Last December I wrote in my phone, “In a way, I went blind; I went where the hope was.” At the time, I was waiting to hear back about a job. I was in tension with many things that a year later I still sit in tension with. Some things could not bear under the tension and broke.
As I write this, my mom sent me a very lengthy mom text that was both silly and sad in regards to the day when she became well advanced in age and how she would like to be cared for.
It was actually super encouraging, a well thought out treatise of how she would like to be cared for, very straight forward, very specific and explained how it will meet her perceived needs. It seemed like it came from someone who knows what they want.
I admire it because it seemed reasonable and easy to meet the kind of expectations she laid out. While I say her expectations are reasonable, I have no idea if I will be able to meet any of them 10 years from now or sooner or later. I only can meet expectations for the now. For those people or places or things that don’t know what they want or need now, it makes it very difficult, somewhat impossible to know how to help.
There was and have been times when I could very easily articulate what I’ve wanted or thought I needed. Even in doing so, sometimes those wants and needs don’t get met. Need and want are both qualitative terms. It’s too reductionary or just plain false to say all we need is food water and shelter. Our humanness need much more than what merely keeps the body alive. We need things, people, places of safety that help sustain our joy which is ultimately grounded in Christ. Sure those things, relationships and places can be shaken, hopefully without being broken.
Today, my soul is aware that it is both surrounded by color yet covered under the weight of a veiled cloudiness that has kept me cold, achy and tired. I need a win. Grades are due, my energy is sapped. I have been lost at home. Yet tangible hope must be found somewhere. There must be a direction in which I can go and find it or the things that can give breath to hope: joy, love, some sense of rest.
I need a direction, an aim, a God of hope, a divine intervention that can fill in the gaps of all the margin I have been unable to handle in the wake of feeling shaky and uncertain about the misplaced affection in which I have hoped. I wish God would make decisions for me when I feel life has become too exhausting. I have too much to give to be tired. I’m going still a little unsure about what I see.
A little over a month and half ago I went on vacation to Hawaii. I had a friend tell me, jokingly (though in every joke there sometimes is a truth) “You’re going on vacation? A vacation from what? You don’t have a job.” It’s actually a line from Seinfeld, Jerry to George (I’m not George).
I don’t need to justify my position, but I will. Suffice it to say that pre-pandemic I was working long hours in an isolated beach town in NJ to move to another job with the same company that took no breaks during the pandemic. Also, I tore my meniscus, got ACL surgery and was pretty inactive for a while so after going on no extended vacations for 2 years, one of those years being an emotionally intense year of chaplaincy in which I made very little money, followed by an emotionally trying time of disappointment in pursuing a career in ministry, I decided to take a vacation in the midst of a pandemic after not working for 3 months. Thankfully, I got a nice tax return check.
Now that the justificaiton is out of the way, I will reflect on what I hoped from the trip. Memorial Day weekend, the weekend I tore my meniscus I met my friend Richard who I traveled to Hawaii with.
We had lots of good conversation the first time we met, centered around moving to Charleston, how in the midst of transition or choosing to transition, there will always be consequences you can’t account for. And how enneagrams 4’s hearts are so concerned about mining the depths that it can be hard for us to get out of the depths and look up and see the light (usually other people help us).
Unforeseen consequences of the first time I moved to Charleston for example: my dad was diagnosed with leukemia 5 days before I moved. Half way through my time here, my grandma passed away. If someone were to tell me those things when I applied for a chaplaincy residency at the end of 2017 perhaps I would have reconsidered moving to Charleston in 2018. But in short we don’t know what will happen when we choose to move or transition. We hope for the best and we get what we get, and hopefully we are content in knowing God has us.
Richard and I also talked about navigating trials, and projecting joy in the midst of suffering (something I’m historically terrible at). Our circumstances in December of 2020 found us thinking about planning a trip. Woe was us! International travel was off the table, and I don’t like the cold, so we went to Hawaii. A glorious compromise.
Hawaii is beautiful. I don’t think anyone who has been could or would say otherwise. Beaches, mountains (volcanoes), nice temperature. In simple terms it’s a great place to vacation and to live if you like living on an island in the middle of the ocean.
