Monday Musings: Grief

Grief evades no one.  It is a common human experience.  Yet, grief is a slippery thing, always sliding away from our ability to fix and resolve it.  Explosive grief leaves evidence of its detonation behind, shards of shrapnel which cling in us and poke at us reminding us they are there when the weather gets bad, even well after the destruction is behind us.

Christy and I (Heidi) taught a workshop at the GCN Conference last week on extending Christian love and hospitality towards those who wrong us.  The response to the workshop was overwhelming – over 100 in attendance, room overflowing, people sitting on the floor just to be with us.  Afterwards, person after person who attended the session approached Christy and I, sharing many stories of suffering great losses – losses in relationships with parents, friends, family members, churches, job environments, and more.  Each person, so beautiful in their own right, was aching to know how to be more Christ-like towards their haters, and each person blessed and challenged us as they shared.  During the session, I asked for people to call out words which described the hurtful interactions they were recalling.  The room quickly filled with cries of “betrayal, disappointment, ostracized, worthless, misunderstood” and the grief hung heavy in the air.

That’s what grief does.  It hangs with us but we rarely know how to hang with it. Hanging with grief means allowing yourself to both lean into and out of the pain in the right measures, all while receiving God’s grace and comfort, and discovering how to cope without drowning in a bottle, a drug, or something worse.

The other day I found myself crying out that common grief question to God.  You know the one: “Why?”  “Why, Lord Jesus?” I called out.  “Why must this be so?”

Have you ever prayed that prayer, alone in your desperation, tears streaming down your face?  We want to know why.  The other night, as I sat in that very condition, praying that “why” prayer, it struck me that I didn’t actually want an answer.  Do any of us?  Do we really think a stroke of logic and clarity will come to us which will right our grief, which will correct the way that we have lost something or someone precious to us?  Is there an answer to the “why” which solves the grief? 

There isn’t.  Instead, in that moment, I sensed a gentle invitation to share what was on my heart.  I got confused for a moment by this invitation but then suddenly, it became crystal clear.  Instead of asking “why” I started telling God why I was asking my “why?” question.  I told God that it hurt, that no answer could ever feel good enough, that I didn’t know how to bear it any longer, and that I was really at my end.

A long time ago, I heard a preacher say that instead of asking “why” in difficult times, we should be asking God “what” – as in, “What do you want to teach me or do in me through this?”  This advice stuck with me for a long time.  I’m here to tell you that preacher was wrong.

God doesn’t want to teach you a lesson when you’re grieving, crying, hurting so deeply you don’t know how to draw another breath.  He wants to do what any good friend, any person who loved you desperately and deeply, would want to do.  He wants to invite you to share your hurt with him.  He wants to sit next to you.  He wants to hold your hand.  He wants to be with you.  There is no answer to loss.  But at least we need not be alone.

Our hope is not in our circumstances, but in the God who is bigger and better than them.

Next time you are crying out “Why?” consider responding to his invitation instead.  Share your burdens with him.  Let him sit with you.  Ask him to come to you and hold your hand.  “Come to me Jesus” is the prayer of the grief-stricken.  It is one He answers.

He has not forgotten you, oh grieving one.

Gungor reminded me of this today:

This is not the end, this is not the end of this
We will open our eyes, wide, wider.
This is not our last, this is not our last breath
We will open our mouths wide, wider.
And you know you’ll be alright.

Monday Musings: Discovering the Gift

I am living in a season of discoveries and child-like wonder.  This is an appropriate experience for the season of Advent when we hear pervasive messages of waiting with anticipation, hope, excitement, and peacefulness, knowing that we are about to receive something delightful (which, of course, was first demonstrated when the God Who Gives gave to us the thing for which we most longed: the solution to our unreconciled state).

There is something thrilling about the child-like wonder which arises when seeing something which has always been in me, around me, and with me, yet never before noticed.  It feels like discovering I have been in love with something I never knew existed.  It feels like finding the one last gift under the tree that was hiding behind everything else and just when you thought you had received it all, there is more. Everything is not as it should be and it never will be this side of heaven.  Yet there are things which are right in front of us and we have yet to discover them.  They are desperately lacking our notice and appreciation. 

