Grief

5 Lessons from C. S. Lewis’ Grief Observed

“Cancer, and cancer, and cancer. My mother, my father, my wife. I wonder who is next in the queue.” —C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

I never wanted to have this in common with C.S. Lewis. I never wanted to major in suffering.

Yet I am here, and she is there. She is resplendent in memorandum. . . and I cannot write fast enough. And I am left holding a copy of C.S. Lewis’ A Grief Observed. As Lewis observes his particular grief, I too observe my own. C.S. Lewis got it.

I would rather have other things in common with the man. I would have much rather been an “Inkling”—instead we are widowers observing grief.

I believe Lewis understood that one cannot simply skirt grief. Not without consequences anyway. Grief cannot be skipped over as one would skip over the fast kid in a game of “Duck, Duck, Goose.” No, rather, it seems as though grief is such-a-one whom demands to have a day of reckoning, be it now, be it later, it matters not so much. Be that as it may, it almost behooves the mourner to ride directly through the tempest of grief; keep on pedaling. Lewis himself writes, “Aren’t all these notes the senseless writhings of a man who won’t accept the fact that there is nothing we can do with suffering except to suffer it?” (33).

I started this short book several weary years ago. I had started a book club at church and chose C.S. Lewis’ A Grief Observed because I wanted my people to walk the valley of the shadow of death before death rapped at their doors. My Resplendent Bride was diagnosed with cancer before we finished chapter 2. Over the next twenty months, I would pick up this slender book of terror and read a paragraph or two, only to set it down again because I never wanted to understand what this man was writing about, and the possibility of understanding ebbed and flowed as that fox cancer raged and retreated, raged and retreated.

The Lord took her home on the third day of May. Perhaps God told her nothing would ever hurt her again. I do not know all the words he speaks to new arrivals, but I do take solace in the truth that nothing will ever hurt her again. Lewis writes, “I had my miseries, not hers; she had hers, not mine. The end of hers would be the coming-of-age-of mine. ” (13).

The gospel of Jesus Christ has sustained, maintained, and supported me all this time.  My solace is in his truth.

But it is farce to claim hope in Christ makes one immune to the sheer pain of life under the sun.  I have not found hope in Christ to be mutually exclusive to the feeling of bereavement.

As spring bloomed outside The Hermitage, winter set in inside.

The lingering challenge for the widower is to somehow fill the void left by the dissolution of all the loving, all the care-taking, and the family unit itself.

So it was that I once again picked up this slender volume, and it was there within the pages of A Grief Observed that I was surprised to find a friend in C.S. Lewis.

He gets it.

Few do, and for that I am thankful.

I have found C.S. Lewis’ A Grief Observed to be helpful to the widow or widower in five ways.

1. In  A Grief Observed, C. S. Lewis does not make a false dichotomy between hope in Christ and mourning over searing loss.

Lewis accomplishes this feat by allowing heavy sorrow to hang on his pages longer than others dare. Lewis does not seem to be in any hurry to provide the “Sunday School” answer so many follow up their condolences with. Some folks are born with Congenital Insensitivity To Pain, a condition wherein one cannot feel pain. This is a troubling ailment because our bodies warn us that things have gone awry such as “You stepped on a hornet’s nest” or, “The Sun is burning away your epidermis” or, “This machine you paid to be baked in is burning away your epidermis” through the sensation of pain.

Now, how shall the slow rending of the one flesh once again in two not hurt (Gen. 2:24)? Widowerhood is not the “conscious uncoupling” actress Gwyneth Paltrow euphemistically described her recent divorce as.

To be widowed is to be torn asunder. Sometimes the hurting need to hurt.

2.  A Grief Observed, seeks to answer the question, “Can God still be good when He hurts us so?”

My family was dissolved by death.  God is sovereign over both life and death.  Open Theists as well as some other theological traditions will not be too keen on this truth, but the Bible is.

Psalm 139:16 states, “Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there were none of them.”

Ecclesiastes 7:17 and 3:1-2 indicate that there are times appointed for all to live and die.  If so, then surely it is God who is the divine scheduler?

And shall we forget that it was God who drove and barred man from the tree of life growing in the Garden of Eden lest man steal immortality just as he had stolen knowledge?

Genesis 3:22-23

Then the LORD God said, ”Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever– “therefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.”

The New Testament informs us all flesh is destined to die someday:

Matthew 4:16, “The people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.”

The author of Hebrews argues that death is “appointed for man” (9:27).

So it is, and so it shall always be: God is Lord over both thanatos and zoe. Herein lies the rub:

  • God has dissolved my family by death.
  • The ruin of that which remains are great.
  • And, I love him.

Partner—GCD—450x300Lewis writes, “Is it rational to believe in a bad God?  Anyway, in a God so bad as all that?  The Cosmic Sadist, the spiteful imbecile?  I think it is, if nothing else, too anthropomorphic” (30).

Lewis goes on to write,

Feelings, and feelings, and feelings.  Let me try thinking instead.  From the rational point of view, what new factor has H.’s death introduced into the problem of the universe?  What grounds has it given me for doubting all that I believe?  I knew already that these things, and worse, happened daily.  I would have said that I had taken them into account.  I had been warned—I had warned myself—not to reckon on worldly happiness.  We were even promised sufferings.  They were part of the programme.  We were even told, ‘Blessed are they that mourn, and I accepted it.  I’ve got nothing that I hadn’t bargained for.  Of course it is different when the thing happens to oneself, not to others, and in reality, not in imagination.  Yes; but shout it, for a sane man, make quite such a difference as this?  No.  and it wouldn’t for a man whose faith had been real faith and whose concern for other people’s sorrows had been real concern.  The case is too plain.  If my house has collapsed at one blow, that is because it was a house of cards.  The faith which ‘took these things into account was not faith but imagination.  The taking them into account was not real sympathy.  If I had really cared, as I thought I did, about the sorrows of the world, I should not have been so overwhelmed when my own sorrow came”  (36-37).