We hiked, we surfed, we ate some things, stayed in nice places and laughed a ton. We also talked about community and its purpose in our lives, how by its design it’s never meant to keep us stuck. How community in it’s freest form points us to Christ and sets us free to look beyond self to the needs of others and the Kingdom that has come. And how once community ceases to be this, it becomes a trap or a roadblock to good things. Community takes what we have in common and shares it for the sake of further unity. Community should grow not retract. Community shouldn’t keep us on an island.
It was helpful to think about on an island where it was beautiful and easy to be, knowing that everyone else’s lives were moving and going on without me. It was a different island than the one I was on for 5 months at the Jersey shore coming home to my cat every night in the cold winter of 2019-2020.
Oh the islands I choose to visit. And what isolation does to a person is interesting. I have reflected on it previously. People talk about the dangers of isolation and being alone, and I can attest to many of those dangers. But I will say, being alone for a long time means lots of time to think about what you want and how you will get there.
Which is why in many ways Hawaii was not just a vacation but also a chance to think about the question: “was this what I set out to do?”
I wrote myself a letter on August 5th, 2020 after reading a Bob Goff book, Dream Big, that Richard recommended to me. In it Bob says to write a letter you wrote to yourself and read it 6 months later so naturally I did that on our vacation.
I will give you the highlights of what I had hoped from the letter I wrote on August 5th and read February 5th 2021. (Yes I wrote it with the intention to read it on my birthday):
-I wrote I’d be in Charleston (technically I was wrong, I wasn’t even in Hawaii reading it, I was in Colorado, a place I probably will never return to).
-I wrote I’d have a budding romance (always the romantic optimist), that could not have been less true.
-I’d have writing/publishing opportunities (I’ve certainly written a ton, but have refused to finish anything, an enneagram’s 4 challenge, committing to something long enough to complete it, we accept life for its incompleteness, we also aren’t great at selling ourselves)
-I’d have a healthy knee (actually that’s mostly true)
-I’d have a restful home and a joy filled community (yes…)
-I was considering doing a second Master’s (ironically enought that’s still on the table but it’s my third choice at the time when I wrote it: a Master’s in education. I was previosuly considering an MDIV or Clinical Counseling).
-I was supposed to sell a lot of stuff, eat healthy, and fast more (meh)
It was a short letter. There was some recap and epistle like characteristics to it that were helpful that I won’t go into detail about.
During the many reflections with Richard and thinking about the 4 months of living in Charleston and not working, I had to come to grips with if it was worth it. Was it worth moving and risking looking foolish?
Is it worth it to be left under the scrutiny of others on the outside thinking I might be lazy or indecisive or unsteady or unreliable or not resilient and to move on from those perceptions in order to be steadfast? It’s part of the cost: to be misunderstood, to let others make assumptions, to be judged for how you present yourself. The way to keep going without depression or self-pity is to move on, quietly.
A step of faith requires one to be willing to look foolish, to look like a failure and knowing that many will find your life undesirable. Being able to ignore the inevitable gossip and the ones that treat you like you are less than because of your decisions or circumstances is difficult. But we need to move on from those voices without working up a defense. (perhaps not writing something like this)
It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting.
I don’t know how prepared you are to give of your tears or how familiar you might be with what that entails. I’m going to write a bit about mourning this morning. Grief, loss, and death, I know are not necessarily fun topics to read about. I don’t know a lot about pandemics, the spread of viruses or the long term effects of these things, but I am fairly confident that if political leaders and people are willing to show any hint of prioritizing stimulating the economy and bailing out large financially irresponsible big businesses at the risk of spreading a deadly virus, it’s safe to say that some compassionate folks may have to take up the business of empathy and grieving.
*Scroll to the bottom if you just like practicals*
And that person might be you or me. So here’s how:
Tears are beautiful. One day, in the Kingdom of Heaven there will be no more use for them. But here, now, tears of the emotional variety are a visual display of our pain and our stress and our empathy. As they are released chemicals are typically released in our body that calm our mind and relieve us of physical pain. In this way they are chemically associated with doing good for the inside.
It is important to keep in mind that the capacity for tears or crying is more important than volume. So like anything crying too much or persistent crying amidst a depressive episode could yield little to no benefit. It’s important to discern and distinguish between the two.
