A Generous Grace

ideas on practical spirituality and loving each other

Category: difficulty (page 1 of 7)

How am I supposed to have joy when my world’s a wreck?

joy in sorrow

It needs to be said: I am a teeny bit of a freak show right now.

Yesterday, we moved out of our house, which was (after months of supreme effort) stripped and echoing, like a rumbling empty stomach. A half an hour before we left, we said goodbye to our dogs, who wagged their tails obliviously down the dirt road on their leashes with their new owners. (My children were in tears.) We said goodbye to our closest Ugandan friends. (My husband and I were in tears.) We prayed in a tight circle on the front lawn.

It was at least a month ago when my husband looked at me, my face pink and slimy again from tears that seemed to squeeze out at all the wrong times for months on end. He said, “I’m not frustrated you’re crying. I’m just remembering that you’re grieving, and that takes a long time.”

(Have I mentioned I love him?)

I was reminded of is words when a friend mentioned that in the year after someone dear passed away, very few people walked that road with her. Grief is…lonely. And we grieve in waves. Sometimes the waves are close together, sloshing upon each other with slopping, crashing forces and sucking undertow.

 

Shouldn’t Christians be happy?

I’ve written before about the hidden art of Christian lament and profound grief; of bringing our deepest questions into the sanctuary that is our worship and gratitude. One of the most mystifying words in the Bible to me is joy. What in the world does “joy” mean? When I think of it, I consider someone who’s, say, lost a child. What’s joy look like there, when the edges of your world curl black?

I find value in the words of John Piper:

We [Christians] are a happy people. But we are not what you might call “chipper.” There is a plaintive strain in the symphony of our lives. I think Jesus was the happiest man who ever lived. And O how sorrowful! A man of sorrows…

[The world] need[s] the greatness and the grandeur of God over their heads like galaxies of hope. They need the unfathomable crucified and risen Christ embracing them in love with blood all over his face and hands…They need to see “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.”

A friend shared with me an exercise she learned in counseling. She took a sheet of paper, and chose a color to represent every emotion she was feeling. Then, she covered her paper with circles whose size was proportionate each emotion. I think of this when I realize I’m often experiencing many emotions at the same time. Even on our blackest days, we have a pervasive, underlying sense of contentment, hope, and even happiness in God.

 

Happiness is…?

Yet joy might not even be accurately described as an emotion. The words of Tim Keller were a balm to me this morning:

…we must remember that in the Bible, the ‘heart’ is not identical to emotions. The heart is understood as the place of your deepest commitments, trusts, and hopes. From those commitments flow our emotions, thoughts, and actions. To “rejoice” in God means to dwell on and remind ourselves of who God is, who we are, and what He has done for us. Sometimes our emotions respond and follow when we do this, and sometimes they do not. But therefore we must not define rejoicing as something that precludes feelings of grief, or doubt, weakness, and pain. Rejoicing in suffering happens within sorrow.

Here is how it works. The grief and sorrow drive you more into God. It is just as when it gets colder outside, the temperature kicks the furnace higher through the thermostat…The weeping drives you into the joy, it enhances the joy, and then the joy enables you to actually feel your grief without its sinking you. In other words, you are finally emotionally healthy.

When I think about grasping joy in grief, I find it inextricably braided with trust; with God’s inexplicable, unshakable care for me—that inimitable trio, faith, hope, and love. So hope, to me, is a defining characteristic of Christian grief: We do not grieve like those who have no hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13).

Our grief is different.

 

What hope is not

Here is what hope is not always. It doesn’t always mean

  • Answers (see Job).
  • Rescue (see Jesus).
  • Lack of weakness (see Paul).
  • Lack of doubt (see John the Baptist and Elijah).
  • Happy feelings (see David).

Emily Dickinson famously wrote, Hope is the thing with feathers. It takes us beyond here, beating with life and promise.

In the previous post, I mentioned we grant humanity to those around us when we don’t walk around their pain, but lean into it. (Think the Good Samaritan here.) I am increasingly willing to walk through others’ pain. But what about walking through my own funk, when my own soul sprawls there, feeling robbed? As I texted a friend this morning who asked how I was doing: I am getting the idea that God wants me to walk through all this and not around it.

