Spencer Smith: Remember His Name

Spencer Smith.
Remember his name. He took his own life. He wrote down his reasons, and he left them as a record for anyone willing to read them—with honesty, that is.
Coronavirus restrictions. Virtual learning. Isolation.
Don’t be tempted to blame mental illness like the weasely school district superintendent tried to do. Don’t blame the parents for being ill-tuned to their son’s condition as the child psychologists are sure to do. Be honest. Accept that Spencer was fine before the lockdowns. It was the isolating restrictions that brought the despair. It was the forced distancing augmented by a computer screen classroom that chained the sadness to Spencer’s ankles. It was the inescapable loneliness that throttled the throat of his hope and killed him.
I would think that Christians have the eyes for seeing this. And we are well attuned to the knowledge that it was God who set the parameters with regard to togetherness. He knew at the very beginning that we’d need it. “It is not good for man to be alone,” were some of His first words. Just as he knew we’d need food, He knew that we’d need to be with people—in person, embracing, fully sensing and savoring the humanity of one another. God knew that a friend on a computer screen would be as fulfilling as a steak-flavored dinner squeezed from a tube dispenser. Both would be thinly veneered experiences, and would never match nor fully represent what’s real.
But now we’ve been tricked into thinking this is the best way forward. As a pastor, I’m of the mind that anything countering God’s will or wisdom could never be the best way.
With that, I offer a brief word of caution to parents.
Apart from this article, I took a little time to read similar articles being shared on this all-too-common occurrence in 2020. Most are betraying—even if only subtly—similar weaknesses in our societal armor. Not all of the articles, but many. Consider what appears to be the framing of this child’s greatest hope:
“He had dreams of playing lineman on the Brunswick High School football team, but those hopes were dashed when it was replaced by flag football.”
Don’t let extra curricular activities be your child’s all-in-all. We’ve learned all too well that the governing authorities can dash these hopes. But no earthly power can snatch away the hope we have in Christ. Parents, do whatever you can to make sure your child’s greatest hope is found only in Christ. A chief way to do this is to go to church. Go and be in the actual place and among the real people where God is distributing His gifts of love through Word and Sacrament. And if your church is not providing for in-person togetherness with the Lord as a fellowshipping community, but rather has elected to remain completely virtual, then you’re getting a tube dispenser Jesus. Christ wants more for you, which is why He mandates that His people be together:
“Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:23-25)
In such a context, there’s real, long-lasting, and unflinching hope in the faithful One to be had. As a result, there’s a spurring motion of love and service from one human to the next there, too.
Indeed, it is not good for man to be alone. Spencer Smith is an unfortunate proof.
Remember his name.

The Art of Isolation

In barely a handful of days Thanksgiving will arrive, and then just beyond that, Advent. I don’t know about you, but these two moments on the calendar—seemingly so far flung from summer—seem to have arrived much more swiftly than I expected. I know why this is true. The more occupied one is, the more time carries along with a swifter pace.

Indeed, while Covid-19 may have closed so many of the typical avenues around us for living life, the pace for some hasn’t lessened. I know I’ve shared before that even the simplest of routines has become more complicated. This means more work, not less. Getting from point A to point B isn’t a straight shot anymore. It takes far more maneuvering, and as such, can make a few hours feel like a few minutes.

Some might argue that during a time when so many are isolated, a busier pace would be helpful for keeping the mind fit. I don’t know if that’s true or not. I suppose it makes sense, as long as whatever one is doing doesn’t lend itself toward frustration. I’m a big believer in having things to do—that the busier one remains with this or that project, the less of a negative impact isolation itself will have. It was J. W. von Goethe who said that enduring isolation is an art. I tend to agree. I believe times of isolation can either be harmful or beneficial. They can be occasions of fateful loneliness or uplifting solitude.

I got to thinking on this out loud yesterday during the adult Bible study. I shared with the group that when I think on what it means to be lonely, my conceptualization is to wonder just how many isolated, unseen things or moments of incredible splendor have occurred around the world throughout history. For example, yesterday I suggested that maybe the most beautiful rose that has ever existed in this world has already sprouted and blossomed in total seclusion somewhere deep in a forest and no one was there to see it. The flower was near-perfect in every way, and would have been of joyful benefit to anyone who looked upon it. But it grew, bloomed, withered, and died in total seclusion. That’s an image of loneliness. Or perhaps the most stunning diamond ever formed is right now resting somewhere deep in the earth where no one will ever reach it. It’s there. Its clarity is beyond compare. Its untapped ability for capturing and then dispersing light in countless directions is unmatchable. But it will remain isolated—unmined and unpolished—priceless, and yet existing as though it has no value at all. That’s loneliness, too.

I see loneliness in relation to value. To be lonely is to have so much value, and yet to be without the opportunity to emit that value to the benefit of anyone else.

You have value. And I do, too. God tells us this (Matthew 6:26; Romans 5:8; Psalm 139:13-16; John 3:16; 2 Corinthians 5:17; and so many more!). Still, when we’re locked away from others in ways that prevent us from participating in the exchange and benefits of human value established by God’s grace—the giving and receiving that occurs between real people—we can become fixed in darker places and the time becomes more burdensome. It becomes lonely.

And so where am I going with this? I guess part of what I’m trying to say this morning is that if you must be isolated, first, know you are valuable, and second, keep busy emitting that value in ways that embrace the alone time as less loneliness and more contemplative, sabbatical-like solitude. Yes, solitude is different. Like loneliness, one doesn’t go into solitude expecting others to be there. The person knows and expects the silence. But in the quiet of solitude, there’s activity occurring, and there’s the expectancy that the silence won’t prevent its occupant from coming out on the other side with something to show. Solitude is a time of discovery. It is an opportunity to go off unaccompanied in order to seek out the rose, or to dig up the diamond, and bring these things back to a world that can benefit from their value. And I suppose this is where the Christian perspective is key.

Christians already know they’re not alone, so any form of alone time is somewhat illusionary. Christ is always with us, even to the end of the age (Matthew 28:20). This means we can endure, and maybe even embrace, the alone times. For one, through faith in Christ, alone times become unfettered moments with the One who never leaves nor forsakes us. In this, we can find ourselves aimed toward a richer devotional life. We can study the Word of God, pray, and God willing, see the fruits of such solitude becoming activities designed to emit to others what we’ve learned or received. How do we do this? I can tell you how I’m doing it. Well, this Monday morning eNews is one way. I do what I can each Monday morning to think through and share something of value for you. Besides this, I’m using my isolated times to write and send cards to people. I’m making phone calls. I’m visiting where I can, and I’m receiving visitors who need to chat. I’m using whatever particular gifts God has given me for mining the diamonds and picking the flowers from the quiet so that others, too, can experience their splendor with me.

You can do this, too. You know your value, and you know the gifts God has given you. Be creative. By God’s grace, you can live as one in solitude who’s laboring to find and share treasures with others—which, I’m guessing, will help lift them from loneliness.

Of course, call me if you need help figuring out how to navigate this or coming with ideas. I’m only a phone call away and I’m brimming with ideas.