The familiar pit: Grief

The familiar pit: Grief

A side effect of a summer full of travel surfaced recently. Hours after midnight, I’ll sit straight up in bed and fumble for the lights in a mad panic. My disoriented mind attempts to discover if I’m in a hotel in Brazil, a condo by the ocean, or a sleeper train on my way to Scotland. In the dark, I could be anywhere. As the light suddenly fills the room, two questions pop into my head:

Where am I? How did I get here?

My eyes quickly find familiar objects…my lamp. The picture on the wall. My dresser. My wife. Those answers give me perspective. Context. Even though my heart is racing, the adrenaline begins to subside. My breathing slows. Awareness of my situation helps me move on. I am not entirely unchanged…even though I’m safe at home in bed, this is disruptive. I’ll be a little extra cranky tomorrow. The memory of panic will return throughout the day. Yet the truth shines through… I’m home.

Experiencing the same grief again is a similar emotional process. Self help sites and well-meaning friends may tell us grief is something we process, move through, and get over. At some point we should be better. We can expect life to be normal again. The truth is, when we lose someone we love dearly, their absence leaves a hole in our world. It’s possible to stumble into that hole again and again for the rest of our lives. When we do, we find ourselves disoriented and confused, like my panicked fumbling in the middle of the night. To find our way through it, we ask those same two questions:

Where am I? How did I get here?

Recently I found myself in that familiar pit again. Like most of us, I’ve experienced loss. Grief is familiar. I’ve recently learned that when it comes, accepting and pressing into it is much healthier than denial or avoidance. Acknowledge it for what it is without minimizing it or giving it more control than it deserves. Understand that the deep hurt is a reflection and validation of love known, experienced, and lost.

Just like the whimsy of love can drop in at any time, grief can as well. That’s what happened this time. I was staring blankly at my screen. When my screensaver kicked on, my mind snapped back to the present. “This is a familiar darkness…hello again, grief.” 

 

Although the weight had settled into my soul the day before, I finally recognized it for what it was. I was in the pit. Oh, but I knew that first key answer. Where am I? I’m in the pit. I’m mourning. Recognizing my surroundings was vital.

 

There hasn’t been a personal loss in my life lately, though. So the next question became key. Just like in my jet-lagged panic, I first had to answer:  How did I get here?

Our minds work in strange ways. Although mysterious, they aren’t entirely unpredictable. As autumn approaches and the daylight hours decrease, I tend to drift toward melancholiness. This was different. It was triggered by something. I realized social media had been showing me memories of my past.

This time, it wasn’t the anniversary of a loss that led me to the pit again. Instead, it was the anniversary of the beginning of a relationship that ultimately left me heartbroken. I had been revisiting the start of a life-changing relationship that would be cut short mere months later. Seeing the beginning prompted my mind to revisit the entire journey, including those familiar feelings about what might have been.

The wounds became fresh again. I’ve heard a broken bone become stronger than the original once it has mended. I don’t think that’s true of our emotional breaks. Years later they can still be uncovered and be once again raw and sensitive. Falling into the pit of grief reminds us that the wounds on our heart never fully heal. The pit remains because the love remains, which can be a freeing thought. Grief is a consequence of love, and love is worth it. Understanding this key helps validate our time in the pit, even years later. It frees us to feel the pain without the self-condemnation that often accompanies it.

It’s okay to grieve. It’s okay to mourn again. In that way, these wounds that remain fresh do ultimately strengthen us emotionally by allowing us to revisit that love and acknowledge the loss. When we allow ourselves to feel the loss again, we also give ourselves permission to experience the joy, too. The scars we live with aren’t unlike those on Christ’s hands and feet, which the Bible tells us are eternal. Those scars are a reminder of the permanence of love. He thought it was worth it. We should, too.

My time in this particular pit had a wonderful outcome this time. By allowing myself to feel the loss, I began to remember why the loss was so deep. It wasn’t because of the way that relationship ended. The reason I find myself in this pit again is because of the joy, good times, and love. I don’t miss the ending, I miss the during. So I reached out, because in this case I can. An incredible conversation followed, and a bit of a reconnection happened. A ray of light broke through the darkness of that pit. 

Even though revisiting the pit is ultimately beneficial, it’s important to remember that life does go on. Although it is vital to allow ourselves to feel the emotions of grief and loss when they return, it is just as important to press forward into the remaining days we have been given. 

Although we glance back over our shoulder at times, our life is meant to be lived looking forward. The keys to the journey out of the pit are similar to flipping on the lights in my confused state in the darkness. Answering where am I and how did I get here was the first step for me in this new journey through this old pit.

I’ve walked this road before. I’ve been in this particular pit before. Although it’s not exactly pleasant, the familiarity makes it easier. Remembering the love that was found…the special times we shared…these things cast light into the pit. Light illuminates the path.

Moving Forward

Moving Forward

The morning news has broken my heart. Every day. It isn’t that he won the election or that she could have. It is the division and divisiveness. Tears. Grief. Riots. People claim our country will return to the dark ages, or perhaps worse. They say bigotry will once again be the law of the land and fundamental individual rights will cease to exist. Millions across the nation are living in fear, wondering if our country can survive this.

