Entries in faith (10)
Eleven years ago this day our nation was brutally assaulted by enemies that wished to do our nation great harm. It was a day of horror and disbelief, but also a day that ushered in a great sadness for the thousands of lost lives and the hundreds of thousands who had direct links with those who died. Losses of this magnitude cannot be totally comprehended, but we all felt some sense of loss in our own way.
Dealing with loss is the process of grieving. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, in her classic book On Death and Dying, gives the stages of grieving: 1) Denial, 2) Anger, 3) Bargaining, 4) Depression, and finally 5) Acceptance. My first response to 9/11 was flat out denial. My wife and I were in Hilton Head, SC, on vacation and I refused to even respond to the first reports of disaster. My response was totally selfish: please, not on my vacation! My second major response was indeed anger. I was so angry at… but who was there to be angry at initially? Osama Bin Laden was not a known name to me, and so what I was left with was raw anger with no place to land. Bargaining was not one of my major responses until I saw the thousands of family members searching for missing loved ones. I bargained vicariously, asking God to have some father or brother or uncle just show up out of the bowels of the New York City subway system. Few, if any, did. I did join in the corporate and national depression. It was too sad, too awful, and I just wanted to sleep it off, imagine it gone. I was sad for days on end. And finally, acceptance.
Acceptance is ultimately an act of faith. It is a faith that says that God is still somehow in control in a terribly fallen and broken world. Faith in knowing that He will still turn this tragedy into triumph, make beauty from ashes. However, this does not take the pain away, it just makes it into something that is meaningful and surprisingly beautiful. Whatever your loss, whatever your drama, the final act of acceptance is the demonstration of humility to a Divine Will that in the final act give love, grace, and heaven itself. The Old Testament blessing sums it up best: “May the Lord bless you and keep you; may He make His face to shine upon you; may He lift up His countenance and be gracious to you.” May He indeed…. Amen.
As I was biking on the cady way trail yesterday I found myself focusing on Easter, on Christ, and on what it all represents. Yes, I know the “Christian” answer of what Easter means, but my relationship with God is personal. I was digging deep for a personal "reaction" to Easter. At first I hit the usual; Easter represents God's love, his sacrifice, and a physical act of His taking on my sin. This by itself is a powerful thing to sit in (or in my case ride in). However, as I continued on, I realized Easter represents the underlying hope that I strive to show people on a daily basis. So often I talk about emotional pain, disconnectedness, vulnerability, risk, and fear; however, today as we head towards Easter I want to direct us towards hope and restoration. Hope and restoration are why I spend so much time talking about the dark places.
I believe that at the end of it all there is hope: Hope of a restored life, of love, of belonging, of connectedness, and joy. So as you reflect, think about what you put your hope in. Is your hope in your husband/wife, your children, your job, a phone call, being thinner, and/or wealthier? Is your hope in a future yet to be determined? Or, is your hope in a God who chose to make himself human, who loves you unconditionally, and who wants to connect and have a relationship with you? Hope abounds in all things. Today, allow yourself to reflect on what this hope may look like for you on your own personal journey.
There are times in life when NOT doing something can usher in a sacred moment. I had one recently. I learned a lot from this moment, and I want to share.
My energetic, bright, and confident daughter brought me a few pages of an essay that I had seen her working on for the past few weeks. She was exceptionally excited about this essay that is a true story of the scariest moment of her life. I was a character in this essay, and I could see in her eyes her need for me to approve of her work. She was proud and delighted to share it with her mom. I sensed in that moment that in believing in her work, she would feel my love for her. How I would value her work was tied to how I felt about her. I could see it.
I read her words out loud. There was so much energy and life in the story. I saw how excited she was to tell this story…but I also saw typos. I saw misspelled words. I saw incorrect placement of commas. I saw how the story wasn’t exactly how it happened.
And I had a choice. I had a choice to use my strengths (insight, assistance, discernment to make changes for the better…people pay me to do these things) or to RESTRAIN. Without a doubt, it was God working in me in that moment. I had been learning about the Discipline of Restraint from one of my mentors, Alicia Britt Chole. I had worked to build up the muscle of restraint. This, my friend, was a test.
I looked at her, mirroring back to her the excitement that she was oozing, and I told her how proud of her I was. I told her that the story kept me on the edge of my seat even when I knew the ending. I gave her a hug. I celebrated her work, and I celebrated her.
Fast forward a week or two. As I picked up my daughters from school, my daughter told me about her day. She said that her teacher read her essay to the class. The teacher praised my daughter, saying that in the history of 25 years of teaching, this was the best essay she has ever read from one of her students.
I, of course, was so pleased that she did well. But I was even more thankful that I had not been a critical, disparaging voice echoing in her heart. Had I corrected her, she would have remembered that her mother only saw the negative. The discipline of restraint saved my daughter the belief that her mother didn’t approve of her.
I sat back and didn’t say what I thought. I held my tongue and offered my heart. I have to say it is one of my proudest moments in the last year, and it is all because I used RESTRAINT.
I will continue to learn to get out of the way, to give less of myself.
Next challenge: critiquing my husband’s sermons.
Christmas is less than a week away and I’m already looking beyond the holiday to the year ahead. Clients of mine have been through very rough sledding this last year, due in part to the perilous economic times we live in. Jobs are in short supply, and good jobs seem to be almost non-existent. However, Christmas provides a good environment for perspective. The man Jesus came to this earth in dire economic times, to a family extremely poor with no hope of any dramatic improvement in their circumstances. He was born in a stable… with neither position nor influence that would allow them to enjoy anything close to being in an adequate environment for the birth of a child. And his life after he was born was immediately in danger from a madman who governed the land in which he was born. Perilous times indeed!
But the Good News of Christ’s birth still speaks to our hearts even two millennia after the actual event. Out of desperation comes hope; out of discouragement comes wonder; and out of confusion comes wisdom. Regardless of your circumstances this Christmas season, Jesus still provides us with perspective. He still calls us to a life of faith, hope, and love, and His birth is the most poignant reminder of God’s overwhelming love for us. And, all believers still exclaim along with the Apostle Peter, “Where else can we go? You have the words of eternal life!” So here’s to a Christmas where our thoughts are turned from ourselves and our own personal problems and predicaments, to the recounting of God’s blessings and a view ahead to the hope He alone can give us. May you enjoy a Christmas with a view to eternity, and be reminded not only of the wisdom of Jesus, but also of the loving sacrifice He was for us all. Merry Christmas!
I spent the weekend with the flu. Not that this is anything that you necessarily wanted to know, but it really is how I spent the last two days. Without describing in detail my symptoms, let me just say that it is very frustrating to deal with continual, annoying, and debilitating pain. Therefore the subject of this blog is suffering. Here are a few things about suffering that this weekend reminded me of:
Pain is a show-stopper. It takes all our energy just to do the basics of life.
Pain is an attention grabber. It’s difficult to focus on anything else.
Pain is a joy-sucker. It’s hard to be happy when we’re in pain.
Pain is a relationship-damper. It’s hard to be loving and other-centered when we are just trying to survive the day.
Pain is a hope-stealer. “When will I get better?” is the unanswerable question.
If you’re dealing with pain – physical, emotional, or relational, it has the tendency to do all the above. The antidote is to reduce life to what really matters: our relationship with God and our relationships with those we truly love. The only steps that were constrictive this weekend were steps taken towards others: my wife, my friends, and God. That’s still the place where meaning is found and joy will continue to come. Don’t let the pain distract you from taking steps that will bring about healing.