Yesterday, my mom put her cat Tabitha down who was 19 years old and had kidney failure. I cried a bit on my drive to her house thinking about my mom during this season of quarantine, thinking a little about Tabitha and how interesting of a cat she was. Those tears were in some ways helpful because I was prepared to empathize with my mom and imagined what it was like to lose a pet but also adjust in a season when being home a lot and perhaps for a extended season is necessary.
Later on that evening, I cried again while being exceedingly frustrated and uncertain even scared about what decisions to make, feeling like life is still out of my control and being frustrated and double-minded about how to live out what I feel called to in the midst of my current vocation after a season where I already felt isolated for the previous 5 months. These tears were less helpful, but still helpful. In part because these tears were more a response to an unclear uncertain emotional framework that had me stuck on myself. If I was still crying those same tears now they would not be helpful and perhaps self-indulgent.
Let’s return to loss and grief and death though for a moment. Some of you may have experienced the loss of a loved one. It was a deep loss that you may have not been prepared for and suffered or may suffer still as you learn to adapt to a new rhythm without that individual. Sometimes their loss might still illicit tears or sadness but hopefully, that loss has not kept you unable to find fullness in life.
Hopefully, you found a helpful ritual or prayer or found ways to accept the loss and have been given new eyes of appreciation for others. Hopefully, also, you will be presented with the opportunity to help others walk through their own grief and loss.
My hope is that this will not be a season that you will be called upon to do that, but there is a chance in the coming weeks even months you might know several people who lose something or someone due to this virus.
Not all loss is death, but death feels the most permanent. And in seasons where isolation is already becoming the norm if someone were to die while others are isolated and may not be able to mourn as easily communally, we will need to be diligent in helping to heal those who suffer loss.
We have power to minister and bring healing to others when we stay alert and aware in the midst of our own loss, to not checkout and isolate, but to remain available. To be reminded that others too will suffer the loss of spouse or grandparent or parent or child, that while our grief and loss is unique in the individual or thing lost, the experience of losing is not unique to us.
So a couple of practicals:
-Imagine you are in their position, in the coming weeks it might not take that much imagining (we’ll see)
-Listen more than spouting advice or cliche phrases of optimism (Scripture written in an encouraging note or a timely word spoken gently might be helpful but listen first)
-Pray for them
-Make sure they are fed and checked in on
-Affirm that they are loved, again gently
-Maybe not a reminder for the one suffering, but death is not the end of everything and it is a part of life; death might become more normalized, but Jesus has promised us eternity with Him for those who believe. So yes, a priority on the restoration to or perseverance in their most important relationship.
-Remember God is with us in our tears
You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book?
In the Kingdom, when it comes, there will be the tree of life that bears different fruits and the leaves of that tree will function like medicine to heal the nations. It is not often when reading Revelation that I know if I am reading a metaphor or imagery or literally, but in this instant, I don’t think it is harmful to believe a literal very large and very happy looking tree fulfilling this purpose.
But the tree as it stands and sways is made and moved by Jesus, in Him it moves, we breathe and have being. In this same Kingdom, in those same eternal moments every tear, every sorrow, all recollection of death and pain will be wiped away.
It is on that hope, I hope to encourage you with these brief words. Jesus came and comes again with one intention, to lavish love on His Bride, His Beloved, His people in restored relationship.
There is a strange dichotomy at play though, right now. Winter is supposed to pass; it’s supposed to be done with on Thursday. The time of things dying and being laid bare is supposed to be behind us, even during Lent, a time meant to prepare us, a season of repentance of sins, of giving away, of denying our self. The leaves and flowers are determined to make their appearing. And yet the world is slowing down and simultaneously crying out because of sickness.
But maybe the world, the creation and the command of God are all crying out the same thing.
Maybe they are crying out, “Do not be afraid!” Particularly afraid defined as running away or fleeing. We may stand our ground or even be forced into solitude or quiet in these times but the potential for relationship and community and conversation still exist in abundance. The potential for love and kindness and mercy is present.
And though we wait, for the day when leaves will heal nations, perhaps Jesus has left us, His church to heal and bless the nations.
I’m running on 3 hours of sleep, I’m writing at the end of my work week, I’m recognizing I am weak. I’m remembering the Body is strong. I’m resting in the hope that my eternity is secure. I’m relying on a great cloud of witnesses cheering us on and the intercession of Jesus to keep us faithful to the end.
