Coming to the end of ourselves

Jerry Sitter, in his outstanding book on loss, A Grace Disguised, writes about the sudden loss of his wife, his daughter, and his mother, all in one tragic car accident.  We all suffer loss and Jerry writes so well about what is common to all of us in our losses.  Here is one sampling:

Loss forces us to see the dominant role our environment plays in determining our happiness.  Loss strips us of the props we rely on for our well-being.  It knocks us off our feet and puts us on our backs.  In the experience of loss, we come to the end of ourselves.

But in coming to the end of ourselves, we can also come to the beginning of a vital relationship with God.  Our failures can lead us to grace and to a profound spiritual awakening.  This process occurs frequently with those who suffer loss.  It often begin when we face our own weaknesses and realize how much we take favorable circumstances for granted.  When loss deprives us of those circumstances, our anger, depression, and ingratitude expose the true state of our souls, showing us how small we really are.  We see that our identity is largely external, not internal.

Finally, we reach the point where we begin to search for a new life, one that depends less on circumstances and more on the depth of our souls.  That, in turn, opens us to new ideas and perspectives, including spiritual ones.  We feel the need for something beyond ourselves, and it begins to dawn o nus that reality may be more than we once thought it to be.  We begin to perceive hints of the divine, and our longing grows.  To our shock and bewilderment, we discover that there is a Being in the universe who, despite our brokenness and sin, loves us fiercely.  In coming to the end ourselves, we have come to the beginning of our true and deepest selves.  We have found the One whose love gives shape to our being.

Praying for you, that through whatever loss you are experiencing right now, that you might know the fierce love of God for you.

His ear to our hearts

I’ve posted before about the difference between grumbling and lamenting.  I just ran into another helpful delineation:

Lament is a cry of belief in a good God, a God who has His ear to our hearts, a God who transfigures the ugly into beauty.  Complaint is the bitter howl of unbelief in any benevolent God in this moment, a distrust in the love-beat of the Father’s heart.  (Ann Voskamp)

For more on this, see “Am I grumbling?” and “Are you still on the dance floor?”

Are you still on the dance floor?

Those of you who heard my sharing about my brother, Tim’s death, will probably remember my reference to the importance of “staying on the dance floor” with God when we’re in the midst of trials and troubles.  I was alluding to a concept from Michael Card’s book, A Sacred Sorrow, in which he talks about the purpose of lament in the Christian’s life.  In talking about Job’s response to the terrible things in his life, Card points out Job’s response after finding out that all his children had been tragically killed.  After he tears his robe and shaves his head . . .

What he does next is totally unexpected, even unimaginable.  Until this moment nothing remotely like it has happened in the Bible.  Till now Job has responded as he should have, as he was expected to respond, as you and I would probably respond.  What he does next seems unthinkable, almost impossible.

“Then he fell to the ground in worship.

That response alone determines the rest of his experience in the book, both good and bad.  It must have been that aspect of his spiritual life that had caused God to boast about him in the throne room scene in the first place.  Job is the sort of man who will simply not let go of God.  To him, is what worship means.  He will stubbornly cry out in the groanings of this lament, which is worship until God answers.  As Brueggemann would say, he refuses to leave the dance floor until the dance is done.

So my question for you is whether you are still on the dance floor with God about whatever is causing you to lament at the moment.  I’ve been asking myself the same question . . .

Am I grumbling?

I know I said I was “out of town”. . . but I just had to share this excerpt following up on my post from yesterday.  It’s from Never Give Up by John Janaro:

Am I grumbling?

I think it is important to distinguish between the grumble and the lament.  Both can express themselves as “God, why are you doing this to me?”  But they mean two different things.  The lament is a prayer; read the Psalms.  It is a cry of pain–the pain that a creature feels under the weight of the transforming pressure of the divine Creator and Lover, who carries out his mysterious plan in my life via an incomprehensible suffering.  The grumble, on the other hand, is a loss of trust in God motivated by my own misery.  It gets me forty more years in the desert–read the book of Exodus. (p.70)

I have both written about and spoken about lament.  It really is important to know the difference between a grumble and a lament.  If not, we run the risk of either not speaking to God of our troubles, of deciding to just bottle them up deep inside or of running on and on complaining to Him but not really expressing our trust in Him.  God wants to be with us in our suffering.

Suffering must be endured not because life is less important than we had hoped but because it is more important than we can imagine. It is the place where God is with us. (p. 52)

We are called to endure suffering not with stoic resignation but with abandonment to his loving presence.  We endure in the conviction that God offers us his love–the only fulfillment of the human heart–here and now, in the midst of our sufferings and the plodding of our daily lives.  We are called to put our hearts on the line, to allow ourselves to be wounded by the hope that even in this darkness it is possible to love and to be loved, because he is with us and he loves us now.  And we know that love–in the end–is always worth the risk. (p. 53)

The abyss is the hollow of the hands of God. (p. 53)