Living Well In the Wake of Loss

Over the past few weeks, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about loss and grief. I’ve also spent a lot of time in the Psalms. What follows are some of the salient points from my personal journey as I attempt to live well in the wake of loss:

Express it.
When one of his friends died, Jesus wept. As I see it, I think he cried because he saw the pain others were experiencing. I don’t think Jesus was personally feeling the loss because he was about to heal Lazarus of his death problem. Wether I’m right or not, it’s clear that Jesus expressed himself.

Additionally, the Psalms stand tall as a powerful testament of unflinching expression of grief and loss and confusion and fear. God loves us in our limitations and meets us in the place of despair.

We don’t need to burry it. This may delay things for a while, but it’ll only come back up. The longer we let it linger, the larger it becomes.

Reflect on it.
Animals lack freedom beyond their instincts. We act based on our instincts too, but we can develop self awareness. Animals don’t have this option.

We can choose to think and feel about our thoughts and feelings. We can’t change everything about ourselves or about our situations, but we can choose the most important things. We choose what we love and hate and what drives us and the direction we are headed. You may really love your cat, but he can’t do these things (but dogs probably can).

If you get a splinter lodged into one of your fingers, you don’t wallow in pain and say, “something hurts somewhere!” That’s silly. You grab the finger, identify the splinter’s precise location, pull it out, and make a note to avoid doing whatever it was that led to getting injured (Sometimes I skip that last step just to keep my life more exciting).

Pain in the heart is so much more difficult to find!

Begin by asking, “Why is the loss such a big deal?” I’m NOT saying the pain SHOULD NOT be a big deal, only that we need to go beneath the surface and learn the WHY. What are all the reasons why the pain is so painful?

Uncovering the layers of the WHY will be difficult. The human heart may have four chambers, but it has infinite rooms filled with conflicting ideas, emotions, and motivations.

The next question may feel like throwing salt into the wound, but we are not of those who shirk back! In the long run, the bliss of ignorance is much more harmful than the bite of understanding. So, without further preamble, here it is, I tried to prepare you: “What’s unhealthy about your grief?”

Ultimately, all loss carries an element of selfishness. Somewhere in the kernel of grief is at least a hint of entitlement.

  • We compare: “Anyone in my situation would feel like this.”
  • We contradict: “No one really understands, I have it worse than anyone.”
  • We compromise: “I deserve to feel this way.”

Entitlement undermines what we believe about God.

  • If we really believe God is in control, then his timing is right. Some elements of grief argue against God’s timing.
  • If we really believe that to live is Christ and to die is gain, then we would rejoice when the saints go marching home. Some elements of grief don’t trust God’s promises.

Most of us understand this aspect of grief. The only way we’ll truly move through the grief is to give ourselves permission to be entitled. Temporary permission.

The truly difficult part, the task that requires a LION’S SHARE of courage, is to move this understanding from the abstract to the concrete. The general feeling of loss to the intensely personal and specific reason why. We need to move from, “everyone would hurt in this situation” to “I am hurting because ….”

This sets us up for God’d next work.

Trust more.

Every loss—wether they are unjust or not—creates for us an opportunity to trust God more. This doesn’t mean we should take a stoic approach, seeking to live a life with as few connections as possible. We need to love others deeply, but we need to remember that one of God’s names is Jealous. He wants our hearts un-dividedly devoted to him. He is constantly working to draw us into greater dependence on him.

Pursue more comfort from God than anything else.

Healthy diversions can clear our minds and grant perspective. I hear this is why some people go hiking. For me, I find a slightly less comfortable position on the couch. Diversion creates space for some comfort.

Friends are important! Great Friends can bring Great Comfort. Biblical fellowship bears one another’s burdens, and we ought to be better at caring for one another.

However, these are lesser comforts. We worship the God of comfort. He has provided the Holy Spirit—the Comforter—because his power is the only remedy for our broken.

Receive Joy.

When we are caught up in the throes of grief, it’s irrational to think we can find joy in Christ. Nevertheless, it is there. God’s promises are independent of our predicaments. There is always a reason for hope, we need to posture our hearts before God to receive it.

