Well, it seems like grief is going to be my subject of choice for a little while.
I missed February and March, and now, here in April, I’m circling back to the subject.
I was listening to a podcast today, by Ben Katt (you can find it here: The RePLACING CHURCH Podcast), on having permission to grieve. Some of what he says is similar to what I’ve been saying for years: that we as a people – Western, individualized, bootstrapping (and particularly Christian) people – have rejected grief as an emotion of weakness and of failure. We’ve turned it into something that “other” people do. It’s seen as something almost shameful, something that we aren’t supposed to do, because being American, being Christian, is all about hope and light and love and being joyful in all circumstances. So, when people die, there’s this unspoken expectation that we’re supposed to get it together. There’s also this bizarre individualism and relationship to nuclear family – if you aren’t a sibling or parent or spouse, your grief isn’t as valid, which is heartbreaking. I can remember a few years back, a dear friend of mine lost her significant other. They weren’t married – yet – but all of us who knew them, knew her, knew their relationship, knew how close they were, how intimate their connection was, how devastating the loss was for her. We all knew that this was every bit as life-shattering as losing a spouse, but because the ceremony hadn’t been performed yet, her grief – as significant as a spouse’s – was discounted. She was at times excluded from those “family-only” moments, even though the family was compassionate.
That moment also taught me something else about grief. That so often when friends die, we have to have freedom to grieve the might-have-beens. I wasn’t particularly close to my friend’s partner. He was an amazing guy, and I liked him. My grief was ALL about who he was to her, and the way that he had changed her life for the better. My grief in losing him was about the lost opportunity, the lost future, the loss of the dream to see her walk down the aisle to him and know that he would take good care of her forever. I’m still grieving that for her.
I find that the grief of the last few years, losing my husband’s mother, my dear Uncle, my beloved friend – it’s no less real for me, even though they weren’t *directly* related to me. No, Karin was not my mom. But I loved her like one. Uncle Bud, not my father, but he treated me as his daughter. Carrie, not my sister, but as integral a part of my life as one. And because of the way our society handles grief, I’m left holding these griefs in a sort of limbo, where there are sharp, poignant moments surrounded by guilt because I’m not *really* supposed to be feeling the grief this sharply. That’s for those “directly” affected. Sadly, it doesn’t account for the grief of the might-have-beens.
We’ve taken the verse in our text that says, “we don’t grieve as those who have no hope” and turned it into “yeah, sure, we don’t grieve because we have hope.” When the actuality, as Ben talks about in his podcast on Grief, is that as believers, our hope causes us to grieve even harder. We don’t just grieve the loss of a beloved friend, spouse, parent, sibling. We grieve all the might-have-beens. We grieve that the Kingdom didn’t manifest and spare us death. We have to wrap our heads and hearts around the concept that the world is still hurting and death and illness are still robbing us of opportunity. We have to grieve that the abundant life that we have been promised is still an expectation, a longing. This kind of authentic, vulnerable grief is NOT weakness. It is strength. It is powerful. It is significant. And it should be embraced by the community. Rather than expecting people to pull themselves back out of the sadness by their bootstraps, we need to surround them and grieve with them, holding sacred space for them in the midst of their grief. We need to create those safe places where people can be held by one another in their difficulty, in their loss. They need to understand that they are not alone, that we grieve with them. In many ways, the Jewish culture has such a lovely and better approach, with their traditions of sitting shiva and praying together in minyan. There is a togetherness, and a holiness to standing with those in the midst of the grief and giving them permission to be there.
Today, I’m giving myself permission to grieve. I don’t have anything specific in my immediate sphere, but there’s been enough loss in my circles of friends that I will take time today to mourn with those who mourn, to take the love and light, the joy in all circumstances, the hope, and to grieve with my friends for all of their might-have-beens. I will give myself permission to be sad and miss my dear ones that I’ve lost over the last few years, wishing that they could be a part of my daughter’s life, sad that they’re missing out on my life, and I’m missing out on the possibilities of theirs.
Today, I encourage you… Grieve. Whether for your own loss, your own might-have-beens, or with someone else, there is power in the process.Read More
This is cross-posted to www.eastsideexperiment.com – our local community expression that we’re experimenting with. We’ll be discussing it in person on Sunday morning if you’re local and interested!
It’s the season of Advent. A season of expectation and waiting. In the ancient text about Jesus written by Luke, we have two songs of expectation. One from a young woman, and another from an old man, both glorifying God for His goodness, His restoration, His power.
