The park was busy and full of people. Vendors lined the sidewalks, selling their unique creations to pay some bills. Children played and college students threw Frisbees. The dog owners played with their dogs. Others strolled hand in hand, glowing in their euphoria of newly discovered love. Others, the homeless beggars, held up signs asking for a donation. Each person had a reason to be there that day, sharing the sunny, but cooler weather outside. But, as I too, had ventured out for a walk through the park that day, I noticed the two women.
Their circumstances, other than the fact they were both in the park that day, could not have been further apart. I imagined for a moment what they must be thinking. The first woman clutched the worn scarf close to her throat to protect herself from the cold wind gust. Her coat was thin and inadequate for the weather in January.
There was a scowl on her face and she barely looked up from the sidewalk. It appeared that she did not dare to make any eye contact with anyone. She seemed lost in her own thoughts, that had taken her to another place and time. She spoke a few words as I passed by her, but not to me, just to the person she was with. It was not a kind tone, but rather angry.
Why was she angry? I could only imagine what she was angry about. Was she mad at the person next to her? Was she bitter at the lot life had dealt her? Was she hiding pain in her life that came out as anger and bitterness? Was she blaming the other person, or herself, or maybe even God? Had she felt forsaken and lost?
The second woman I saw also wore a scarf around her neck to protect herself from the cold wind. The sun must have felt warm on her face as she closed her eyes for a moment and smiled. She opened her eyes and looked up in time to see the first woman. She probably heard her complaining as had I. She raised her eyebrows in wonder, as if to ask the question; “I wonder what is bothering her?” She might have been considering the differences between the two of them as I had. I wondered if she would have wanted to change places with her, but I thought better about it when she turned towards me and smiled.
She was the complete opposite of the first woman, the one who was scowling and complaining. She smiled at me and nodded as if to say, yeah I heard that woman too, and yeah she must have some real problems going on. We exchanged this moment of nods and smiles. On the ground beside her was a sign, scribbled across a piece of cardboard. She appeared to have nothing, but she had so much more than the first woman. She had peace.
The first woman should have had that peace too, but didn’t. She looked as if she had enough of everything. The beautiful silk scarf, purchased years ago, but still her favorite. The beautiful woven coat. The stomach filled with food and a companion to stroll the park with. She had glanced down at the second woman, but darted her gaze away as the woman had smiled at her. Just the moment before, she had seen her with eyes closed tilt her head back and smile. “What could she possibly smile at?” she wondered, but realized that this woman was probably happier than she was at that moment. The thought bothered her and she looked away as the woman had opened her eyes and smiled back at her.
We never really know what another person is thinking. We also do not understand what they are going through or have been through. Appearances deceive us. Those with the most, sometimes are the least likely to be content. At peace with themselves and others. Even at peace with God. Those with peace sometimes have the least.
Sometimes we might feel as though our circumstances are what defines us. We might think the universe has dealt us a bad hand. Someone is to blame and we are constantly trying to figure out who to blame. If we blame ourselves, we learn to turn that inward towards ourselves. We call ourselves names or harm our self. If we blame others, we will be bitter and angry. We will explode outward towards others or even hurt them. We try to deal with this pain. If we blame God, we will avoid Him at all costs. Deny Him, avoid church or leave church. Argue with those from churches or who call themselves Christians. We will do everything that goes against God and what His word says.
The problem with these approaches is that it rarely solves anything. The more blaming we do, the less happy we are. We are convinced this is our lot in life. We make no room for enjoyment. We keep walking forward, eyes cast down and a scowl on our faces. We don’t want to think about anything good happening to us or to others around us. We feel forsaken and we prefer to stay there in that place rather than moving past our circumstances. We like our discontent and after awhile it becomes too comfortable to give up.
We might even find others who also feel forsaken and unhappy and play the “my pain and problems are worse than yours” game. We up the ante, building upon the negativity in each other’s lives. Misery loves company as they say.
But, it really doesn’t have to be like this. The Bible is filled with promises that God will not forsake us. He is with us and cares for us and about us. Hebrews states that “God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5, NIV) Deuteronomy adds “Be strong and courageous; do not be afraid or terrified of them, for it is the LORD your God who goes with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Dt. 31:6) and Jesus said, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20.
These are just three verses that remind us that God is with us. We don’t have to let circumstances tell us the lie that we are alone and have to figure it all out ourselves. Stuff happens. But God is still there. We don’t have to live in bitterness and anger. We don’t have to feel forsaken. We can find peace and contentment, despite our circumstances. Letting go of the hurts and pains and giving them to God is the first step. God Bless – Nancy