travel mug of green tea and drove to a park with a lake. I sat on a bench by the water and read my Bible and prayed.
I love solitude when I can get it, but lately I have been feeling more lonely than alone. I am depressed at the state of the world. It isn't its suffering that upsets me as much as the acceptance of it. I keep reading cultural analyses (which I should not do) that chill me, filled with phrases like "the normalization of sexual harm." My eyes are drawn to examples not only of intentional destruction by an evil few, but passive excuses by an apathetic many. The failure of the world to stand up and call the harm "evil" sometimes distresses me more than the harm in the first place. The future looks bleak, and I am a fearful curmudgeon, reading Matthew 24 and sourly waiting for it to get worse.
But every generation has thought the generation that followed it was full of depraved rascals who disrespect authority and fail to value the good. All old folks complain about young folks. I am repeating a predictable pattern, which is reason enough to distrust my fear. Maybe the world is getting worse, or maybe not. Either way, I don't think the point of Matthew 24 is to leave us so frightened of the future that we would prefer Jesus did not return rather than endure everything that will happen beforehand.
So Saturday, sitting by the lake, looking for my hope, I tried something new. I prayed a prayer of gratitude for every person I could think of who had repented of something and changed their life. Because it happens. People do change sometimes. Evil doesn't always win. The alcoholic gets sober and reconciles with the abandoned family. The angry neighbor gives up on resentment and seeks friendship. The vengeful family forgive each other and love again. It happens. It does not happen enough, but it happens.
And that gives me hope. I want to hear the truth declared - that this is wrong and that is right, and let's call it what it is without evasion or excuse. I want to see a vision of the good and true and right that is so far beyond our ability that it takes a God to make it happen. Confiding that longing arouses certain responses. My cultural training like yours makes me instantly object, "But how do you know what is the good and true and right? Who are you to decide that?"
Ask that question often enough, and no one knows anything.
I can only present the only certification I have: the confession of my own failures. I repeat the words other people gave me, words like "sin" and "God" and "sorry." Repentance. It's not showy, but it's real. The acknowledgement that we are not what we should be, and we need outside help. If I stop scowling at the future, I can see it in lives around me. If I stop grumbling, I can repeat its echoes myself.
And if I do that, I am not so lonely.
I blogged for a long time, and then I stopped, and then started for a little while, and then stopped again. Blogging can be an obligation and a burden. I read that the hey-day of blogging is passing, so I'm not sure why I want to start again. Maybe because the hey-day is passing and the conversation feels quieter, and I dearly miss quiet conversation.