We don’t need to manufacture it, it won’t last. The World’s evil is greater than our ability to ignore it. We don’t need to pretend we are happy. Others will see right through it, and all it does is create more relational distance from them.

Instead, we must look to Christ for the peace that transcends understanding.

Remember that experiences equip you for future impact.

When the time is right, you’ll be able to pass on the comfort you’ve received. God comforts us, and out of the overflow of his work, we will comfort others. God won’t waste a hurt. The good work he does in you will soon become a good work he does through you. The idea of passing it on doesn’t matter very much in the middle of the storm, but it is a true promise from God that can serve as a lighthouse in the dark.

Return to your rest, my soul,
for the Lord has been good to you.
(Psalm 116:7)

undiscovered opportunities

“… it was because of an illness that I first preached the gospel to you…” (Galatians 4:13)

Scripture tells us that Paul’s illness was a trial for the Galatians. He praised them for not treating him with contempt or scorn–implying that their response was uncommon, unique, mature.

If it was a trial for them, imagine how difficult it must have been for Paul!

The hard truth is that hardships can open doors that would otherwise be closed. When life gets difficult, we are quick to complain. We settle for mere survival. What if our goal was not to simply get through, but to be used by God in the midst of hardship.

In times of stress we may find new opportunities to be faithful. Let’s commit to a new prayer:

God, help me in this season and open my eyes to see how you are calling me to act.

 

 

 

When God is distant

The Lord is near. (Philippians 4:5)
We forget and ignore God for many reasons, this passage illuminates us with at least three:

Anxiousness
Lack of prayer
Lack of thankfulness

Proximity is power. In the dark, a light close by allows us to see. In times of grief, the presence of a close friend gives comfort. In seasons of confusion, access to wisdom makes the way clear. When a child is lost, debilitating fear sets in with the awareness of being alone. We know the power of proximity.

When our problems become our priority, anxiousness and worry gain control of our thoughts. Like a hamster on the wheel, we furiously tread the same thoughts without any movement forward. Fixated on the possibility of failure or harm drowns out the voice of faith in our hearts and make it impossible to trust in God.

In the face of certain failure, it’s difficult to talk to God. Instead we look to the solutions we can gain by our own power…meanwhile, things continue to spin out of control.

Without thankfulness, we are consumed by what we don’t have, and quickly loose contentment. This begins the fruitless pursuit for more…more stuff, more security, more control and power.

God is near. He is always near. He never leaves us, nor does he shut off access. Our responsibility is to acknowledge him. We must let our anxiousness be overwhelmed with the power of his presence. We must talk to him, simply and plainly, in prayer. Like a conversation between friends, we turn to the God who is near. We must take an inventory of the blessings we already possess and offer sincere thankfulness.

When we trust in the nearness of God, we have a confidence the world cannot destroy or erode.

Three Benefits of Temptation

“..temptations are often very beneficial to us, even though they are troublesome and grievous, for in them we are humbled, purified, and instructed.”
Thomas à Kempis. “Imitation Of Christ.”

HUMBLED — Temptations move us to greater dependence on God because we cannot stand up under them without divine power. Worldly successes can lead to a stronger sense of self-sufficiency (believing we don’t need God) and superiority (we believe we are better than others). We do not need to fail and fall in order to be humbled. Temptation–the moments we come face to face with the real possibility of our disobedience–provides  the opportunity to humble ourselves.

PURIFIED — Temptation brings to light the darkness within, and when we stand up strong, in the strength of Jesus, the shadow disappears. Temptation is impurity leaving our heart, in the wake we can choose to let it back in or cast it off. Our hearts more pure and less divided when we successfully resist temptation.

INSTRUCTED — Our brokenness has left us separated from God and his wisdom. We are woefully ignorant and our foolishness is multiplied because we are usually unaware of our need for wisdom. There are some truths we can only learn while struggling against temptation.

 

When we next face temptation, let’s ask the Spirit for his strength, and be encouraged by the new growth available to us.