I had a wonderful night worshiping Jesus yesterday with the family of God. I was reminded of the following passage in Mark 10:28-31
Then Peter spoke up, “We have left everything to follow you!” (I weep here)
“Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one (<—- you’re not alone) who has left home (“safe” places) or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children (family) or fields (possessions and provisions) for me and the gospel (Jesus and the good news of His kingdom)will fail to receive a hundred times as much (more than we can imagine) in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions (I don’t need to put that part in parentheses because it should stand out)—and in the age to come eternal life.But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”
I emphasize, perhaps my greatest joy is worshiping, singing, dancing before the Lord along with His people, people on mission together. I experienced so much joy seeing them worship.
I’ve had this experience several times this week: my mom shared a testimony with me about feeling led to encourage and pray for her coworker at the library; I’ve heard news from both my communities here and in Charleston on Thursday night and I have been offered an opportunity to teach a class in January on theology. It was a great week for me in that realm.
Yet, I’m losing track of the days and time: when I had certain conversations, losing track of promises, of how to obey the leading of the Spirit. I find my desires to be tired and malaise as I try to wait and hear for the now.
I read verse 28, Peter saying “We have left everything to follow you!”
There have been seasons of my life I’ve read Peter’s words and have shared his
earnestness. However, what I have missed and still will likely miss in the future is Jesus’ actual response. Jesus doesn’t so much affirms Peter’s earnestness which is heartfelt and sincere, as much as Jesus simply states, “Peter this is the lot of everyone who follows.” You twelve are no different than any sincere follower of Jesus. You all will be called to leave something.
And I here the Spirit ask me, “what aren’t you leaving behind? Have you chosen “safety” again? What are you going back to that’s empty”
I’ve definitely run back to some familiar things, some are not helpful, even sinful and others are stagnant. None of them are filling. I hope to find mercy in the familiar but mercy is something that is new every morning. It’s like mana; mercy and grace comes fresh for the moment for the thing God telling us to do. And it must be fresh.
And the only way to maintain fullness is to eat and drink a new every day. And this is where I wander and stumble.
I cling so hard to the past, expecting the past to change or trying to pretend like it doesn’t exist, relying on my history with Jesus rather than fighting for friendship in the present.
If I pretend like all of my past does not exist or when I try to remove the past from me, I stifle the opportunity for God to come through on His promise to make all things work together for good.
And stifling that promise for newness and fullness of life feels like death when you’ve put all your faith and hope in it.
When we, like Peter have left all to follow, we’ve agreed to surrender control, and I find myself often trying to refinance the terms.
I return to construction. I run from the Church when she wounds me. I wound the Church in my running. I lose myself in job security as I find the insecurity within myself alive and well. I am confronted with my selfish motives and rather than persevere for something worthwhile, I merely persist in my waking non-working hours questioning most everything. And in writing this I fear I victimize my reader. I’ve grown weary from writing about painful things. It’s a contradiction because the Kingdom I profess is coming is one in which pain passes away.
Once I’ve chosen the Kingdom and the family of God, I’ve made a choice to dine forever with God. The choice of dining or dying has been made and that means there is no longer room for fellowship with darkness.
I now must dine in the light and having the Spirit of Christ in me means dark things, behaviors, and spirits have to make an exit. Yet, tares mingle among the wheat.
I’m still being sifted, as a child in my faith. And in it I am reminded how little if anything I contribute to this process. But one thing is certain I must habitually continually say yes to the process.
Family, to stay full at this table, we must dine daily even in the presence of enemies, as the psalm says. In the glory of the presence of God, a holy fullness will drive out the emptiness of darkness, hopelessness, and uncertainty. Faith is certain for the hopeful. May we stay full.
I’m somewhere in the air floating, waiting to land. This wasn’t the plan, but this is where I am. God may have called an audible.
I still am not sure this is where I am supposed to be but God has promised to be with me.
And my soul has grown quiet. The one thing this season has done is simplified my soul. That does not mean that temptation is not sometimes loud or that the weight is less heavy. But I’m learning to tread softer. I’m learning to make less noise when things don’t go as planned. And I’m accepting I might not know God as well as I thought.