I want you to hear this.  LOOK.  Look at the beauty around you that you never noticed before. Stop and breathe and appreciate with new eyes the simple and small sorts of goodness which fill your life.  There you will find the message of Advent.  The little things are worth far more than we ever imagined.

LOOK.  Really look.

Christmas gifts serve as important symbols of longings fulfilled, perhaps the greatest of which is knowing that the one who offered the gift cared enough to make the necessary sacrifices for you to receive it.  The appropriate way to give a gift is with no strings attached, save the desire to express love, and perhaps paired with a hope to bless the other in such a way that trust would build and the relationship would be deepened.  I keep happily discovering that this is the way God gives gifts to us.  But sometimes we have to wait.

Sometimes when waiting on a gift, we are tempted to run and purchase it for ourselves.  Why not provide the object of our desire to ourselves, if we can?  Instead of waiting in the tension-filled hopeful anticipation and vulnerability of not knowing whether or not the gift will be given to us, we try to convince ourselves that we never wanted it, don’t need it, or can create it for ourselves.  

I want you to hear this.  WAIT.  Sometimes you have to wait for a gift patiently and expectantly.

Maybe the thing which you so desire is coming to you, if only you wait resolvedly, refusing to give in to despair, believing against all hope. Perhaps something far greater than you ever imagined is on its way.  Maybe the gift itself will be made all the more meaningful by the practice of waiting, hoping, and having the opportunity to receive it through another’s generous giving, rather than rushing, fearing, and securing the thing you desire through your own means.  Consider the joy of receiving something in its due time. When we settle for our own created goodness towards ourselves, we both rob the intended giver of the joy of giving, as well as rob ourselves of the joy of receiving a freely given gift.

WAIT.  Take a deep breathe.  Relish the anticipation.

The message of Advent is that God himself has come to us, and He will come to you in your waiting.  In moments where cynicism and despair replace anticipation, hope, and peace, breathe out the honest and intimate prayer: “Jesus, would you come to me?”  He will.  He already has.  Discover the gift.  It’s already been given to you.

Monday Musings: Gratitude

This past week was Thanksgiving, so I’ve been reflecting and reading on topics of gratitude and stewardship, being thankful for all that we have  and putting it to use in ways that demonstrate that gratitude.  I’ve been enjoying reading Christine Pohl’s most recent brilliant work, “Living Into Community: Cultivating Practices That Sustain Us” and the first section examines the practice of gratitude.

Reading about gratitude I find myself thinking of all of the ungracious people I have encountered in my life, and in this work, and saying internally “I wonder what it would be like if we could just get this figured out and fixed!  I’m so tired of people being so ungracious towards one another.”

WHOOPS.

In sweeps my own ingratitude, my own wistfulness and searching for something more, better, or different.  It is good and right to have a dream and a vision for a better future but when these things cost us a heart of gratitude or impoverish our ability to give thanks, we fall prey to what Kevin Rains (Vineyard Central Church) calls “spiritual pornography . . . creating a mental fantasy of a perfect place or people and not recognizing the good things all around me.”  This world and the relationships and experiences we have here was not created merely as an object of our pleasure and consumption.

There is no perfect community.
There is no perfect ministry or outreach.
There is no perfect family.
There is no perfect church.
There is no perfect relationship, or marriage, or friendship.
There is no perfect spiritual life.

So, in a season where we all consume more than we ought in food, let us not fall victim to the mentality that all of this around us is created for our hedonism.  Conversely, let us remember that having a heart of gratitude is not created by ignoring the presence of dysfunction, shortcomings, and disappointments present in our selves, our communities and our relationships.  Instead, let us realize that true joy comes even in the midst of the disappointments, remembering how much good we have in comparison to all that is bad, and embracing the ways we always have much more over which to celebrate than to complain.

What are you grateful for?