A Generous Grace

ideas on practical spirituality and loving each other

Tag: difficulty (page 1 of 3)

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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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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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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I’d rather be whining: Complaining vs. Healthy, Honest Expression

I toppled into it this morning without a clue. Actually, it was before that: The electricity had snapped off sometime in the middle of the night, my husband and I groaning as the fan’s blades slowed and quieted, leaving a stuffy heat beneath our mosquito net that I knew would make it challenging for him to sleep well.

In the morning, I cooked pancakes and eggs by candlelight; by 9 AM the lack of electricity to the water pump at the bottom of our hill meant we were without water in the kitchen sink, too—after nearly a week of alternating lack of power and water. Grr. The kids had forgotten to plug in the “school” laptop last night, so mine was the option for homeschool, i.e. getting my own work done in the afternoon did not seem in the cards. I scrambled through phone calls before my phone battery died. The power company wasn’t picking up.

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Away: Feeling Far from God

The headlights wove through a mountain pass tonight as a few tears plopped on my lap. My husband had encouraged me to get out for some time alone; he and the kids shared shish kabobs at home. Usually I’m getting out for a relief from, well, motherhood. In the car it was blissfully quiet, blissfully alone. But my wanderings through the stacks of the used bookstore had struggled to lift what sat on my chest.

I mentioned I’ve been grieving lately. I wonder. Is it my heart’s questions that make me feel God is unusually silent?

away-from-god-meme

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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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Not the way I saw it going in my head: On second-guessing decisions

 

I think perhaps a reader phrased it best a few weeks ago:

[My husband] and I have wrestled with our “calling” to adopt years ago. We clearly felt it, and we have second guessed it almost every day since then, wondering what were we thinking? Did God really call us to this or were we just emotionally carried away, or as [this post] put it, is it an act of worship? I think in my naïveté, I assume that if I obey what I think God is clearly placing on my heart, he will “reward” me somehow with happiness and not trouble. My very wise husband points out that this is very bad theology!

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Hope in the slums: Finding God in Namuwongo

Sometimes it’s hard for me to locate the goodness of God in poverty.

A project with a Ugandan friend of mine, completing her counseling internship, had trailed me into the slums after her. In some ways the dry season made it more tolerable than I’d anticipated. The unnaturally-colored, stagnant water clotted with trash would soon rise bearing cholera, typhoid, and worse.

My heart and my senses were constantly scuffed to a raw alertness. The ten women our project was seeking to assist earned about 1500 shillings per day; about 50 cents. We ducked in their darkened huts, my rudimentary Luganda tripping over my tongue like my tennis shoes over the jutting paths outside.

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Turn here: Roadsigns for a Grateful Happiness

A friend of mine who eventually lost his wife, and the mother of his four children, to Lou Gehrig’s disease once recalled to me a profound moment with God. While he still cared for her as her body spiraled downward, he had lain on his bed, overcome by loss.

But God seemed to be pointing him toward thanks. Not able to immediately turn to full-on gratitude, my friend simply started small. He thanked God for the ability to breathe; for the bed he wept on; for the air conditioning. From there, his gratitude snowballed, steering him into praise.

My friend’s attitude has revolutionized my approach to my bad days; to my pain.

 

thank you neon sign

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