I’m also having to accept that my intuition regarding people cannot be ignored. That doesn’t mean I have to speak bad about them or slander them which I have been guilty of. It just means I have to accept that some people’s character is just unattractive, not becoming and in need of transformation.
I thought a year of chaplaincy would mark me more. While it may have helped keep me tender, it did not thicken my skin. Nothing has hardened to help protect myself as a result. So little if anything can bulletproof you from loss.
I should give you an update. The amount of doors that have closed or never opened for ministry in the last few months have been humbling. And where I find myself is on a construction project in Atlantic City, installing power lines via helicopter. It is a job so foreign to chaplaincy, yet perhaps not so foreign.
I replaced someone who was beloved and died tragically far too young.
I took this while interviewing for somewhat of a dream job doing campus ministry at Princeton University ministering to college students across the street from the church I came to know Jesus in. It would have felt like it brought my endeavors full circle, instead like opportunities before it, I interviewed more than once and came close.
Now, my job is new and can be isolating and my heart is grieved, not so much by the job, more so how out of control it all has felt. I am on God’s time which is less urgent than we can imagine; the only thing that has a time stamp of “now” on it is salvation and reconciliation in relationship to the Father. God’s preeminent priority is our hearts.
I’m starting to believe God only cares about our vocation so long as it does not keep us from Him and the calling and creativity in our lives, by which we give Him glory.
For me that is writing, preaching, teaching, listening to the way people are loved by God, persevering through suffering and experiencing joy.
I need more of the last one. I need more of the hope that there is indeed a thread knitting us together in love and purpose to see the Kingdom established on earth as in Heaven.
I also need help and hope for life itself.
Because dangling through this season, I am looking down and don’t recognize where I should land. I don’t even know if I can guarantee a safe landing. This job gives me a chance to figure out where I want to land, and that makes me sad because no one else is surveying up here with me.
There are only cherished voices shouting up to come back down or to stay where I am. It is lonely in the clouds and I have never been too confident about landings.
I also don’t know how high up I am or will go before I come back down. I feel lower than those tethered and planted in the ground and I want to be planted somewhere. So I reach. I write, I wait, I hope I land and not drift away.
Have you ever noticed that blame is never beautiful?
Deferring responsibility may be celebrated, but it only entices others at the expense of creating victims. Forgiveness though, that is beautiful. It has the power to free the victim and the guilty party. Jesus forgave his executioners while it was happening, not holding their responsibility against them for crucifying the One whom they did not know.
Jesus says, “You did it, but you didn’t know, and I offer you my embrace.”
It is beautiful yet fearful. The Psalms state forgiveness makes God fearful because God is the only one that can truly cleanse us from our wrong. And that is terrifying, yet equally terrifying is the Spirit God gives that enables us to forgive. I am presently overwhelmed by this, primarily because of having to take responsibility for myself.
I am responsible for my anger, even rage, for what I do with my feelings, for who absorbs it, for how I act in light of the temptation to despair. I am responsible for what I do with my time so long as God allows me to wake up to new mercies every morning. Nobody else gets to choose what I do with my day or how I heal, except me and God.
I’m reading the Chronicles of Narnia for the first time and I am currently on Book 4 Prince Caspian. Until yesterday, it was my least favorite of the books, until Aslan came and talked to Lucy. I’ll share the excerpts, you can fill in the meaning.
“I didn’t mean to start slanging the others. But it wasn’t my fault anyway, was it?” asked Lucy.
The Lion looked straight into her eyes.
“Oh Aslan, you don’t mean it was? How could I–I couldn’t have left the others and come up to you alone, how could I? Don’t look at me like that… oh well, I suppose I could. Yes, and it wouldn’t have been alone, I know, not if I was with you. But what would have been the good?”
Aslan said nothing.
“You mean,” Lucy said rather faintly, ‘that it would have turned out all right– somehow? But how? Please, Aslan! Am I to know?
Jesus, I mean Aslan, says “No” to the answer of what would have happened in the past if we had obeyed. Instead he offers a way forward in forgiveness. Because He has already made a way.
Oh how Lucy wrestles internally without an immediate reply, without an answer to the why.
“Oh dear, oh dear, said Lucy. “And I was so pleased at finding you again. And I thought you’d let me stay. And I thought you’d come roaring in and frighten all the enemies away– like last time. And now everything is going to be horrid.”
