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Friday, October 18, 2013

Grief Observed, and Pollyanna Positivism

This year has been quite a journey, mostly full of what you might call "grief sandwiches," in which upsetting turnarounds layer themselves with bright spots of joy and victories small and large. In the midst of this, I've felt a lot of pressure to only write hopeful messages here, especially since so many people I know are going through some rough times. Maybe that's why I have been silent so often over the past few months. I mean, who wants to read a depressing blog, anyway?

But really, I can't always be Pollyanna. There comes a time when grief needs to be brought out into the open, so that mourners know that it's okay to be sad, and that God doesn't despise them for their tears.

Society, and even many Christians, stigmatize grief. Those who have suffered a loss are supposed to wave the magic wand of the Bible (or self-actualization, or whatever) at the situation, and never hurt or cry about it again. If they do, it must mean that they are weak.

So people eat their grief and confusion and guilt, or binge and starve themselves, or surgically alter themselves, or engage in cutting, or become secret alcoholics, or spend their life savings on clothes and possessions, just to try to manage the turbulent emotional storm on the inside. All the while, they are presenting a falsely positive front to the critical world (at least until the mask cracks under the pressure). Essentially, they are punishing themselves because other people have been mean to them!

But Christ Himself said, "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted," (Matthew 5:4 NIV).

And it is written, "My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise," (Psalm 51: 17 NIV).

And finally, there is the prophecy concerning Christ, in Isaiah 61: 1-3 NIV:
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.
What is the message? That tears over an impossible grief are not shameful to God. He will not call us weak if we cry, or fly into a rage if we confess to Him that in all honesty we can't handle this situation on our own any longer. God does not expect us to be superhuman automatons who ask nothing and feel nothing, and who can bench press overwhelming trouble with one hand tied behind our backs.

God is the only superhuman! He can handle it, but He doesn't expect us to. God doesn't want us to heal ourselves. In fact, He would rather we acknowledge our enemies (whoever or whatever they are), take ownership for our weakness and frailty, and welcome the healing His capable hands have offered. When we acknowledge that we are His sheep--His needy, bleeding, crying, hungry, frail, imperfect, impractical, stumbling sheep--and trust in the capable arms of our Shepherd--our honest, trustworthy, dependable, heroic, creative, loving, generous, patient, long-suffering, sacrificial Shepherd--we are on the road to healing.

Why am I still talking about this? I have some friends who are presently facing the fact that the envisioned perfect, happily-ever-after outcome to their problems is not coming, and though my heart bleeds for them, I don't have any words of great comfort for their situation. I can't make the impossible, terrible thing not happen, since it already did. I am not superhuman either, you see.

I do know that God can bring comfort, even when words and efforts fail, and I'll keep repeating that even when no one asked me! He never promised us only happy endings (I mean, the end of the world in the Bible isn't exactly what I would call a happy ending for this planet!), but He did promise us that He would be there with us and that He would heal our wounds.

Go back and read those promises over again if you haven't committed them to heart yet. What did Christ say about grief? What did He say about how He deals with grief? What can we infer about how we are to deal with grief? It seems that if we want to recover from the impossible, we can only do it through His impossible strength, His other strength, not our own strength, not through self-abuse and self-medication, or from going to any other source for comfort.

How do you give your grief over to God? It's as simple as getting alone and just telling Him about it, out loud (that's why I said to get alone, so you don't have to feel self-conscious). I said out loud, not because there's a rule for that, but because it seems to help to not carry it inside any more. You have God's ear, so what are you waiting for? I can't tell you everything He will say, but I know that it will begin with, "I love you...I see your heart...I know your pain...I'll make it Me."