The question Lewis is wrestling with is whether God is a divine veterinarian or a divine vivisector (in other words one whose cutting is aimed to heal, or one whose cutting is motivated by sadism)?

“And I must surely admit — H. would have forced me to admit is a few passes — that, if my house was a house of cards, the sooner it was knocked down the better.  And only suffering could do it.  But then the Cosmic Sadist and Eternal vivisector becomes an unnecessary hypothesis” (38).

“Of course the cat will growl and spit at the operator and bit him if she can.  But the real question is whether he is a vet or a vivisector.  Her bad language throws no light on it one way or another.  and I can believe He is a vet when I think of my own suffering” (40).

Lewis believed that a good God only hurts for a greater good in the Christian’s life. This notion frees the Christian from having to use lame circular arguments to defend God from that which is plain. God is sovereign. God is good. I hurt. All three are true.

3. In  A Grief Observed, C. S. Lewis rightly observes that grief can lead to laziness.

Lewis writes,

“And no one ever told me about the laziness of grief.  Except at my job — where the machine seems to run on much as usual — I loathe the slightest effort. Not only writing but even reading a letter is too much. Even shaving. What does it matter now whether my cheek is rough or smooth? They say an unhappy man wants distractions — something to take him out of himself. Only as a dog — tired man wants an extra blanket on a cold night; he’d rather lie there shivering than get up and find one. It’s easy to see why the lonely become untidy, finally, dirty and disgusting” (5).

Lewis’ observation on this point is useful for the widow/widower in that knowing and naming the temptation helps us to not only fight the temptation but to recognize it as it slowly encroaches upon us.

Those of us in bereavement must continue to take care of ourselves. We must try to eat right, exercise, keep house, do laundry, and for the sake of our fellow man, shower. We must continue to stimulate our minds even though it hurts to not be able to share new things with our cherished one. We must endeavor by God’s grace to work at our vocation and hobbies, because whether we find the joy in it all at the moment: we still live.

Work is the antidote to the temptation to amuse ourselves with the specter of time travel as remedy to regret. There is no redemption in regret.

4. In  A Grief Observed, C. S. Lewis warns the widow or widower that they may be treated as the harbinger of death.

“An odd byproduct of my loss is that I’m aware of being an embarrassment to everyone I meet. At work, at the club, in the street, I see people, as they approach me, trying to make up their minds whether they’ll ‘say something about it’ or not.  I hate it if they do, and if they don’t. Some funk it altogether. R. has been avoiding me for a week. I like best the well brought-up young men, almost boys, who walk up to me as if I were a dentist, turn very red, get it over, and then edge away to the bar as quickly as they decently can. Perhaps the bereaved ought to be isolated in special settlements like lepers. To some I’m worse than an embarrassment. I am a death’s head. Whenever I meet a happily married pair I can feel them both thinking, ‘One or the other of us must some day be as he is now’” (10-11).

Lewis’ words ring true.

  • The widow/widower, especially young ones, remind all the marrieds of the dread truth that there is a 50% chance that this, all this, is coming their way, someday, sooner or later.
  • Nobody knows what to say. The friend does not know. The bereaved does not know.

Furthermore, in the absence of anything to say the things which are said tend to get under the widower’s skin.

People will ask variations of, “How you holding up?” or, “How are you doing?” and let us know forget, “How is your heart?”

Muscle, grit, and pumping are certainly not acceptable answers, but regardless of the answer there are those who are never satisfied that your answers are truthful unless you cry all over them.

Not likely.

The widower suddenly finds himself in a situation where every person with the capability to pass wind through their vocal cords in his general vicinity now places themselves in a position of authority over him for his own good. If a question is asked it must be answered to any and all’s satisfaction, or he shall risk a raised eye brow and the ever quizzical, “How are you really doing?”

Everyone is Barbara Walters.

Shall everyone presume to be both inquisitor and confessor?

And all this in the name of “community”?

Widower. . . They may love you, and it is a terrible fate to love someone who is hurt and to have nothing to say by way of making the dreadful affair better. Widower, I know it is tedium because you don’t know what to say either. But grief is no excuse to be a tool. Nor is grief an excuse to be an over analytical fool. This isn’t Dawson’s Creek. . . and your friends didn’t kill her. They’re just trying to help.

Those who are suffering from grief must be aware that they may be much more easily annoyed than they once were. As the movie Swing Kids says, “Put your glasses on.” Your friends simply wish to help, and they are suffering too: for they cannot help you, and they probably love whomever you lost as well.

5. In  A Grief Observed, C. S. Lewis takes Heaven back from the family reunion and returns it to the Glory of God.

Heaven does not primarily exist for me to see my Resplendent Bride again. Everything, and I mean everything in me wants to see Danielle again. It is a visceral need. A couple of days ago I teared up as I brought her pills to the pharmacy for disposal. I miss her so much that I didn’t even want to be parted with her pills.