“It is hard for you, little one,” said Aslan. “But things never happen the same way twice. It has been hard for us all in Narnia before now.”
Lucy buried her head in his mane to hide from his face. But there must have been magic in his mane. She could feel lion-strength going into her. Quite suddenly she sat up.
“I’m sorry, Aslan,” she said. “I’m ready now.”
No.. body… else. Nobody else can have a relationship with Jesus for us, and we shouldn’t want someone else to have it for us. I should want it for myself. I should want his lion heart love for myself because Jesus will not leave me alone especially when I bury my head in my pillow with tears crying out for help.
I made the choice to move back to New Jersey. I made the choice to switch jobs. I made the choice to yell and curse and critique the body of Christ. I made the choice to get my hopes up and make my heart vulnerable and spend time with the dying. I make the choice to be quirky and weird, to dress like I don’t care, to get a cat, to write, to wrestle, to reflect too much, and all of it could become a vapor in a moment because I am responsible but not always in control.
And that’s where the surrender comes. That’s where the “I’m sorry, I’m ready now,” comes into play. I can get up and go. Forget about blame and go and not let love be hindered.
Forgiven much, love much.
I have one more passage if you’ve gone this far. It’s Aslan to Susan, Lucy’s sister, who didn’t believe and could not see Aslan longer than her other 3 siblings.
“You have listened to fears, child, ” said Aslan. “Come, let me breathe on you. Forget them. Are you brave again?”
“A little, Aslan,” said Susan.
Me too, Susan. Add our little to Christ’s infinite much and I’m hopeful we will be more than okay. I’m hopeful that I will stop getting angry, then exhausted by the restlessness of my soul. I’m hopeful for the breath and wind of the Spirit to overcome me each day, to posture myself to move and live and have my being in Christ.
Responsible, yet forgiven and more beautiful than blame.
When someone my age dies, grief comes from all angles: from parents, from siblings, from friends, from children. The older ones carried the deceased as far as they could in the ways they knew how. The ones younger expected to be carried, guided, molded.
But when someone dies of complications related to an overdose at 3 am, grief has this way of hypothesizing while moving like a wave. The family members who are awake are confronted with a reality that those asleep have no idea about. The woke ones grieve perhaps for the ones that don’t yet know (thus the hypothesis), while the wave of grief both victimizes and carries us.
Grief is held until it overflows out of us enough times that it will hold us.
Grief when allowed becomes our teacher. It is the writing on the wall and the writing in our hand and that which we grieve, becomes the etching on our heart.
Enough, metaphor speak, and on to the feeling. Grief when held is first anticipated in our gut. It sits in our gut until we know what we are grieving. As it sits and perhaps stews in that stomach arena, we might be provoked to anger or ache or sickness. But once we know, once we are certain or convinced enough that we have lost what we loved, grief moves upward and sometimes becomes tense in our chest as a way of clutching the figment of what remains. What remains is memory, but what makes loss, as it pertains to grief, is the anticipation or assurance that we aren’t getting what’s lost back in this life.
Sure, the memory will comingle with the grief in our minds while our hearts are about to burst. It’s as if the brain is trying to comfort or confuse the heart so as not to feel the entire weight of loss all at once. But the brain is no monster. We don’t get to just forget the one we’ve lost. The brain insists on reminding the heart, the whole body, all the senses that this now gone person has taken with them their scent, their smile, their warm touch, their laughter, even their personality and that sense of loss will pervade every person the lost one has sojourned with.
Once the heart has dealt with this tension, it opens. With that opening comes emotions flowing with such fervor and uncertain frequency that we often weren’t aware of how much we were able to feel once we allowed ourselves to. Usually feelings don’t consume us when we allow them to be felt. They only consume us when we numb them. But even for the particularly hardened or wounded, it is an act of mercy for God to nudge those feelings out. Once the sadness or anger or pain has expressed itself, we await the comfort.
And God do we hope the comfort comes. This is where we can often get lost. The lack of comfort or the well meaning attempts of others to try to comfort in their un-comfortability can feel neglectful or destructive. Avoidance in our grieving is not desired, but just as unhelpful is the one who unwittingly rushes us through our process rather than handling our pain with patience and gentleness.
