Tuesday, August 10, 2010

A Cheerful Look


A cheerful look brings joy to the heart, and good news gives health to the bones. Proverbs 15:30

Henry David Thoreau wrote, "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation...." (Walden). Thoreau applied this saying to men whose work is oppressive and they fail to find satisfaction and enjoyment. But, it could equally apply to those who suffer in silence from any number of blows life can deliver. Think of a family that struggles financially all their lives but never gets their head above water. They miss vacations, new vehicles and a retirement program they hear so many others talk about.

Think also of a family that struggles with perpetual health issues. They can’t eat this; they can’t eat that. As neighborhood children gather to play baseball and football, their son or daughter watches from the safety of the living room window, but inside they hurt with a burning desire to be out there among friends, having fun.

A middle-aged man faces his failure everyday. Co-workers receive significant promotions and raises while he still languishes in obscurity. None of his hard work and devotion has caught the attention of company executives. He’ll end his career largely where it began, low on the rung of corporate position and pay scale.

Every teenage boy and girl knows the feeling of quiet desperation. Every teenager at some point feels alone, isolated, judged and unworthy. It may be acne, a body that doesn’t measure up to the image of feminine beauty or masculine toughness, or general insecurity, but every teenager has felt those devastating emotions. More than few adults have, as well.

A mother of a special needs child wrote this a couple of weeks before Christmas: "We did skip Christmas last year. We had the Christmas morning thing with Stephen and my parents came by on Christmas Eve to bring his presents, but we skipped our family get together. That’s right. No "Mia’s famous cheese ball", no cakes, pies or fudge. No eggnog, no hot apple cider. Baaah! It was almost as if Ebenezer Scrooge himself lived here (before his transformation). When did I start disliking the holidays so? What used to be my favorite time of year is now something I dread like a root canal. No, that isn’t true. I’d rather have a root canal. I think as Stephen has gotten bigger and the care giving has gotten more difficult, I’ve gotten older and more arthritic. Therefore, the part of me that once enjoyed doing those things was shoved aside as real life, as we know it, forced its way in. I want to enjoy the holidays, I just don’t have the strength to get there. Exhaustion is a wicked, wicked little monster."

The feelings of weariness, failure, aloneness and futility assail most everyone at some point. When those emotions linger they become stifling and oppressive. Elsewhere the Sage writes, "All the days of the oppressed are wretched" (Prov. 15:15a).

Writing and reading this seems heavy, even oppressive. But, it is the stuff of life, and Proverbs is not afraid of tackling some of the stickiest burdens we face. Proverbs acknowledges that sometimes the painful issues of life attack without mercy and leave our hearts hurting and bones aching.

Proverbs 15:30 addresses the inner being of a person. The heart is the center of emotions and thoughts. It is the inner concept we have of ourselves. We may feel like we are a failure, an outcast, a worthless being. These kinds of negative impressions of ourselves can come from the way others treat us or from our own misbehavior. When David summed up his feelings about his sin with Bathsheba he wrote, "Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me" (Psalm 51:10). David wanted purity of heart to replace the sinful images he had of Bathsheba. But I think he also wanted to feel freedom from condemnation. We repent after we sin and know in our heads that God has forgiven us. But can’t we sometimes carry that shame and reproach of that sin, and we can’t feel the freedom of forgiveness? I think that is what is troubling David.

David writes further, "Let me hear joy and gladness, let the bones you have crushed rejoice" (v.8). God didn’t literally crush David’s bones. But David is feeling such intense inner pain it is as if his bones are fractured. You can’t do much with fractured bones. You may not be able to stand, walk or lift anything. Life shuts down. A fractured spirit does the same thing to us. The weight of failure, shame and loneliness can shut us down like a fractured leg. "Heal me," David pleads. Let the feeling of fractured bones deep in my heart heal so I can enjoy life again."

What can we do for someone we may know suffering from any of these debilitating emotions? Proverbs 15:30 mentions two things we can do for the weary spirit.

One, we can give them a cheerful look. A cheerful look may be as simple as a smile or a kind greeting. But the effect of the cheerful look is immeasurable. The cheerful look is "probably the eyes of persons whose good demeanor encourages those with whom they come in to contact" (Tremper Longman, Proverbs, p.323). A sincere cheerful look communicates forgiveness, value, and dignity. That gives fresh hope and life to an aching heart that thinks it is unworthy.

Two, we can speak good news. "Good news gives health to the bones." Sometimes it is hard to know how to speak good news. What do you say to someone who has lost a job, their health, or a loved one? Great care must be given. Ultimately, good news is associated with what we know about Jesus: he loves us, he values us, and he wants to forgive us, no matter what we have done.

The Luke 7 woman could tell us about a cheerful look and good news from Jesus. In her quiet desperation she barged into a luncheon of Jesus and some important Pharisees. She was a sinful woman, and everyone there knew that. When she touched Jesus feet one of the Pharisees thought to himself, "How could Jesus let her touch him? She is a sinner!" Implied in his evaluation of this woman was derision and disgust. No doubt the woman felt the eyes of the Pharisees boring into her with the unspoken message: "You make me sick."

But Jesus let her touch his feet. Then, looking at the woman, he spoke to Simon the Pharisee and said, "Her many sins have been forgiven - for she has loved much." Remember, he spoke to the Pharisee, but looked a the woman as he spoke. And what do you think his stare was like? I’ll bet it was cheerful. Jesus gave a cheerful look and good news to this desperate woman. Then he told her, "Your faith has saved you; go in peace." She could go in peace because Jesus brought joy to her heart and given health to her bones.

A cheerful look brings joy to the heart, and good news gives health to the bones. We know the one who delivers joy and is the good news - Jesus. We have experienced his healing.

There is a mass of men leading lives of quiet desperation. We can’t change their circumstances. They still have to work jobs that may not be fulfilling, work through feelings of failure, loneliness and worthlessness, and struggle with health issues. But we can help change their lives. We can deliver joy and health with the power of our look and the story we tell of Jesus.

Warren Baldwin