Yes, I am damaged in every which way.

But, heaven is about Jesus.

Heaven is about the glory of God.

Anything less is idolatry.

From the talk I hear at funerals I am fearful that people are giving God lip service in order to get what they want from him, namely, an eternal family reunion.

Almost as though we would approach God and use his throne like a friend’s lake house. “Hello there! God, we’d like to use your house for this thing. . . you’re. . . not going to be there, right?” Lewis writes,

“Am I, for instance, just sidling back to God because I know that if there’s any road to H., it runs through Him?  But then of course I know perfectly well that He can’t be used as a road.  If you’re approaching Him not as the goal but as a road, not as the end but as a means, you’re not really approaching Him at all.  That’s what was really wrong with all those popular pictures of happy reunions ‘on the further shore’; not the simple-minded and very earthly images, but the fact that they make an End of what we can get only as a by-product of the true End” (68).

Lewis goes on to write something that is helpful for the widows and widowers who have read Matthew 22:30, “For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.”

“Heaven will solve our problems, but not, I think, by showing us subtle reconciliations between all our apparently contradictory notions. The notions will all be knocked from under our feet.  We shall see that there never was any problem” (71).

So say we all.

I recommend A Grief Observed for the bereaved, as well as those who have a 50/50 shot of standing in my ever so scuffed dress shoes.

Evan Welcher is senior pastor of First Christian Church in Glenwood, Iowa. Husband of the lovely Danielle. Evan graduated with a B.S. in Bible from Emmaus Bible College in 2005. His goal in ministry is to stir up love for Jesus Christ by the giving of great care and fidelity to the teaching of the Scriptures. He blogs at EvanWelcher.com. Follow him on Twitter: @EvanWelcher

Originally published at EvanWelcher.com. Used with permission.

4 Ways to Sense God through Suffering

Sensing God Through Suffering

Has there ever been a time in your life when you felt that God was not there? Perhaps a love one died, or maybe you were just going through an extended season of loneliness. Maybe you had a serious illness that you were dealing with, or maybe you were dealing with constant relational issues. Perhaps, the various sufferings you were struggling with have caused you to question the existence of an all-loving God who cares for you deeply. Don’t worry, we’ve all be there. No one is exempt.

Whether you realize it or not, suffering can actually liberate you and help you grow deeper in your relationship with God. Let’s be honest with one another--nobody likes to suffer. There are so many times, because of our cognitive limitations, we just cannot understand why God would put us through such difficult times. However, if we submit ourselves before God and continue walking with him through our pain and suffering, we will begin to sense him more in all areas of life. God has a sovereign purpose in your suffering and he wants you to sense his presence throughout all the various trials you encounter. Do not turn away from him during this trial you are facing. Embrace him during this suffering and walk with him.

The reason that I believe this is because of the suffering that I experienced at the end of 2012. In November of that year, my grandmother passed away and I found out that my mom had cancer. It was one of the loneliest and darkest times of my life. However, it was through these trials that I began to sense God in a deeper and more profound way. It was almost like my “sense of the divine” was suddenly switched on. Ever since then, I have continued to focus on perceiving God within my own life and I hope that sensing God is something that you will put into practice in your own life as well.

As Christians, we must always be prepared and equipped to deal with the various hardships of life. In this post, I am going to discuss four ways that Christians can perceive that God is with them, even when the darkness is ever-present.

1. Sensing God Through the Gospel

When suffering is consistent, there is a need for a consistent message of hope. This message of hope is found in the resounding statement: “It is finished!” The good news of the gospel is the only message that will always be good no matter what season of life you are in. Though your trials may be many, the gospel is a message that can shine light even in the darkest of nights. The message that the Son of God came to seek and save the lost (Lk. 19:10) is a message available for you wherever you are at. Though the pit that you are in right now may be deep, God’s grace and love for you through the gospel of Christ is deeper. The gospel can help you perceive that God is with you during trials because God did not withhold his only Son from you, even when you were at your very worst (Rom. 5:8; Rom. 8:32). So go ahead and try preaching the gospel to yourself. The good news might help you sense the presence of your mighty Comforter right where you are.

2. Sensing God Through His Word

If you want to know what God is like, then you must read your Bible. It is just that plain and simple. However, all to often when pain is present we turn away from the living word of God. Why do we do this though when the Bible is in fact words given to us from the almighty God (2 Tim. 3:16-17)? Why do we find satisfaction in the pleasures of this world and not in the life-changing word of the God of the universe? When darkness closes in and despair is very near, you must plant your feet on God’s word. Just by reading the Scriptures aloud, you will begin to sense the joy and hope of your Father in Heaven through his all-comforting Word and the work of the Spirit.

3. Sensing God Through Prayer

When Jesus Christ was in the Garden of Gethsemane, with the cross in his sight, he prayed (Matt. 26:36-46). None of us will ever be able to comprehend the anxiety and stress he was facing at that moment. However, we can learn from Jesus that communion with God through prayer is indispensable, especially in times of struggle. By praying to our Father, we are able to experience him in a more intimate way (look at how David openly prayed and lamented in the Psalms). Perceiving that God hears you when you pray is what will embolden you to interact with him more and more. When trials of many kinds are present, do not hesitate to pray and enter into God’s presence.

