A Generous Grace

ideas on practical spirituality and loving each other

Cry: The Hidden Art of Christian Grieving, Part II

 

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Missed Part I? Grab it here.

I’ve been grieving some losses lately. The other day on my jog, they seemed to bottleneck inside, trickling out my eyes as my feet kept pounding, step after step. I’m not sure what God’s doing, but as I described in the last post, grief seemed… appropriate.

Though God’s given me glimpses of hope I can’t ignore–it also seems to deny Him access to all of me when I’m ignoring I feel anything, and jumping right to “It’ll be okay.”

My emotions are like indicator lights: neither good nor bad in themselves; amoral. It’s what I choose to do with them that gets sticky. They are thus opportunities for both worshipping God, and denying Him. (See this post on the necessity of both listening to our hearts—and talking to them.) I’ve quoted Peter Scazzero before:

When we do not process before God the very feelings that make us human, such as fear or sadness or anger, we leak. Our churches are filled with “leaking” Christians who have not treated their emotions as a discipleship issue.[1]

 

Recent studies on anxiety actually indicate that when we’re feeling anxious but tell ourselves we’re not anxious, we actually create more stress (duh, right?). Real Simple magazine quotes Michael Wheaton, Ph. D: “Thinking ‘something is horrible and I need to stop it right now’ only adds pressure to the situation.” Sometimes we’re creating a spiritual form of more stress as we try to get “errant” emotions to get back in their lockbox already, rather than presenting them to God and engaging with Him there.

The modern monk Thomas Merton wrote of

the basic “paschal” rhythm of the Christian life, the passage from death to life in Christ. Sometimes prayer, meditation, and contemplation are “death”…a recognition of helplessness, frustration, infidelity, confusion, ignorance. Note how common this theme is in the Psalms. [2]

In his book (and well-quoted in this post), Card writes that churches can be “embarrassed, almost panicky, that there are situations to which they have no answer. We want to present Jesus as the answer man, and we don’t want Jesus to look bad. And if that’s your theology, Jesus can look very bad at funerals.”

I once attended the funeral of a young man who had passed away in a freak accident. Now, as Christians we definitely do “not grieve as others do who have no hope”–and funerals are beautiful testimonies of how Christians die differently; they are incredible demonstrations and opportunities for the Gospel. But this one, in all honesty, felt hijacked a bit by evangelism; by an agenda. If you came wrestling with the tragic loss of a young man’s life, you might have come away feeling…angry.

Compare this with Jesus at the tomb of Lazarus, Tim Keller points out. Even though Jesus knows the outcome, the triumph—He does not call bad good, does not jump into a sermonette on hope. He takes the time to mourn the travesty that has happened, then illuminates what resurrection is all about. As this author writes, We bring our most intense theological questions right into the sanctuary.

Our emotions are part of the image of God in us. God, too, grieves! The more I take in the decimation by poverty and what it costs the people of Uganda, I feel as if God has a hand on my shoulder, allowing me to glimpse a sliver of what He grieves every day. Blessed are those who mourn.

Jesus, the most joyful man who walked the planet, wept at times: wept at things that broke God’s heart, like His friend dying. His people turning away. On the Cross, Jesus actually walked through a formal lament, as outlined in the Psalms. Michael Card writes, “Jesus understood that lament was the only true response of faith to the brokenness and fallenness of the world.” And the Psalms are where we find David and others pouring out their personal griefs to God, the ways their hearts just hurt.

In the Psalms, scholars find a general structure for lament, sometimes sequential, sometimes weaving back and forth between these elements:

  1. Address, invoking God—acknowledging this as a prayer, not just an internal struggle. It acknowledges who God is in His sovereignty, His kindness, His relationship with us.
  2. Complaint: This author writes, “A lament honestly and specifically names a situation or circumstance that is painful, wrong, or unjust—in other words, a circumstance that does not align with God’s character and therefore does not make sense within God’s kingdom. The emotional tone of the complaint varies…it may express sorrow, remorse, weariness, anger, disappointment, or doubt.”
  3. Request, begging God for action and response.
  4. Expression of trust. Generally, lament returns to an affirmation of God’s character and trustworthiness. It’s a critical restatement of our hope; of walking by faith, not by sight. To re-quote Tim Keller on this: “…all true prayer ‘pursued far enough, becomes praise.’ It may take a long time or a lifetime, but all prayer that engages God and the world as they truly are will eventually end in praise.” [3]

