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Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Good Grief

This is a difficult post to write.  It's one I've started countless times and abandoned.  It involves a truth that I strongly believe in but I know that I'm going to step on some toes.  Quite frankly I've been approaching this whole blog thing with a "first do no harm" attitude, but I need to get this out there so, with all apologies, here goes.

The five stages of grieving is a crock of doo doo.  There I said it.  Whew.  I'm really, really tired of myself and anyone else being given permission to wallow around and misbehave because we have suffered a loss, no matter how great or how small.  Do I think the science/psychology/sociology behind the grieving "stages" is faulty?  Nope.  Do I think it gives a fair representation of how most people deal with death and loss?  Sure.  Do I think it should apply to followers of Jesus Christ?  That would be a firm and emphatic no.

I'm not out on a limb here scripturally.  1 Thessalonians 4:13 says, "Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those that fall asleep or to grieve like the rest of men who have no hope."  That is pretty straightforward to me.  There are Christians and then the "rest of men."  We are allowed to grieve but not like those without hope.  Those five stages and such are for the other fellers.

Even with that scripture hanging out there for all to see, I've found that this is actually a revolutionary idea, even in Christian circles.  I attended a secular support group for parents who have lost children for a while.  I loved the people there, loved the shared laughter and tears, and loved being able to share with people my message of joy despite, of hope even though.  After a while, I decided to try the Christ-based grief support group at church.  I only went three times.

On the third (and probably final) time I went to this particular group, the topic was whether or not it was okay to be angry at God.  The bottom line of the video and of the discussion was that it is okay, expected, and acceptable to shake your fist heavenward when you suffer a loss.  I listened, praying that I was not supposed to speak up, as person after person talked about how unfair it was that their loved one had died, how it wasn't how it was supposed to be that way, and other variations thereof.  It quickly became obvious that God was not going to let me hold my tongue and, prayerfully, I said what I believe.

I think it is natural to feel anger at God when a loved one dies.  But what comes naturally to us as human beings is not necessarily, or even usually, right or the truth.  We are not to be ruled by our feelings.  And by giving into them and raging at our Lord, at our Creator, at the One who gave us the loved one who has gone on in the first place, we are separating ourselves from the very Source of peace, comfort, and joy.  In other words, of course you can be mad at God.  It won't affect His love for you or your salvation.  But you will finally only be hurting yourself.  You will be separating yourself from His side when He most wants to draw you near.  You might be interfering with the plan He has laid out before you, denying yourself the blessings that He so freely wants to give.

I used to be quite the existentialist.  I read a lot of Sartre and was nauseatingly self-important and struggled with Prufrock's "overwhelming question."  What was my purpose or anyone else's?  Why were we here?  What was the meaning of life?  The Bible actually answers these questions very succinctly.  The purpose of our lives on earth is sanctification.  To try and be as much like Christ, who was fully man and fully God and therefore the perfect example to mankind, as we possibly can be.  To do this we have to do two things:  Love the Lord Our God with all our hearts, souls and minds and love our neighbors as ourselves.  If you are raging at God, you are epically failing at #1.

I don't like to glorify suffering.  I'm not a Christian who lets out heavy sighs and says things like "this is just a cross I have to bear."  But there is great value in suffering if we allow God to work through it.  It is a short-cut to sanctification.  It strips us down and teaches us, if we are willing to be taught.  Just like strenuous, painful exercise tones and strengthens our bodies, suffering strengthens our souls, if we will let it.  That is why we are supposed to rejoice in our sufferings, whether we feel like it or not.  Because if we will, we will have peace that passes understanding and unshakeable joy no matter what.

So, I said most of that in shorter form to the grief group.  One woman was cheering me on the whole way with "Hallelujahs!"  and "Amens."  Some were looking at me and nodding, others were unreadable.  I ended by quoting the scripture from Thessalonians cited above and saying that the world tells me that I have to be sad for the rest of my life because my baby died, but God says differently.  He says I get to have peace, joy, and hope.  The moderator jumped in immediately and said, "Or not!"  She then proceeded to assure everyone that it was perfectly fine to be angry with God, citing Job as an example, and saying in what really was a pretty snarky tone that everyone couldn't be an "enlightened" as me.  I held my tongue, as I felt was appropriate.  At the end of the session, I spoke up again only to say that I was not enlightened or special in any way.  I was just a Christian and did my best to live surrendered to God.

Several people came up to me before I dashed out the door, including a woman who was newly widowed, to tell me that they had appreciated what I said and found encouragement in it.  I was glad.  Because I don't want to be judgmental or preachy and that is why it has taken me this long to share this story.  I don't want to say people are doing something wrong.  But I do want people to stop believing that just because something bad happens to you, be it the death of a child, a divorce, infertility, whatever, that it's really never going to be okay.  I'm tired of watching people feel sorry for themselves, act poorly toward God and their neighbor, fail to rise to the calling God has placed on their lives, and use grief as an excuse.

You cannot love someone more than I loved Eddie.  You cannot miss someone more.  He was and is my heart, just like his little brother and sister.  It's never going to be the same.  That's true.  But that is no excuse for me to be disobedient to God.  To have the audacity to rail against the One who made me and who gifted me a beautiful, wonderful child to be mine for twenty two months on this earth and an eternity in the next.  To fail to love my neighbor because I'm too busy focusing on my self.  Life will never be the same, but it is still going to be awesome if I will continue to let God take charge by surrendering it all to Him and giving thanksgiving.

As I mentioned, Jesus came to earth in part to be our example.  He experienced grief and suffering in gigantic measures.  His cousin, John the Baptist, was cruelly imprisoned, beheaded, and his head served to a dancing girl on a platter.  When Jesus is told this news, He withdraws to grieve.  The crowd follows Him, not allowing Him the dignity of solitude to mourn the loss of one He loved.  It would be natural to send them away.  I tell them He needed some time, that He would get back to them later.  Remember, He was fully man.  But instead he "looked upon them with compassion and healed their sick."  Then he fed them, all five thousand of them, with two loaves of bread and three fish.  That evening He sent His disciples ahead of Him and dismissed the crowd before He again withdrew... and prayed.  Then He walked on water.  It was a busy day.

Okay, granted.  He's God.  But at the same time, we are assured that we can be like Him, through Him, if we devote our hearts and lives to it.  So here it is.  We need to grieve.  We need to withdraw, weep, and pray.  We can even ask "why?"  We just have to accept that He may not answer or that we may not like it.  At the end of the day, we have jobs to do.  Miracles to perform in God's name, even if it is just showing a kindness to someone in need.  And we've got to be close to God to do it.  We've got to have the heart to say "thy will be done," even if His will involves pain, suffering and death, if we want to live free.  If we want to have hope. 

I'm not suggesting you stuff your feelings and pretend they aren't there.  I'm suggesting you take them to God in love.  Force your lips to say "thank you" and then pour your heart out to Him and ask Him to get your head in line.  Ask Him to help you to be grateful for what you had and what you have, not angry at what you lost.  You can't be grateful and angry at the same time and gratitude, thanksgiving, is the key to peace.  It is the key to a life lived in joy and contentment.  It is the key to hope.