4. Sensing God Through Worship

Have you ever realized that worship can be used as a weapon when you are suffering? What did Paul and Silas do when they were in prison (Acts 16: 25)? They worshiped. They did  this because their hearts and minds were on things above. Even though their circumstances should have caused them to despair (imagine being in a prison in the first century), they instead chose to worship and sing praises to the one true God. Praising the name of the Lord even in the darkest moments of life will allow you to sense that God is in your midst.

Implications For Discipleship

There is no doubt--God uses our sufferings to make us mature in Christ Jesus. All believers are called to press on through the sufferings of life because it cultivates perseverance within us (Js. 1:2-4). Remember, there is no crown of glory without going the way of the cross. Another beautiful thing about suffering is it helps us empathize with those who suffer after us (Eph. 4:2). Realizing that God is faithful through our trials, helps us to share the unshakeable hope of Christ with others when they are suffering. Maturing as a believer in Christ Jesus requires us to recall the faithfulness of God and praise him even when life doesn’t make sense (Job 1:21). When we are in the furnace, we must keep our eyes on our Savior and try to perceive that his grace and love is near. We do that through the gospel, his Word, prayer, and worship.

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Matt Manry is the Director of Discipleship at Life Bible Church in Canton, Georgia. He is a student at Reformed Theological Seminary and Knox Theological Seminary. He also works on the editorial team for Credo Magazine and Gospel-Centered Discipleship. He blogs regularly at gospelglory.net.

How do We Respond to Pain?

In my early years of professional football, I played without wearing gloves. Not wearing gloves as an offensive lineman was definitely out of the ordinary; most linemen wore gloves for their own protection and safety. I rejected this protection for several reasons. First, back then I thought it proved how tough I was; it didn’t. Second, I found wearing gloves made me feel hot (temperature, not appearance) and as a ‘husky’ fellow I was always trying to keep cool. Third, I thought that bare hands helped me hold opponents better. And even though technically offensive linemen aren’t supposed to hold, we did and thus sought any advantage we could get. Finally, and most importantly, I found that very early in a game I would, without exception, hurt my hands.

Why would hurting your hands be a good reason to not wear gloves? Good question. You see, I found the pain that I would experience when my hand was smashed between a shoulder pad and a face mask would help me engage in the game. Getting my digits stomped on in a pile would help me get focused for competition, and I would get focused in a hurry. This pain-induced focus and the resulting engagement in the game was the main reason I didn’t wear gloves.

Now consider how much aggravation a simple hangnail causes. Think of the seemingly disproportionate amount of pain that come from a small tear in your fingernail. A small paper-cut can cause adults to whimper, and hitting a thumb with a hammer will bring men to their knees. There is something about the hands and fingers that make them especially susceptible to pain. And I would intentionally seek these aching, stinging, and throbbing sensations to promote a fixated intensity in the game of football.

I was not alone. Using pain as a preparatory mechanism is quite common in football. Before a game, in the locker room or on the sidelines, you will often see teammates hitting each other or slapping each other on their shoulders. Many football players claim that they can’t really get into a game until they receive or deliver their first hit. There is something about the pain that brings purposefulness and clarity in combative sports.

Detach or Engage?

It seems that pain in ‘real’ life, whether physical, emotional, or physical, does the exact opposite of what it does in football. For many people, pain leads to paralysis instead of performance. Pain doesn’t help us engage; it causes us to detach, disassociate, and disconnect from life. When the life gets tough, genuinely tough, the accepted response is to quit. We do not regain focus on the end and purpose of our lives. Instead, we abandon engagement in life.

One of the most profound studies of pain in the Bible occurs in the book of Job. In it we see an individual who finds purpose in pain. It propels him forward. We also see an individual, Job’s wife, for whom pain evokes passivity.

Both Job and his wife were subjected to an incredible amount of pain and suffering. We often overlook that Job’s wife also lost her children, her wealth, and likely the provision and protection a husband could provide. Job’s demise would likely be her demise as well. But these two people had opposite reactions to the pain.

The pain caused Job’s wife to exclaim, “Curse God and die” (Job 2:9). She was done. She was beat. She was in shut-down mode.  Job replied, “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” (Job 2:10). What accounts for this difference?

Why can pain cause Job to engage, to fight, to persevere? Why was his wife ready to quit? What about us?

We will never, on this side of eternity, be free from pain. We will never avoid suffering. The pain and suffering of this life is relentlessly real. But the witness of the Word seems to be that we will persevere in it, grow through it, and eventually outlast it.

I believe Job hints at the answer to our earlier question regarding why pain caused him to dig in and hold on instead of shut down and quit. In chapter 19, Job speaks these faith-filled words despite the difficulties he was experiencing:

For I know that my Redeemer lives,

and at the last he will stand upon the earth.

And after my skin has been thus destroyed,

yet in my flesh I shall see God. - Job 19:25-26

Job indicates that prevailing over pain is a process of perceiving a person. Job's view of who God, that he was the redeemer lives forever and rules, sustained him. Suffering reveals our theology, what we really believe about God. For Job, God was good and worthy, the giver and the redeemer. We cannot even stand, much less move forward, in the presence of pain without the Good News of Jesus.

Long View of Pain

Paul locates the essential element to overcoming pain as the end-result of the gospel. The Apostle Paul was no stranger to pain; his list of sufferings is well-known:

Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. - 2 Corinthians 11:25-27

Paul went through all manner of anguish, agony, and affliction. He experienced pain, endured it, and engaged in life like few others in recorded history. This was a man that pain could not subdue. He, like Job, found the motivation and means for overcoming pain in the Good News of Jesus.