I value this thought by Graham Cooke:

Lamentation is a powerful, and meaningful, form of worship because it places our love for God above even the worst of circumstances in our life… God does not ask us to deny the existence of our suffering. He does want us to collect it, stand in those things and make Him an offering. The Holy Spirit, our Comforter, helps us to do this: He aligns Himself with our will and says, ‘I will help you to will to worship God.’ The glory of the majesty of God is that He helps us will and do. [4]

 

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[1] Scazzero, Peter. Emotionally Healthy Spirituality: Unleash a Revolution in Your Life in Christ. Kindle Edition.

[2] Foster, Richard J. and James Bryan Smith, eds. Devotional Classics: Selected Readings for Individuals and Small Groups. New York: HarperOne (1993), p. 66.

[3] Keller, Timothy; Keller, Kathy (2015-11-10). The Songs of Jesus: A Year of Daily Devotions in the Psalms. Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[4] http://www.crosswalk.com/faith/prayer/pouring-out-your-heart-in-lament-to-god.html

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Cry: The Hidden Art of Christian Grieving, Part I

It was one night several years ago when a couple of good friends were helping me sort action figures, Legos, and other kid-detritus into bins in my boys’ room following dinner together while our husbands were out of town. During the meal, they had asked candidly about how I was doing with our adoption—which is to say, the adoption we painfully decided not to complete.

Truthfully, my heart felt raw, as if it were beating outside of my body. My grief felt so vulnerable, so scraped and skinned and gaping, that privacy was all I could fathom to deal with it. I felt oddly embarrassed that we’d taken steps out of obedience to pursue this, and told people about it–and then, also out of obedience, backed out.

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Guest post: 5 Beefy Ideas for Moms of Boys

My dad used to joke about being a “minority in a sorority”. It was fairly legit: We were four girls, plus my mom—and even the dog was a girl.

Imagine my (joyful) alarm when the sonogram of my first child revealed that I was about to plunge into the world of testosterone, sweat, dirt, and Nerf weapons (the latter of which I have now lost count). In fact three of my four kiddos are boys.

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So when my boys were still quite young and I had a term paper assigned for a class, I chose the topic of moms raising sons—you know, because I was, oh, a bit overwhelmed what with all the jumping off things, unprovoked aggression, and mysterious hygiene habits. Or lack thereof.

I learned a lot as I unearthed studies from researchers like Michael Gurian and others who have uncovered remarkable biological information about how boys take in the world. My goal is not to add fabric softener to my boys’ rough-and-tumble existence (though stain remover is fairly essential). Instead, I’ve become riveted by the plans God has for their courage, leadership, directness, and masculinity.

Happy to be posting again on my friend Kristen Welch’s site, WeareTHATFamily.com: 5 Beefy Ideas for Moms of Boys. Hop on over and check it out!

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Deep(ly) Fried, Part II: Processing Burnout (…and am I Playing the Martyr?)

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Missed Part I? First, grab it here.

When you felt like you were finally surfacing from burnout–or as I called it, tired-mad, I might tell you what I found out. That sometimes burnout is simply burnout, because life is hard. And even though God never gives us more than He’ll give us strength to handle (He says so here and here), it still can feel like a rightful scraping-the-bottom-of-the-barrel, ta-da-I-survived type thing. (Whether it’s godly or not to be burned out is another post for another time, perhaps. But pretending it’s not there doesn’t really help.)

Questions that may help as you process burnout

  • How have my responsibilities challenged me? How have they changed me?
  • What activities “give me life” after I’ve helped someone?
  • Who do I feel comfortable debriefing with?
  • What questions do I find myself asking—and what lies am I tempted to believe (“I’m the only one who can help.” “I can’t afford to rest.” “Jesus wouldn’t say no here”)—when I am burdened by helping someone?
  • In what Scriptures do I find hope and comfort when I am helping someone? (I like Isaiah 55:1-3.)
  • (One of my favorites:) What would a compassionate friend say to me about this? (I often afford more compassion to others than I do to myself.)
  • What sense of purpose and meaning do I find in my work? What do I love about what I do?
  • What do I do when I am not handling stress well? What does the “stressed” version of me look like?
  • What methods, people, and practices have helped me in the past?
  • What do I think God thinks about my work?
  • What questions do I have for God because of my work?

