The Christmas holiday season brings a great deal of happiness to many people. The festivities, the family gatherings and the celebration of the birth of Jesus bring good times and fond memories. However, this time of year can also be a time of struggles for many. Perhaps it is their first Christmas without a loved one. Maybe they are facing a serious health issue, an economic crisis or strife in the family. When the Christmas decorations are put away for another year, the stark realities of life set in, and many find it hard to cope. The season that brought such joy and peace can quickly fade into a season of despair and inner conflict. What can we do to find help when we are lonely and discouraged? The Bible provides some answers.
The apostle Paul was near the end of his life when he wrote his second letter to Timothy. He was in prison when he wrote this letter, and there are some hints that Paul was feeling lonely and discouraged. This man who urges us to rejoice always (Phil.4:4) had some times of despair in his own life. (See 2 Cor.6:3-13 for one example.) Even the most mature Christians are not immune from feelings of discouragement. How do we deal with this? 2 Tim.4:9-18 gives us some good teaching on this matter.
First, Paul realistically addresses the situation. Demas has deserted him. Other friends and co-workers have been called away on kingdom business. Paul must have been cold and bored in prison, because he asks Timothy to bring him his cloak and some reading materials. He points out that a man named Alexander had done him a great deal of harm. Paul lists here a number of situations that have caused him to be discouraged. He did not try to paint a rosy picture. So the first thing you need to do when you are feeling lonely and discouraged is to plainly lay out the truth. However, we can’t just wallow in self-pity. Paul also gives us some ideas about how to cope with feelings of despondency.
He starts out in v.9 by asking Timothy to come to him as quickly as possible. Don’t wait for others to come and alleviate your loneliness. Reach out to them. Tell someone that you would greatly appreciate a visit from them.
Secondly, Paul points out that he is not completely alone. Luke is with him. When we are feeling down we tend to overlook the good things and good people that we do have in our lives. It is good medicine to be thankful for the ones who are involved in our lives and are very helpful to us.
Then Paul shows a spirit of forgiveness. He asks Timothy to bring Mark with him, because he had been helpful in his ministry. Paul had earlier been down on Mark because he had bailed out on a missionary journey. However, Paul later was willing to give Mark a second chance. We must never underestimate the value of forgiveness in maintaining our mental well-being.
Then Paul asks for some creature comforts. Perhaps he was not given time to gather his belongings before he was whisked away to prison. In any case, he asks Timothy to bring his cloak and his reading material. Wearing the cloak would help ease the misery of a cold, dreary prison cell. Reading the scrolls and parchments would help take his mind off of his current situation. I don’t think that it is too much of a stretch to say that perhaps the best thing we could do when we are feeling down is to wrap up in a warm comforter (hot beverage is optional, but recommended!) and enjoy some of our favorite reading material.
Finally, Paul shows that he is placing his full trust in God. Even though Alexander had done him a great deal of harm, he does not suggest any kind of payback. Instead he says that the Lord will repay him for his treachery. Paul then credits the Lord for standing by his side and giving him strength. He closes out this section of Scripture in v.18 with this powerful declaration of trust—“The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen.”
That’s the biggest key to getting through a time of loneliness and discouragement—trust that the Lord will see you through anything you have to face in life. And trust that he will bring you safely into his heavenly kingdom as well!