I was thinking about old cartoons I used to watch as a kid. Often, the main character would face a dilemma–a choice he or she needed to make. With a poof of smoke, on one shoulder would appear a little figure wearing a halo. This figure represented the right choice the character should make. The angelic-like figure would plead his case to the character, trying to invoke what was the obvious right choice. Reasons may be given as to why the choice should be considered the right one. In the middle of one of the angel’s sentences, another poof of smoke would appear on the other shoulder. There, a devil-like figure would stand. He would have horns on his head and a pitchfork in his hand. He would use different tactics to make what was the obvious wrong choice look good. Usually this was done by appealing to the character’s wants or weaknesses. The character would go back and forth between the two shoulder riding figures. When a decision was made, it was usually the devilish little guy who would win. That made for a good story line since a wrong choice would require consequences that could add to the humor of the cartoon character’s plight. Regret usually followed as the character would pay the price for making the wrong choice.
Every day we are all faced with choices. These range from the simple that have little effect on our daily life, such as whether we should wear the blue suit or the brown one, to more complex decisions like whether we should invite the beautiful new coworker out for a few drinks after work. In the case of the suit decision, no angel or devil would be needed to depict the importance of the decision. The fact is, that decision isn’t really all that important. On the other hand, in the latter example, we can easily picture an angel on our right shoulder, admonishing us that gossip is wrong and to abstain from being a part of it. Opposite of this angel would be our figurative devil-like character egging us on to be a part of the conversation. Mr. Devil may give what sounds like valid reasons for participating. He may whisper something like, “Invite her! That will show her that you are a caring person.” Mr. Devil may continue. “It’s not like you need to rush home tonight anyway. Remember, your wife has women’s Bible study so she is going to be late. There’s no harm in a few drinks or a bite to eat. You have to eat, right? Besides, it isn’t like you’ll be alone with her. It’s a restaurant for crying out loud. There’ll be lots of other people around.”
The angel and the devil on our shoulders put us in quite the conundrum. On one hand, you know your wife wouldn’t think highly of the idea of you taking a female coworker out after work, regardless of whether your intentions were pure and especially if they were not. On the other hand, there is truth to the fact that your wife is gone anyway. In fact, when you stop and think, maybe your wife has been busy nearly every night of the week. If it isn’t something at church, it’s something with the kids. It isn’t like she is making you high on HER priority list. Why should you worry about one evening out, especially knowing there will be others around? The moments you spend thinking about the choices are critical. The way you think about them are crucial.
Lately I have had more than my fair share of angel/devil moments. Although mine have nothing to do with the temptation of doing something behind my husband’s back, they still hold the potential to affect my life. Choosing the right side, the angel, will produce a positive result. Choosing the wrong side, the devil, will result in negative consequences. Most of these moments, for me, come in the form of choosing what voices to listen to in my own head. Yes, I just admitted I have voices in my head. These are not the kind of voices that make a psychiatrist whip out his prescription pad, though. No, these are voices that battle what the world says about me compared to what God says about me. The negative voices are fueled even more by the world around me. Television, radio, even people I know, contribute unknowingly to these voices.
It’s a daily battle. Sometimes it’s an hourly battle.
At the end of 2014, I set some goals for myself to be worked on in the coming year. I shared them with no one for fear that, if I failed, it would just make clear to everyone what I already knew–regardless of how hard I try, I will never measure up to some standard set by someone else. I was not as hard on myself as I usually am in terms of a time frame to accomplish these goals. In fact, I knew that my life was going to be turned upside down with stress the first part of the year, so I put off really working on any of them until life had a chance to settle down. What I didn’t count on was the difficulty that those same events would cause me in terms of accomplishing any of these goals at all. By far, the biggest and most difficult event that has stopped me from making much progress has been moving. I went into this move with eyes open; I knew after twelve years in one spot that relocating would not be easy. What I could never have anticipated was just how NOT easy that would be. (I realize that syntactically the previous sentence has issues. Normally I freak out about stuff like that. In this case, I am okay with it because it stresses my point in a way no other words can.) Moving has caused me to feel extreme isolation. It has caused the devil to appear on my shoulder and whisper things like, “I told you that moving would ruin your life. You didn’t listen to me. I knew you’d end up leaving friends behind and not making new ones. You should have been more stubborn in making the case to stay where you were…” The angel tries hard to counter that with words like, “You know this move was the right thing. Your husband is so much happier now. You have less space to clean…”
The problem is, most of the time, I can only hear the voice of the little devil-like guy. I sit alone, very often, and replay his words over and over. Like Alice falling in the rabbit hole, I spiral downward until I am simply miserable.
This morning I wrestled some in prayer with God. I wanted to know if loneliness is really what He is calling me to right now. Or, am I not doing something I could or should to relieve some of the loneliness? I prayed. I cried. I prayed some more. I think I even dozed off since the hour was very early for a non-morning person like me. I thought of Job and how lonely he must have felt when he lost all he had. I thought of Jonah in the belly of the fish and how lonely it must have been for him there. I thought of Elijah as he hid from Jezebel and how lonely he must have felt, isolated from everyone else. I thought of Paul under house arrest and how lonely he must have often been. Perhaps loneliness is just part of life. Perhaps it is what God is using to bring me closer to Him. After all, no matter how lonely I feel, I know I am not alone. God promises to never leave me. He promises to hold me with His right hand. He promises to be my strength when I am weak.
As I thought through all of this and reflected on the goals that I set for myself, I didn’t come up with any miracle answers. What I did come up with, though, is reassurance from God that He hasn’t forgotten me. He knows the goals I set and He sees the slight–ever so slight– progress of them. Five years ago, I would have flicked the angel off my shoulder and the devil and I would have had a pity party together. Instead, this morning I flicked the devil off and went to God’s Word. I read of others who felt the pangs of loneliness and read how God was there even when they didn’t feel like He was. Oh, that pesky devil came back. He is persistent like that. I’m hoping with a little practice, to get better at ignoring his voice when he returns time and again.
In the meantime, maybe an earplug in my left ear would help a little.