Consider the words this veteran of misery and misfortune used to describe pain. He called suffering “light” and “momentary affliction” (2 Corinthians 4:17). This is incredible. Or is this incredulous? Paul was not naive. Nor was he in denial. To understand his approach, and what ours should be, notice that his reference to suffering as light and momentary is in light of something else. The verse reads, “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,”  (2 Corinthians 4:17 ESV).

Paul did not respond to pain and suffering by shutting down and turning off. He leveraged his pain into praise and engaged in life. He contrasted the comparatively slight strain of temporal tribulation with the “eternal weight of glory” won for us by God’s Son and our Redeemer. Paul looked to the end which those who have believed in Christ are assured; it is nothing less than eternal glory.

David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, the great preacher who preached from the pulpit of Westminster Chapel for more than 30 years, notes the key to Paul’s attitude was found in the comparison: “He does not say that it was light in and of itself but that when you contrast it with this “far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” on the other side it becomes nothing.”

I mentioned at the start of this article that pain could be a mechanism for engaging in a game of football. I also suggested that pain could, in fact should, be a mechanism for engaging in life for those of us who have been born again. For the Christian this is possible because of the gospel. The incarnation of Christ, his perfect life lived, his death and resurrection, all ensure for us massive glory-an eternity spent with God-forever and ever. As we reflect on this glorious truth, our pain becomes light and momentary. Thus, pain becomes a life-engaging blessing when we perceive in light of the glory of the gospel. With every wound, scar, and loss our hearts are fined tuned to hope for and trust in the eternal presence of God. Christ's death and resurrection secures a future without tears and separation (Revelation 21-22). Pain reveals that day hasn't come yet. The suffering of Christ on the cross confirms the certainty of that day's arrival.

When we experience pain, and this is sure to happen, will we “curse God and die?” Or will we look to the “eternal weight of glory” won for us by Christ? I pray that we will look to our Savior and look to what he has saved us to and feel the life-crushing burden of pain become light and temporary. I pray that pain will be a signal not to withdraw or wilt but to praise our God and persevere to the end as messengers of hope.

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Jude St. John (@judestjohnplayed football professionally in the Canadian Football League for 14 years and currently teaches English at Saunders Secondary School in London, Ontario, Canada. Jude is married to Nicole and they share their lives with their 5 children: Ena, Adele, Mara, Judah, and Arwen.  He blogs at quercuscalliprinos.blogspot.com

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Read Luma Simm's book Gospel Amnesia: Forgetting the Goodness of the News.

Read more in Abe Meysenburg's article: Grief and the Gospel

Super Bowl; Super Disappointment

A Super Spectacle of Disappointment

It’s the day after. The game is over. The commercials have finished. The parties have been thrown, the crowds dispersed, the trophies awarded, and the annual ritual of American sport has run its course for another year. But not everyone is happy. Given the make up of American football only 1/32 of us are happy today. Chances are you might have actually cheered for a team last night, even if it wasn’t your regular, tried-and-true team. However, if your team didn’t win, even the team you rented for the night, you feel a distinct disappointment today. There is, in most of us, a bad taste left in our mouths that isn’t the cheese from too many nachos gone bad. We wanted something spectacular.

We wanted the heroes, the gladiators, the pinnacles of human physical fitness and physique to accomplish something. We wanted the wily veteran who is about to retire to go out on top. Or we rooted for the rookie, who is getting his first taste of championship-caliber life, to achieve the victory that he rose from the ashes to grasp. And yet, one way or another, failure is staring the majority of us in the face. It has been said that losing the Super Bowl is more difficult emotionally, professionally, and physically than to have never played in the game at all. Yet, every year 31 teams face the failure of not having won the "Big One” and one team in particular feels it more than any other. They’ve tasted the glory, if only momentarily, and now all they’re left with is a Big-Gulp of disappointment.

Athletes are not the only ones facing the Day of Disappointment this morning. For some of us we’ve woken up to the stark reality that we were cheering for a loser. As a boy I found myself waking up with the bitter disappointment of seeing my heroes lose three Super Bowls in four years. The only thing that made it feel any better was watching fans of the Buffalo Bills deal with the crushing blow of loss in four consecutive seasons. Still it stung. My heroes were failures. My friends would laugh and mock me for wearing the uniform of a known loser. People would feel sad for me because I chose to like the loser. Hanging my head in shame, disappointment greeted me regularly.

Disappointment Destroys

Where does the sensation and feeling of disappointment come from? Why are we downcast and troubled when our sports teams lose, when business prospects fall apart, when plans are shattered, or when commitments are broken? Why does disappointment plague us so often and in so many corners of our lives? The answer seems to be in understanding the opposite of disappointment, hope.

The wisdom writer of Proverbs seems to best illustrate that disappointment is really “hope deferred.”  It is that hope deferred, delayed, or denied that makes our hearts sick (Proverbs 13:12). Conversely, the fulfillment of a desire or dream is like a tree of life; abundant, enjoyable, nourishing, pleasurable, and sustaining. So disappointment is our dreams, desires, and hopes put off and abandoned until another time. We hoped and believed that something in some way would be ours, only to discover that it had been snatched away from us once again.

