A Generous Grace

ideas on practical spirituality and loving each other

Tag: Tim Keller

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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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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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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31 Anything-but-Vanilla Methods to Bring Fresh Flavor to Times with God

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The Thing between Us

What if some good friend asked you, What’s that thing that most comes often between you guys in your marriage? You know, from your side of things.

What would it be?

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Every relationship, I think, has one: that Thing that occasionally threatens to overcome what you were sure was stronger than death. Sometimes I think it’s like hugging someone with an arm stuck between, the elbow digging into both of your ribs; awkwardly, painfully.

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If you’ve ever stood in the middle of African worship, it’s…well, it’s pretty hard to stand still.

As I first stood just mildly observing at our recent refugee center staff retreat, I marveled at the full-bodied–literally!–movement and singing: music that took over my heart, my body. I was, um, really dancing (don’t necessarily try to picture it…) to worship for the first time. Moisture leaked from the corners of my eyes. Perhaps you can see what I’m talking about:

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The Necessity of Talking to Yourself (and Not Just Listening)

It’s pretty much the only time, I think, when I should talk more than I listen.

You’ve been, there, I know: times like my morning a few days ago, when I tucked my feet beside me on the back porch, cup of tea in hand–mind splintered, floating in a deluge of concerns. I’d curled up to pray, but prayers kept colliding with the flotsam in my mind. I felt adrift; perhaps even a bit unmoored. Pretty sure I was just staring for a good portion of the time.

dock talking to yourself

The psalmist’s words in chapter 42 and 43 bubbled to the surface: Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed in me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him.

Somehow I’m thankful that the writer took the time to know his soul well, but also took the initiative to tow it towards shore.

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Holes: And why you should know yours (or your kid’s)

holes textShe’s cute, sitting across the table from me in her pink “I LOVE TO DANCE” tee with curls poking out from under that faux-raccoon hat. But then again, being cute has never been her problem. It’s what’s behind that smile with those eight-year-old Chiclet-sized teeth that’s been giving me a run for my money.

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Effortless beauty?

effortless beauty text

Lying in bed a few nights ago–makeup rinsed off (if I was wearing any), the beginnings of my double chin/jowls showcased by the position of head on pillow–I glimpsed an advertisement in a leading women’s magazine for an aging serum available only at high-end retailers. The model was lovely; perfect for the enticing caption: effortless beauty.

Her makeup was invisible, lashes were long and perfectly separated, skin creamy. She looked like one of those .0001% people who, upon waking, her partner may actually roll over, like in the movies, and say, Man, you’re gorgeous in the mornings. This does not happen at my house, and I consider it an attribution to my husband’s integrity that he does not contrive elaborate fairy tales about this point.

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