Wherever this finds you, may you unearth joy not after your sorrow, but even further within it.

 

Like this post? You might like

Cry: On the Hidden Art of Christian Grieving

For the Days When You Feel Powerless, Parts I, II, and III

Doubting the Dream Weaver

On Keeping Your Heart Soft When Times are Tough

 

 

 

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Off-season: When You’re Not Where You Wanted to Be, When You Wanted to Be There–Part II

Off-season: When You're Not Where You Wanted to Be, When You Wanted to Be There

Missed the first post? Grab it here.

In three weeks, my family and I will quietly glide across the line sectioning our lives into before and after. And it will be as innocuous as stepping onto an air-conditioned airplane.

With an escapade like living in Africa—and really, in many ways embedding ourselves, and it in us—we bear the marks inside. Strangely, truthfully, I have fear this plane will land me back in a place I was giddy to leave seven years ago.

My thirtieth birthday was approaching. From childhood I’d pictured and prepared myself for a lean, vibrant life overseas. Instead, my approaching birthday found me squarely in Little Rock, a fistful of miles from where I graduated high school. I wielded a deep inner fatigue unique to welcoming four children in five years. (No. No twins. A couple did feel like twins.) Insert the picket fence and the dog—and you can picture the level of contentment I both seized with two hands and questioned, even while cherishing my life. I mean, I knew how I got there. I was grateful I was there. But still, I wondered. How did I get there?

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God’s Long Game

God's long gameWhat I loved recently in the U.S.: some conversations with parents of kids my husband and I had in the youth group back in the day. (When I was…more youthful.) We leaned forward with them over our Pick Twos from Panera, or perhaps chatted in the slanting afternoon light of their living rooms.

And here is what I will remember: I am thankful for God’s long game.

They were the parents of kids with whom we remember sitting with late into the night, wrestling with questions of faith. I had a slumber party with the girls; we probably painted our toenails a few times. My husband tossed the football or grabbed a Coke with the guys.

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Know Thy [Stressed] Self, Part II: The Stressed Version of Your Marriage

Missed Part I? Grab it here.

One of the unexpected delights of our final couple of months in Africa was the arrival of a college friend who’s known my husband and I since the beginning. She watched us meet, cautiously date, giddily become engaged. She played the piano when the two of us spring chickens said “I do” forever. Later, I stood with her as she spoke her own vows beneath a spreading tree. And when she visited us in Africa and we stayed up entirely too late, she gave us this gift: I told my husband, “I love that she reminds us how good we are together. That you and I together are a really good thing.”

I wrote before that this time of leaving Africa, of setting a foot on two highly divergent continents, has delivered unavoidable stress to our relationship. Both of us are strained, so it makes sense that our most intimate relationships would bear that weight. So it was kind of God to remind us that despite the ways we occasionally feel like the losers in a three-legged-race right now—“us” is still a really good thing.

Part I of this post outlined some essential reasons we need to identify when we’re stressed. If you’re convinced, let’s get down to it. What are the signs your marriage is under stress?

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Suffering–and the People We Become

We lounged in the lamp lit half-dark: my husband and I, and our college friend. We’ve been friends for about two decades now, which makes us feel impossibly old. We still easily bend over in outright laughter over hilarious references to our college days and their mishaps. Now, though, we have things like minivans and tax returns, and my friend and I swap tips on how cast iron is really the best way to cook fish, or omelets, she says.

But years aren’t the only thing under the bridge. That night, I marveled sadly how out of our six parents, we wouldn’t have guessed we’d have lost two of them by this point. My husband and I have moved to Africa, caught malaria, gotten robbed, etc. My friend has dealt with multiple nightmarish diagnoses of those she loves.

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What’s Hidden inside Your Love Story?

Let us hope that we are all preceded in this world by a love story.

–Sweet Land (PG, 2005)

I tease my husband (the poor introvert!). Because whenever I write about him—he, who washes his hands of anything to do with internet attention—readers eat. It. Up.What's Hidden in Your Love Story

But honestly, we’re all suckers for a good love story. Even if the characters are, say, a couple of anthropomorphic animated trolls with psychedelic hair. Yes, even guys, from Marvel comics to Jason Bourne.