But imagine if you will, the voices of these two people. Mary – a young Jewish woman, found pregnant before marriage. Formerly known for her faithfulness and devotion to the Lord, now she is seen as ruined, tainted. Joseph, her betrothed, most likely was encouraged to set her aside, and he even considers doing so, but refrains because of a message from an angel. What kind of expectations could such a woman have? Scorn, ridicule, pain, or suffering? Yet it says that Mary treasures the announcement and is filled with excitement and expectation for the Goodness of God. How often do we see the Goodness of God in the midst of news that is troubling or disconcerting? How often do we treasure the word of Life that is given to us, even as we know it will bring us struggle and heartache? Mary shines as an example of a young woman who trusts, who lives knowing the Heart of the Father, trusting that His Goodness will triumph over any circumstance.
Contrast that with Zechariah – an old Jewish priest, tasked with serving the Lord, held in honor and esteem, and given even more when his wife becomes pregnant miraculously after decades of waiting without any seeming life. Now, Elizabeth is preparing to give birth. Yet, Zechariah’s response was clouded with doubt. Even with all the trappings of a religious faith to convince him that the angel spoke rightly, he still doubts God’s goodness. He knows that if true, it will create honor and fulfillment for his family – the opposite of what the announcement foreshadows for Mary. Yet, he cannot bring himself to believe that God is FOR him, that God’s GOODNESS will triumph. And so, in consequence, while Mary rejoices and sings with expectation, Zechariah is given nine months of silence to ponder and come to terms with God’s word coming to fulfillment.
As time moves forward, however, expectation grows, and both Mary and Zechariah move deeper into an understanding of God’s Goodness and promise. They see it from unique perspectives, however. Mary’s perspective reflects the oppressed, the suffering, the poor in spirit – the very people her son Jesus will bless in His Beatitudes later in life. She sees the promise in store for these people and foreshadows the coming blessing of God for all people. Zechariah sees the light of tender mercy dawning as well, realizing that God’s perfect Love casts out fear and doubt, allowing him to serve God and be a minister of His Goodness.
Let’s look at two portions of the text:
From Mary – From generation to generation, God’s lovingkindness endures for those who revere Him. God’s arm has accomplished mighty deeds. The proud in mind and heart, God has sent away in disarray. The rulers from their high positions of power, God has brought down low. And those who were humble and lowly, God has elevated with dignity. The hungry—God has filled with fine food. The rich—God has dismissed with nothing in their hands. To Israel, God’s servant, God has given help, As promised to our ancestors, remembering Abraham and his descendants in mercy forever.
From Zechariah – He has been merciful to our ancestors by remembering his sacred covenant—the covenant he swore with an oath to our ancestor Abraham. We have been rescued from our enemies so we can serve God without fear, in holiness and righteousness for as long as we live…Because of God’s tender mercy, the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide us to the path of peace.”
Both Zechariah and Mary know the promises of God and His Goodness for their people, and claim them for the future.
As we enter a season of Advent, we are invited to remember and participate in God’s Goodness, His mercy, His Kindness, His Faithfulness to all generations. Even as God was faithful to Mary and Zechariah in their circumstances, bringing restoration and redemption, God is eager to be faithful to us in this season of our lives. He is eager to be faithful as we are expectant for not only the return of the King, but the restoration and renewal of all things. God desires for us to partner with Him and trust in His Goodness. He longs for us to treasure our promises and allow our expectation to move our spirits to rejoice and proclaim the good things He has done, is doing, and will continue to do.
Some questions for reflection:
* What promises have you received from the Lord that remain unfulfilled? Have you held them with expectation or with doubt?
* In what ways have you seen God’s Goodness manifest, even when times are hard – and seeming to get harder?
* How can you partner with God this holiday season to see His Goodness made manifest to other people?
* What would you like to hear from God in this season? Take a moment and journal out some questions that you would like to have answered.
World events in the last few weeks have given me cause to wonder. In both positive and negative ways. I’m naturally a reflective person, so any time events happen, my heart turns to mulling over ideas and trying to understand. It’s been heartbreaking to see the response to attacks of terror, especially from those who label themselves Christ-followers or Christians. The response of fear, hatred, anger and venom have reflected something that is very Anti-Christ. It’s completely against the Good News that we are supposed to carry. So, this morning, I just wanted to take a moment and wonder what would be different if we chose to live in a place of wonder. To wonder and reflect on those things that we need to be challenged by and work on, and to wonder and reflect on those things that are brilliant and stunning and beautiful and filled with love and goodness.Read More
Today is November 2, one day after Samhaim. Samhaim is a festival celebrated by the Celts that signifies the end of summer and the beginning of winter. It signals the storing up of a rich harvest and the preparation for a long journey into the encroaching darkness. We’ve dressed it up all funny with Halloween. It’s lost so much of its significance. I’m not a Celt, although my heritage is wrapped up in the Emerald Isle. I’m not a pagan, and so, the celebration of the holiday is a bit different for me.Read More