Lent and Grief

Dreams come in the night of my awaiting to be reinstated as a pastor by the church. It is unclear which church I am waiting on, but I am wearing the linen robe from when I was a pastor in the Lutheran church. It is a sad dream and the only light is in the vestments and the knowledge that somehow in that dark dream, God is there as light. The dream is even set in the night and I walk on dark streets while awaiting word. Homelessness is teeming around me an in the dream, I fear that I too might become homeless. I was glad to awaken from the sad dream.

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Yet, upon awakening I am hurting emotionally because of a new round of grief over the loss of my marriage. The devotion for today addresses both the sadness of the dream and the difficulty of facing more heartbreak as March progresses. My wife has now stated she wants a divorce. I didn’t want to be separated and definitely don’t want a divorce. My heart is heavy before I even warm my coffee. The sad dream makes the morning harder. Yet, at least the sun is shining outside. There is that light at least.  The devotion read:

“Keep your eyes on me! Waves of adversity are washing over you, and you feel tempted to give up….yet, I am with you always holding you by your right hand.  I am fully aware of your situation, and I will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able to bear.”    From Jesus Calling Devotional

Then I read the scripture from Corinthians and think of the post my friend made the other day.

If you have ever said this phrase to anyone, “God only gives us what we can handle.”  Please stop. JUST STOP!
It is flawed in many ways, but the biggest problem I have with it is that it puts the onus on the person who is “ handling” whatever hard situation they are experiencing to keep handling it, to not need help, to always be a rock.

I much prefer the phrase, “This shit is hard. How can I help you?”

~Jane Eynon Coburn*

I cheered Jane for her bravery in posting such a courageous statement. Knowing Jane, I also know that she is aware that people mean well when they say that. Still, it doesn’t seem to help when one is in the midst of grief or turmoil. Or, in a case like Jane’s, watching a loved one suffer through physical illness. I agree with Jane, that in this place human-2829510_1920and time saying, “This shit is hard. How can I help you?” is probably better for the one suffering to let the person know that they aren’t alone.

Think of Jane’s statement again and then read the scripture from this morning’s devotion:

13 No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.

1 Corinthians 10:13 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

At first I was angry with the scripture this morning. I was hurting and this pain does not feel “bearable”. As I start to write this blog, to argue with God really, I see something vital we all seem to forget when blithely saying to one who suffers, that God won’t give you more than you can handle.

  1. The first part of the scripture states that a testing is something “common to everyone.” We could start out by sharing how we hurt too. Perhaps we could even admit to the person that we hurt to see what is happening and that we as humans feel helpless. When we use scripture as a bandaid (which I think is Jane’s real protest and is for sure my protest), we do not help the meaning of life or God’s word.
  2. We totally forget the second part of the scripture, that God will provide a way out or a way to endure it. To stick a scripture on any painful event without offering help or a solution is to forget that the word of God is an enfleshed word. Can we promise to listen to another’s pain without sugar coating the events occurring? Can we offer to sit with an ill parent, spouse, or child if needed? Can we offer some kind of action on our part in order to BE the body of Christ to another?Patient

When training to be a pastor, the Lutheran church and most mainline denominations require that the seminarian go through Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE). Basically, one becomes a chaplain at an institution to learn how to be present to those in pain while also dealing with your own challenges as a human being. When God calls a person to be a pastor, they don’t stop being human. They can make mistakes just like the rest of us. The main lesson that our leader tried to teach us was the power of being present. 

By being able to simply BE present for another in their time of pain without offering platitudes or scripture as a bandaid (to make it seem like we have all the answers), we as believers BEcome the body of Christ. By being silent in another’s presence, we allow them to feel heard. By holding another’s hand when they feel alone, we can BEcome the hand of Christ empowering another, lifting up and encouraging one another.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that scripture doesn’t have power because it does have power. The problem becomes in how we use scripture. If we use it as a way to make it seem that we are better than the other, then it is used wrongly. When we use it to cover up our own weaknesses as a human being, then we unintentionally serve up a God who is an unmoved deity.

During the season of Lent, Christians worldwide focus on the suffering of Christ as a way that God redeems and saves humanity. Oftentimes, we can get so caught up in “tradition” for tradition’s sake, that we forget the intent behind the practice. This entire blog could be summed up in the words “intent” and “practice”. During these weeks of Lent, we are called to pay attention to our intent. In that attention to intent, we therefore are let to better practices as people of God.

During yoga this morning, the practice of movement released tears. I needed to cry. I was glad that the tears didn’t occur until we were down on the mat so the instructor couldn’t see me trying to avoid sobbing. Yet, I was also trying to be present to myself and hear God’s messages from this morning. At one point, the stretch was one that had us on our backs, with arms out to the side, chest up in the air. It was a posture much like the one of Christ on the cross. While my heart poured out the pain of loss over my marriage, I thought of Christ. I complained that the loss of my marriage was too much. I wasn’t sure I could bear this current grief because it also includes grief about my own loss of mobility.

BEING present to God in my moment of grief, I thought about the meaning of the cross. Christians world-wide believe that in the suffering of Christ, God felt all of humanity’s heartbreak and frailty. THAT is the good news. Christ has been in a place of suffering and felt the helplessness, the physical loss, the emotional loss, the betrayal. Even Jesus cried out to God, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

If pain was God’s last word, then Christianity would not exist; would definitely not be good news. If pain was God’s last word, there would be no hope for any of us. Instead, the last word is LOVE. That love leads to LIFE. And in that life of Christ, we are given the strength to go on. We might limp like Jacob, but we can go on.

At this point in my life, my experience has been that God brings me through the difficulties. My friends and family of faith will agree in their own life stories.  Now, at the end of this reflection, I can agree with the message of the Psalmist for today. From the NRSV Psalm 73:21-28

 

When my soul was embittered,
    when I was pricked in heart,
22 I was stupid and ignorant;
    I was like a brute beast toward you.
23 Nevertheless I am continually with you;
    you hold my right hand.
24 You guide me with your counsel,
    and afterward you will receive me with honor.[e]
25 Whom have I in heaven but you?
    And there is nothing on earth that I desire other than you.
26 My flesh and my heart may fail,
    but God is the strength[f] of my heart and my portion forever.

27 Indeed, those who are far from you will perish;
    you put an end to those who are false to you.
28 But for me it is good to be near God;
    I have made the Lord God my refuge,
    to tell of all your works.

 

Bluebird on Cross by Rosemary Peek
A bluebird worships with Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church each Sunday. Photograph used with permission ©Rosemary Peek 2017

 

______________________________

*Jane gave me permission to quote her.

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