The consequence  is a sick heart. We feel terrible. If you were banking your hope yesterday on the team that lost you don’t feel so hot about it today. You may have a handful of excuses for their loss: the refs, the pre-game meal, the injured players, or the half-time show. Whatever your excuse is you still feel let down. This feeling can play itself out in much larger scenarios than sports. Anyone who has been dumped, duped, or lied to knows the feeling of this heart-sickness. In fact, the higher we place our hope in the fulfillment of an expectation, the deeper the disappointment we will feel once that hope is not realized. Next time you discover a friend of yours has unexpectedly had their love relationship broken, look into their eyes and you will see a deep well of disappointment.

Quit on Hope?

If misplaced and unrealized hope brings us soul-sickness, what sort of remedies are available to us? For some the answer is simply not to hope deeply in people or projects or teams again. We quote mantras like, “fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.” We pledge ourselves never to get so close, never to hope so deeply, never to love so intensely, never to be fools again. We leave all emotion behind so that we do not get burned the next time around. Hope isn’t merely deferred it’s lost. We become calloused, cynical, skeptical, and worst of all despairing of everything. The reason the motto of a Chicago Cubs fan is “wait until next year” is because they realize it is never “next year.”

Distancing yourselves from placing hope and confidence in others however won’t undo the burden of disappointment. At our core humanity is utterly broken. Our brokenness will always find us being either the victim or the perpetrator of disappointment. The sad reality is that all of us, no matter how unattached and disenfranchised we are we will taste the ugly cup of disappointment. However, just accepting the reality that we will be let down at some point or another isn’t the right remedy. If we walk through life in that manner we will become the real-life-embodiment of A.A Milne’s character Eeyore. There is no joy, no hope, no actual life in life. Disappointment is the plague of humanity and we best accept it and get on with being disappointed in everything.

The Death of Disappointment

If disengagement from hope or unimpassioned acceptance of disappointment isn’t the answer, is there one? Jesus’ interaction with two close friends, and sisters in John 11 reveals something deep about overcoming disappointment. The simple plot of the story is that one of Jesus’ close friends, Lazarus, has died. The sadness of that event cannot be overstated. However, the expectations and hopes of Lazarus’ sisters Mary and Martha were not met either. They had sent messengers to Jesus to come as quickly as he could to heal their brother. They had banked hope upon hope that Jesus was able and powerful and willing to heal his friend. But Jesus showed up, in their opinion, too late. Their brother was dead and gone. There was no more hope and all that remained was the disappointment of loss, failed hope. Their hearts were sick. They had banked on a winner, and Jesus had come up a loser.

Both sisters expressed their disappointment to Jesus in the exact same way. “‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died’” (John 11:21, 32). Many people feel a disappointment with God because he didn’t play by their rules. He didn’t meet their expectations or respond to their actions the way that they deemed he should have. Prayers were not answered in the manner they should have been. Distance and disappointment with God is felt because it didn’t happen as we thought it should have. If God had done what we planned for him to do, we wouldn’t feel the sting of hope deferred.

This all seems well and good, but if we consider the character of God we have a problem. Does God lie? Does he make promises and fail to meet them? Does he string us along with carrots of hope all the while placing an unbearable burden upon us that we can never haul ourselves?  If we are fair, we have to recognize that the problem isn’t with God, the problem is with us. The problem is so deep within us that we can’t even rightly put our hopes in the right place. We hope for God’s power to intervene in a difficult situation. We hope for God to work a miracle to undo us from the terrible circumstance that we’ve placed ourselves in. We hope in God’s actions instead of hoping in God himself.

This was the source of disappointment for Mary and Martha. They thought they had Jesus under their control, ready to do their bidding and serve their needs and problems however they felt most wise. However, Jesus had one purpose in mind, his glory (John 11:4). Jesus ordained the temporary death of his friend to more greatly reveal and display his glory and power over death. Lazarus was raised to life, but only after Jesus redirected the hope of his friends from Jesus’ ability to act onto Jesus himself.

This is our remedy as well. We will find disappointment in just about everything, even seemingly mundane things like Super Bowls. The reason we feel disappointed is because we have hoped in those people and things to deliver on whatever we were expecting. Our hope is placed in broken cisterns. Jesus invites us to place our hope in a different source. He invites us to turn from hoping in people, power, and events. He calls us to hope in him alone. He told Martha, “‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die’” (John 11:25-26).

If we want to overcome the paralysis of disappointment, we have to place our hope in a better source. We must bank our hearts desires and dreams on Christ himself. For so many of us we expect God to do great things, even to do things that bless and benefit us. However, when God doesn't do what we want, we live with Super-Bowl sized disappointment. Our solution is Jesus himself, not what Jesus can or should do. When we hope in Jesus we will not be overcome with despair and disappointment because things don’t work out as we always anticipate in our lives. We can live with faith and confidence that Jesus is doing all things for his glory, and for our good. We can rest with certainty that this hardship, failure, and frustrations of this life is met by our great and sovereign King that reigns over all things, even our lives.

Here is a world beyond all disappointment. Christ has taken our disappointment and buried it within himself. He has been raised to life again so that we would have our deepest hopes realized in Him. There is no disappointment with Christ. Our deepest desires, dreams and hopes are all realized and discovered when our deepest hope is placed in Jesus alone.

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Jeremy Writebol(@jwritebol) has been training leaders in the church for over thirteen years. He is the author of everPresent: How the Gospel Relocates Us in the Present (GCD Books, 2014) and writes at jwritebol.net. He lives and works in Plymouth, MI as the Campus Pastor of Woodside Bible Church.