As the nation reacts on social media, I continue to be confronted by one question: What is the response of the Christian? Although I know many Christians who voted for each candidate (including third parties), everything that people fear will happen in the next four years is being placed at the feet of the evangelical Christian. Regardless of how we actually voted, we are being looked to for guidance in making sense of the mess we’re in and finding a path forward. So where do we go from here? How do we heal a nation? How do we avoid repeating the mistakes of the now infamous “moral majority” movement from decades ago?

Interestingly enough, who sits in the Oval Office does not change the mandate of the Christian. God’s kingdom is much bigger than our country. But, since a nation is looking for answers, let’s revisit a few key points of our faith.

As believers, we our response is informed by Scripture. At times like these, my Bible naturally opens to Micah 6:8: 

“He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you But to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God?”

Do justice.

Before I was a believer, I would have guessed this verse was a mandate for believers to judge others and punish them for violating God’s standards. When read in context, though, a deeper meaning is revealed. God has always commanded His people to look out for the downtrodden and oppressed. We are to find those who are being discriminated against or overlooked in society and advocate for them. We are often reminded to take care of the widows and orphans, but that is only the starting point. Our understanding of humanity and the human condition is that ALL humans have an inherent and infinite value. The implication is that not only do we personally seek to refrain from oppressing the basic human rights of ANYONE, we also sacrificially stand up to combat oppression everywhere we see it. Yes, that means that I absolutely will take a stand to defend the rights of my Muslim neighbors to freely practice their beliefs. It means I adamantly fight racism, bigotry, discrimination, xenophobia, and misogyny everywhere I find it and by any method I can. It also means if you disagree with me on my political, religious, social, or other beliefs, you have nothing to fear from me. This is how the believer is designed to live. Anything less is not Christianity.

Love kindness.

Once again, this is fueled by our deeply held belief that every person is of infinite value. When things get heated, take a deep breath. Take a look around. Every individual you see was uniquely and lovingly hand crafted by our Creator. Each person is deeply loved and each life has meaning and purpose. As Christians, we believe that God loves “that person” so deeply that He willingly paid the ultimate price to reconcile that relationship. With that in mind, how can we not treat our fellow humans with kindness? Yes, we are still human and prone to outbursts fueled by anger and outrage. But love kindness. Seek reconciliation. Apologize quickly and seek deeper connections with those who aren’t like you.

Walk humbly.

Many of my evangelical friends had deep and valid concerns about the election. There was nothing about this year’s voting choice that was clear cut or easy. I have quite a few friends breathing a sigh of relief right now. Right or wrong, their perception was that the country would take an irreversible turn away from issues that they held dear if the result had been different (and the issues they care about are not the ones making the news). Even so, God reminds us to walk humbly. That means entering into the fray not to gloat but instead to understand those who are hurting, to let them know they are deeply valued and truly loved. We humbly reach out to those who grieve and assure them that there is hope and that they are not forgotten. If our posture is not humble, our posture is not Christian.

These three themes are present from Genesis through Revelation. This is the ideal and standard for a believer’s life. Yes, we aren’t perfect, but striving to embody these principles are how we outwardly display our internal beliefs. We don’t look to politicians or even celebrity pastors to lead us in this, we look to God alone and then walk this out together. The church, like the country, is still at its best when we work together as “we the people,” finding common ground and moving forward with unity.

To my fellow Christians…

Yes, we believe in absolute truth. We believe in right and wrong, even if we don’t always agree on every nuance. But I ask you to remember your own past and journey…show others the grace you have been shown. There isn’t a single Christian who has “behaved” into a right relationship with God. We were saved by grace and our lives were transformed by grace. Let’s not expect those outside the faith to embrace our own ideals. Our greatest goal is to win people for Christ. We do that relationally, often listening more than we speak. If the perception others have of Christians is of a hate-filled bigot who spews judgmental and ignorant rhetoric, they will certainly miss the beauty of God’s love for them. This is the image we must fight against. With our lives. We must be painfully aware that we are ambassadors of Christ, sent to bring good news. We are not His mercenaries. We are not the judge, jury, or executioner. We are messengers. Never lose sight of the bigger picture and the deeper calling on our lives.

To those who don’t yet share my faith…

I hear your cries. I understand that you are grieving and worried, and it breaks my heart. I value your perspective and deeply want to know it more fully. I readily admit that there have been Christians on the wrong side of oppression and injustice at every era of history. But those who take our beliefs seriously instead of politically have been on the right side of it. Remember people like Williams Wilberforce who, compelled by his belief in the Christian God, spent his life ending the British slave trade. People like that still exist. They just don’t make the headlines.

I’m not going to ask you to trust us. I’m certain you have stories of deep hurt inflicted by people claiming to be on God’s side. I do, too. Honestly, that’s what kept me an atheist for 20 years. But I ask you to hold us accountable to standing up for injustice and oppression. Reach out to us. As you fight, you will find many of us standing beside you. As a Christian and an American, I wholeheartedly believe that all people were created equal. Equal value, equal worth, and equal rights. No matter who is in the White House, this is something for which I pledge to always stand and for which am willing to die.