What do you do when you are hurting? How do you experience loss? How do you respond to disappointment? How do you respond when you are thrown into the deep?
Our small group explored the topic of grief and loss in our time together this week. Oddly, it comes right when I am processing some disappointments and losses. I was feeling vulnerable, raw. God has impeccable timing!
Our responses to grief, loss or disappointments can be healthy or not. We probably have some unhealthy “go to” reactions. There are many options we prefer to a head on direct approach to coping with grief. We can deny it or distract with humour or other tactics. We can blame God, others or ourselves. We can get angry or medicate. We can over-spiritualize, claiming all the promises all the while hiding from our pain. We can rationalize, intellectualize or minimize. My personal favourites are getting mad, I believe hostile was the term. YIKES! And blaming God. I know I “should” know better, but those are my default settings. When side swiped by grief, loss or disappointment, that is my automatic response.
I don’t know how many of us have actually consciously developed a theology of grief and loss. I hadn’t until my first year of Bible School. The February before I started at Bethany I lost one of my best, life long, friends in a car accident. I couldn’t wrap my mind around God being all powerful and allowing that to happen. I really struggled through it. I can’t fill you in during one post, but maybe I can scratch the surface.
First, I had to realize that the way God created things broke when sin entered the world. Death was introduced when sin was chosen. Sin has a consequence and all of us are impacted by it.
Then I had to realize God didn’t owe me a pain free life. Jesus warned me it would be tough. In John 16:33 he says “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
God won’t allow the pain to be pointless if I run to him with it. In the first verses of James the author says “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
Even though it hurts I can be thankful and even experience a deep inner rest knowing that God will create beauty from ashes.
God isn’t asking more of me than he himself has endured. He sent his son who became like a man. In human form, Jesus and endured all that we do and then more. He took the sin of the world upon himself. In reality, I can’t even comprehend how he could bear it, what that was like or even what the consequences for him during those dark days before he rose again were like.
As a group we looked to Jesus’ example in Matthew 26: 31-44. There are a few things he does to handle his suffering and grief. He takes his closest friends with him. He identifies and faces his pain. He turns to God. He expresses his grief appropriately. This is not an exhaustive list. I am sure as you read the passage you will identify more healthy actions. I encourage you to.
What struck me initially was his example of humility and acceptance. In asking that this cup be taken, he is in essence asking to not be required to endure his present suffering. He identifies his grief telling his friends that he was overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Jesus was experiencing crushing grief. It is what he says next that really grips me. He says the most astonishing thing. “Yet not as I will, but as you will.” As I read it, deep in my soul I realized that I want to respond to grief and loss that way.
It may seem strange. Imagine you are a parent. Imagine your child has no fear of water. Every time you are near water you are on high alert, ready to save them. Your child continually launches themself into the water and you are exhausted from rescuing them. You realize for your child to understand what is at stake, you need to let them experience it. The next time they launch themselves into the water, your hands are just out of reach, you let their head go under the water, you let them experience the danger. Then before they are injured you grab them. You lift that precious one out of the water and clutch them to your heart. As they wail from fright, you know deep down that they needed to experience the consequence. You know their new experience will create caution to help keep them safe and alive in the long run. As the child develops a healthy sense of danger, they grow and learn how to swim and navigate the deep.
God is like that loving parent. Sometimes he let’s me go under the water, into a hard time. He uses that time to stretch me, shape me and grow me. He allows me to learn how to swim and navigate the deep. Sometimes it is his will that I go into the deep, in over my head. He does this for my own good just as a loving parent does with their own child in certain circumstances. Sometimes what we endure is far from what God would want for us. It is the effect of living in a broken world. People choose sin and their sin affects those around them. As a parent, my kids have experienced pain that I wish they didn’t have to go through. Just as I work to help my child see new life come from the brokenness, God does so for us. He works with us to create beauty from the ashes.
I want to cooperate with God in that. I want to handle grief, loss and disappointment the way Jesus did. I don’t want to automatically go to my default responses. I think following the example set by Jesus will benefit me and those whose lives I impact. It won’t be easy. Some loss and disappointment is hard to face. Some of the pain is too overwhelming and scary. In the end I can honestly say that I want my response to God to be “may your will be done.”