As We Fight for Faith

In almost every epic story there is a moment that is so dark you are unsure how the characters or your own soul will ever recover. You can’t see the road out. Very few cruel stories ever leave you there but the best of stories always go there.

Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise. - Victor Hugo, Les Miserable.

We have been in the darkest hour in Austin, Texas. The moment when you turn in each direction on this earth and you physically shudder. My friend Sarah can barely move and can’t speak, her three very young children have been told they may not see their mom again or it will be a really long time. Four weeks ago she had several strokes that resulted in a major brain surgery. She is 34 years old and also in the midst of a difficult divorce. Brokenness breaks everything all at once sometimes.

Lately, hope mostly exists in the form of heaven and laughter exists in inappropriate jokes that thankfully usually surround my darkest moments due to many inappropriate friends.

I got dressed for church last Sunday and we got there just a little bit late and I was so down. So, I dropped my kids off at church where my husband pastors and I went to Target to get a few last minute things for Christmas. I probably shouldn't publicly admitted that, but it happened.

As I pushed the cart my mind went places it has rarely ever gone. Places of wrestling with God and saying things like, “if this is how you roll God I want off.” As I retold this moment to a friend recently, she asked, “Then what did you do?” As if I were telling her a fascinating story before bedtime. She didn't want to be left hanging. There had to be a brilliant conclusion to such angst. I get it; we all want to know:

What do you do in the darkest hour? How do you fight for faith?

Here is my answer as I currently fight:

First, go there. Go to the darkest place. Something about facing what I am most afraid of; facing the worst case; facing the underbelly of God helps me. I am not good at pretending. I have no rugs where all dark things wait for me. It’s all out in the open and there is something refreshingly healthy about that. God’s grace has always been big enough for me to question him; I don’t go to him and pretend we are ok when we are not.

Second, We need people. As I pushed my shopping cart that day I skiped church, a Spirit filled friend called me and fought for me. She begged for me to not give up, that God was at work and this dark hour would not define this story. I cried walking aimlessly through Target as she preached, but when I got off the phone, I laughed at God’s timing.

We tend to isolate ourselves in the dark moments. DO NOT. We have kept a 10 person text stream running through the last few weeks since Sarah’s strokes. In it we have prayed and celebrated and cried and fought for each other. I call it our sisterhood. It is beautiful. God has gifted us with his family.

Thirdly, I fight for faith. Faith comes easily for some, I envy them. Mine is fought in the trenches of me on a regular basis. I fight to believe that God is real and good and all-knowing, especially when all hell feels loosed. I think it is ok to have to fight for it.

I fight by remembering. I remember that God did not promise to make this all right now. But he promised to make it right. I remember that Jesus didn’t live a posh life. It began a few weeks after he was born in a barn, being chased by baby genocide as he fled to Egypt. That was what Christ did after the first Christmas-he fled a genocide. I remember that in heaven the darkest hour will seem like a moment, a second.

And I fight for my friend! She is fighting to come back and we are fighting beside her! We believe our God can heal! Pray with us!

I kind-of think we are in the best of stories here. The kind of story that goes to the darkest place but for the best of reasons and doesn't leave us there in despair. A story written by and for a God who suffered first and is rescuing us from the darkest moments.

Editor’s Note: This is a repost of Fighting for Faith. It appears at GCD with the author’s permission.

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Jennie Allen’s passion is to communicate a bigger God through writing and teaching. She is the author of Anything and serves in ministry alongside her husband, Zac. They have four children and live in Austin, Texas. Jennie’s blog can be found at www.JennieAllen.com.

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Read more free article: Grief and the Gospel by Abe Meysenburg and Long Live the King by Jake Chambers

Read the e-book, Prayer Life by Winfield Bevins.

Between the Advents

For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from then on and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will accomplish this. - Isaiah 9:6

Six and Seven year-olds massacred in Newtown, CT. Others randomly shot in a mall in Oregon. Dozens of other headlines highlight less spectacular bloodshed in your hometown newspaper. It appears there is no end in sight. Random wickedness and brokenness are also your problem in your otherwise safe pocket of the world. Evil is local and apparently sustainable. It seems to be everywhere and affecting everything. Though the topic of evil is often suppressed and psychologized in our public discourse, it persists.

Less dramatic, but equally as personal, is your neighbor who actively dreads the holidays at the dysfunctional home of his youth. How do you avoid the curse on your hometown when every town is rife with the same brokenness and fear? The dread of the family that fell painfully short of the ideal: bitter divorce, fatherlessness, selfish people living selfish lives with deep wounds of rejection. Look around. This is where we’re from, but it’s not where we want to live. We find ourselves in grief and fear longing for peace and comfort. Like a hip out of socket we are limping. We are hurting.

Meanwhile, buried deep within the lines of a familiar carol springs:

"Fear not then," said the Angel, 

let nothing you affright, This day is born a Savior Of a pure Virgin bright, To free all those who trust in Him From Satan's power and might.

 O Tiding of Comfort and Joy

Comfort and Joy.”

The Tension between the Advents

Advent, or coming, is a less familiar latin term referencing the historical fact that God took on flesh and dwelt amongst us in the person of Jesus from Nazareth. He came to do battle with death. He came to reconcile predator and prey. He came, we are told, to bring peace, hope, joy, and love to the world. Impressively Jesus dealt with both the penalty and the power of sin in his first coming. We can be justified, are declared righteous, and are empowered to live righteously in the power of the Spirit he sent for us. However, we are not yet saved from the presence of sin.  Even the faithful are tempted to ask, "Must we continue to sing the songs of universal peace, a few days earlier each year, while their promise is still largely unrealized?"