We don’t just dig the attraction, gee-whiz-you-happen-to-be-exactly-the-Prince-Charming-I-was-keening-for stuff.  We watch (or read, or listen to the top 40) for two hours straight, or a whole TV season (or six), our spirits pressing the two together through everything life or a team of writers can throw at them.

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Guest post: Why Our Kids Need to Struggle

My family and I are headed back from Africa, which twists my heart in all sorts of new ways. But with that, my kids will be attending school for the first time—American school. Any of you mamas out there imagine the ways that messes with a mama’s heart?

So many of my prayers are poured out like water over their adjustment. Over finding just one solid friend. Over teachers and my son’s learning disorder and my kids’ abilities to be kind in the face of insult. And I think this is as it should be: asking God’s generous favor, slathered all over our kids.

But there’s this. I was reading Brene Brown last night, who occasionally helps me get my emotional head screwed on straight. And she reminded me of this: “Hope is a function of struggle. If we want our children to develop high levels of hopefulness, we have to let them struggle.”

I’m thinking out loud about this over on WeAreTHATFamily.com again. Want to hop over and check it out?

May you have all you need this week to do things hard and holy.

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For the Day You Feel Powerless, Part III: On Hope and Longing

Missed the first two parts? Grab I and II here.

When my husband and I were dating, he had this (irritating!) habit of asking what I wanted. Example:

Him: Where do you want to go out for dinner?

Me: I don’t care. [I really didn’t!] You pick.

Him, pulling over into a parking lot: No problem. We can just sit here until you know what you want.

See what I mean? Good grief.

Truth: I’m not great at knowing what I want. At least, not since high school. Before high school I knew what I wanted. But that’s when—due to some unhealthy insecurity and a mildly healthy desire to serve and surrender to what God wanted—I uncovered a great delight in pleasing. (My husband maintains that I can please with the best of them, but that lurking underneath is still a strong will to be reckoned with. He even goes so far to suggest that this strong will is attractive to him. I mean, can you trust this guy? Really?)

This has been gut-wrenching lately because when it comes to staying in Africa or moving back to the U.S., I actually did want something very much. I wanted to stay. And after giving up a lot of the things that don’t matter to me, it has at times felt almost a betrayal that God might ask me to give up one of the things that does.

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For the Day When You Feel Powerless, Part II

Missed the first post? Grab it here.

Last Thursday was one of those days that encapsulated so much of what I love and what drives me bananas about living in Uganda. I veered through jaw-clenching traffic on the 45-minute drive home, assembling all the clutter of my day into the appropriate mental file folders. This is quite a task to begin with–considering both a) my mind and b) at least four sudden oncoming governmental convoys. (Let’s just say mental “papers” kept being upended from their file folders by real life.)

As I do every week, I’d taught Bible at the refugee center. Even after three years, it’s a bit of a rabbit hole for me. There are so many cross-cultural experiences to make sense of at once that I’m flying by the seat of my skirt.

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Guest Post: Are We Raising Spiritually Entitled Kids?

Grief is a chisel.

As you know now,  my family and I are moving back from Africa, i.e. place I have felt technicolor, I-heart-my-life alive for the last five years. Though I believe God is showing us it’s time to move back for now, and though it’s also been a place where our family has encountered profound suffering, it’s been far more of a place of deep satisfaction. All of us are struggling with returning. We’ve been so stinkin’ happy in this place. For me, serving in my sweet spot has throbbed with purpose and meaning.

Ugly truth: My hide has been, off and on, a little chapped. I don’t completely understand why God’s doing this. And after all we have endured here, truth is still percolating into my heart that, hey, God can put me wherever He wants me.

Truth: Even (especially?) in work that serves God, I can get pretty…entitled. Sometimes I think I can even be in danger of passing that on to my kids. There’s a thin line, I think, between our kids trusting in God’s good character, His working everything out for our good, waiting expectantly for God to work on our behalf…and us feeling entitled to His tangible reward here on this planet, when we want it, as we want it.

Is there a chance we’re raising spiritually entitled kids?

I’m posting on this today at weareTHATfamily.com. Hope it encourages you.

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