A Generous Grace

ideas on practical spirituality and loving each other

Tag: grief

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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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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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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Prayer in a Broken Christmas

Yesterday was one of those days when I felt like I was walking against the wind so much of the day: straining uphill, my too-thin sweater tugged around me as I grimaced, head down. As my husband and I lifted down plates for dinner, I recounted the parts that made me want to tear my hair out. (Or maybe a small tuft of my children’s. …Joking.) In the course of things, I did remember some good points. Somehow, as I relayed them, they grew a little. I tucked my head with a smile.

He put his hands on my shoulder, leveled his hazel eyes with my blue ones. “I want you to know,” he said, “that you are incredibly blessed.”

Somehow, those words triggered that out-of-body sort of viewpoint I needed, to survey my life not from the perspective of loss, but of gain. Of beauty. Incredibly blessed?

Oh, yeah. Yeah. I am.

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Tackling My Inner Grinch

Ever feel like your heart’s two sizes too small for the Christmas season?

I may have recently given my radio the stinkeye for its heartfelt counsel for me to have a holly-jolly Christmas this year, when I really felt like sulking, washed down with a swig of wassail and one of those little chocolate-dipped pretzels with sprinkles.

The Grinch stealing Christmas stockings

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When Helping Hurts [You], Part III: When Aisha Died

helping hurts

The phone connection sounded a bit like Oliver, one of my closest Ugandan friends, was crushing newspapers on the other end; I held the phone an inch from my ear. But I didn’t miss what made my hand fly to my chest: “Aisha…she passed. It was just too late. Things were already too bad.”

Aisha. Perhaps you remember her from this photo, snapped from my phone two and a half months ago, outside a mud hut in the slums of Namuwongo. She’s the young mother of four kids. A twenty-something.

namuwongo family

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Cry: The Hidden Art of Christian Grieving, Part II

 

sad-4

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.”

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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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