 

Already/Not Yet

Advent is the first installment of two comings. The scriptures reveal that God will again inhabit earth in flesh. Jesus will come again and when he returns, comprehensive salvation is coming with him. In the early 20th century, Princeton Theologian Gerhardus Vos coined a helpful and scripturally consistent phrase to capture the present tension between the advents: “the already/not yet.” Vos observed that much of the good we seek is resident with believers after Christ’s 1st Advent. While at the same time, aspects of God’s promises are still future and won’t be experienced until the 2nd coming, or advent, of Christ and the culmination.

The ‘already’ looks like things put back in socket. New people come to faith and see their lives renovated by Christ. Marriages are restored. Kids grow up strong with parents that love them consistently and sacrificially. Gospel words are shared where there was once legalism or license. Communities rally to meets the needs of the vulnerable. Merriment and good cheer not only at Christmas but all year. Beauty all around.

But all is not as it should be, at least not yet. The ‘not yet’ is devastatingly tangible for the 40 parents of deceased 1st graders in Newtown. ‘Not yet’ is the unrest that all of us feel after such an event. Not yet are the masses who consciously live for self, forsaking the cost of love and community. Not yet are our cities full of single moms, shut-ins. sex traded children, and the scores of people who couldn’t care less.

Most Christmas seasons are a bundling of good news and bad news, celebration and mourning--the ‘already’ with the ‘not yet.’ We live between advents and we live in tension. With a good bit of joy and lingering pain.

Our waiting for the completion of joy and elimination of grief is filled with questions about closing the gap. What should we expect the pace of restoration to be like? Are we naive to wish for sweeping reforms and more comprehensive change in our lifetime? Is there anything I can do to make it come faster?

We are certainly too cynical if we assert “this is just the way life is” when we are privy to in the first Advent and the now massive fork it has created in the human narrative. The gospel is still the power of God to save all who believe and we know that God is competent and thorough (Romans 1:16). Peter reminds the believer of a living hope, a salvation ready to revealed in the last time. There is much more to come and it is better than what has gone before it (1 Peter 1:5).

 

Expect Bigger Government

Jesus. Messiah. Baby. Daddy. Prince of Peace. The King and his rule. A wonderful Counselor with the strength to pull it all off, forever.

The kings who conquered Jerusalem always began in Zebulun and Naphtali, in northern Israel, in route to Jerusalem. Jesus was no different. He began his kingdom reign in the north, in Galilee. He started his quest by calling men to himself, teaching with authority, casting out demons, and generally reversing everything that was broken in his little corner of the world all the way to Jerusalem. It was there he died for peace and rose again for everlasting peace.

Yet, the promise found in Isaiah 9 was for an increase of his government and of a peace without end. So, what started small like a mustard seed grew and turned one nation upside down before going viral through Samaria and the uttermost parts of the earth. His kingdom continues to expand. Jesus and his ever increasing government means more is “already” and less is “not yet.” While local tragedies devastate us and obscure our line of sight, we do well to span out and recognize the broader movement of God. Justice and righteousness is intermittently experienced and universal flourishing is coming.

Promises are made to be fulfilled. The God who makes them is more real than the present tragedy. His faithfulness in the past and his promises about the present age of the Spirit and the future age to come are enough to give us strength and perspective.

This past year, I have watched first-hand as two drug addicts came to know Jesus. From where they sit, the Kingdom has indeed come and is mostly ‘already.’ To contrast where they were with where they are now overwhelms them with optimism. The world is not as dark as it used to be. They are not as broken as they used to be. Things seem to be getting better. Christ’s rule appears to be expanding in all kinds of creative ways as they find themselves in God’s family and on his mission. They are contagiously hopeful in Christ’s work.

But who is right? The emotions we experience after the Newtown massacre or the hope of the newly redeemed? Life between the Advents argues they are both right. Christ brings comfort in the ‘not yet’ and joy in the ‘already.’

 

This Advent

Chances are your neighbors are struggling this holiday season with the stories on cable news, the obligatory visit home, or the broken stuff that they have just come to accept as normal human life. So, they might get drunk with more regularity. They might cry but tell no one. These are real people, across your street who see the massacre in Newtown turned way up, and any sense of tangible hope muted. If you know Jesus you have the opportunity to bring more balance to the conversation.

Be a hope-dealer this Advent. Hit the streets. Move some product. Get the word out. Because God did come softly to earth as a baby, lived obscurely as a servant, and died unjustly in our place, we have hope to deal. Because, his love is so capable and his Kingdom so forceful, we can hope for better--much better. We hope in the present and in the perfect future that the scriptures continue to insist are already a sure thing.

This is good news to your struggling neighbor. Will you invite them into the alternate narrative God is writing with your family? What will you give her? What will you say to him? Who will you hug? How well will you listen? What will you pray? How will you speak honestly this Advent to the reality of the pain and the reality of the resurrection?

 

Duke Revard (ThM) serves as an Elder and Equipper with Bread&Wine in Portland, Oregon. He is the vice-chairman of the board of Soma Communities. He equips his family, Portlanders, and church planters for the work of ministry. Duke is husband to Caroline and father to three daughters. Follow him on twitter @dukerevard.

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Read more articles on Advent: Incarnation in the City by Bethany Jenkins and Long Live the King by Jake Chambers.