Grief is as fragile as the initial loss and when mishandled it can break us for an extended period often without us realizing. If grief is not permitted its proper course of expression, if not allowed to be held then poured out to its last dreg, not let go of, we miss out on grief actually holding us.
And what does that mean “to be held by grief”?
When we are held by grief, we become generous with our emotions. We become more free to give our mourning to others who need us to mourn with them. We recognize that quick consolation is cheap. Instead, we are willing to sit in our own and others pain knowing first that this is a valuable way to spend our time, and second, as we sit, the real strengthening work is being done. It is being done because we are giving opportunity to attend to the most urgent thing in front of us, our loss. Laundry is no longer important, that task can be put on hold or perhaps delegated to someone else who cares.
What takes precedence is honoring the time necessary spent grieving, to function and move forward in spite of the loss. A return to normalcy should not necessarily be the goal. Numbly stepping back into the grind as a way of escape will stifle your compassion for others and self. But giving grief it’s due time and course and withholding judgment from yourself for it, will not only help you navigate future loss, but it will adequately enable you to hold another’s loss when they call.
The pain of loss always calls somewhere. It will always eventually show up. The unfortunate aspect is it can show up and be septic because it has sit too long. It can be unleashed rather than free to feel in safety. It can manifest violence or self harm reacting as an attempt to protect or it can be given space to overflow, to animate, to be beautiful in its brokenness. Then, at the last, given time we find that grief held us and healed us.
Jesus wept for Lazarus, at the thought of death then raised him from the dead.
Jesus wept in the garden for himself and the cup he would drink. He drank it and raised from the dead.
Jesus weeps for you, with you… the pattern will continue.
Life isn’t solely tragic, I know this, hopefully you know this. When tragedy does happen it typically becomes everything. It demands urgency, commands that you be present to either run from it or face it. Sometimes we need to run just far enough to make sure we are safe, sometimes we stand and face it, and sometimes we move towards it.
As a chaplain, there are times when I am asked to move towards someone else’s tragedy because someone has trusted me to be able to, and I also have trusted myself to be able to.
Today a Turkish Muslim family lost a child at 23 weeks. If you know where I live in the south, you might be surprised to hear that there aren’t many Muslims here. There is one mosque here, probably the only one within a 2-hour radius. I sat with the couple, made phone calls, then accidentally saw the child, which was a new enough sight to me that it made it difficult to concentrate on the information I gave them regarding who I contacted and what numbers I found.
But writing this isn’t really about me, it’s about this couple and a grandmother who lost their child and were navigating deep sadness with the sentiment of “I guess this is life” (or “This is a part of life”). And sadly, that statement is true; nothing I could say would change that, so I did the best thing I could do after I left them. I cried and I prayed, and then later I cried, and I write and hope to pray again.
I, like you, have no desire for tragedy to be a part of life. I want to be able to reject it and say outright it is not necessary. But that does not keep it away.
I cannot fend off the reality of loss with a flaming sword. I cannot cure myself nor can they cure themselves of their sadness.
When tragedy comes, we are meant to mourn, and while mourning is not a facet of the Kingdom to come, that is coming, and is near, it is the reality of the in between and that reality is dreadfully painful.
Which is why that reality must also be a vapor.
James 4:14 reads, “Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.”
Not only is the reality of tragedy a vapor but so are we. Except, we are the most beautiful vapor that could ever exist through the lens of God.
We were vapors worth sacrificing for.
We were bought through an eternal, tragic, act of romance, once for all time.
And through that sacrifice something fascinating happened to us.
We condensed because Jesus condescended.
We became one with the water of the Spirit, one with the river of living water. We vanish only to reappear unforgotten by the Father, as a bride for the Son, as a Temple for the Spirit, as ones the world is not worthy of.
I ran into the father of the child in the parking lot when I came back to the hospital 4 hours later, he had driven to the mosque to talk to the imam about the proper ritual for the child. They told him to take the child home, wash her, and that would suffice for a funeral.
It had been a very long time since the hospital had ever let a deceased child go directly home, it’s just not a cultural or religious practice for most people here. I could see the relief on the fathers face they told him that would be possible.
That relief was beautiful, you know, knowing he could take the deceased home to wash her,