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Deep(ly) Fried, Part I: Burnout

I glimpsed it in the slight tightness, the fatigued determination of her face that day: that distinct weariness that comes from herding toddlers and preschoolers 24/7. Having worn that particular look for approximately eight years myself, I know it well.

And though there are few exhaustions like young-mom exhaustion—I felt my own version of tired-mad that week. (Um. My family may have felt it, too.) One of my favorite takeaways from the movie Home were those hybrid-emotions, like sad-mad. Anger is a secondary emotion anyway, right? We feel angry usually because we were first hurt; afraid; grieved. Depleted, taken for granted; so very tired. So I have to plunge my fingers into my anger, exploring a bit.

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Freebie Fridays: FREE Printable Love Languages “Cheat Sheet”

 

 

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If you’re new to the “love languages” concept, check out the 5 Love Languages website. love languages text

Happy Friday, everyone! This week I’m excited to offer this free, printable 5-page “Cheat Sheet” to the 5 Love Languages: Twenty practical, innovative ideas per love language: words of affirmation, acts of service, gifts, physical touch, and quality time. (If you’re not sure which of the love languages your spouse, kids, and friends “speak”, try this quiz.) Print them all, or only the love languages you need.

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Love freebies to help with relationships, including marriage, parenting, and education? Don’t miss the Freebies page! 

Enjoy! And thanks for sharing.

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Under pressure: Militant mommy convictions vs. authentic friendship

Okay, moms: Who’s the best mom you know? And what makes her, y’know, stellar?

I wonder what the highest standard for motherhood is in your group of friends. Is it clear where you should be sending your kids to school, or what educational concepts they should have mastered? Whether you should vaccinate? Whether you use essential oils or antibiotics? Which programs your kids are enrolled in, how your daughter’s room is decorated, or what cute ideas you found on Pinterest for her birthday party?

I’ve only been back in the States for a month, so maybe I’m picking up on the wrong vibes. But—I am picking up on some significant pressure that we both give and receive from each other as mommas. Maybe you’re insecure like I was as a young mom, and sometimes still am. So much is imploding in front of you, despite your utter exhaustion. I admit to a wee bit of wicked consolation when another friend has a pile of dirty dishes that’s kind of erupted all over the rest of the kitchen, or when her kid also has a head-turning meltdown in the housewares aisle.

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A Body Good: Naked Truth about Body Image

One of the sadder effects of my time back in the United States is my subtle and instantaneous body-consciousness. (This is not a cultural diatribe; I’ve got body issues.) Unpacking my jeans in the cheap hotel we checked into after flying in, I remarked to my husband, “Why is it that I just feel like I’ve gained 25 pounds?”

He shrugged. “Maybe because it’s so easy to gain 25 pounds while we’re here?”

Later I realized—nope. It’s because instantly—I must sheepishly admit image rises in priority in my mind. Yes, I am inundated with marketing, much containing women both airbrushed and well-paid to look both stunning and underweight. But, as I was recently reminded by my sister’s post, even the time to focus on image, or to work out, is a sign of all the excess I enjoy. Which means that in Africa, I have been fasting a bit from this fixation on modern instruction in beauty. It also means that the geometric shapes of my body are a little more appreciated.

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Guest post: How to see your spouse with new eyes

Remember the ’99 Julia Roberts flick, Runaway Bride?

Roberts’ character has a bad reputation for landing at the altar and, well, taking off. (Spoiler alert, here–) Turns out she’s been a chameleon of sorts, being “supportive” to the point of wholly adopting her not-so-future mate’s preferences, hobbies, and lifestyle: She likes her eggs the same way. She dons a large (fake) tattoo. She prepares to climb Everest for one of her (not-gonna-happen) honeymoons.

The fiancés are left clueless and bewildered as she turns from each of them, minutes from matrimony. I adored her! And yet, apparently none understood how little they’d actually sought out her soul, or cherished her uniqueness apart from what she contributed to their own interests.

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When God answers prayer* (*…then you regret asking)

Has God ever given you what you asked for—and then you wonder if you asked for the right thing in the first place? Have you ever felt punished…by prayer?

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