Saturday, March 19, 2011

Grief, Grace, Gratitude and Generosity

As my "tweet" and post on Facebook indicated today, I was ambushed again by grief this morning. But rather than give in to despair, I am choosing by God's grace to write a few more thoughts on grief and how God's grace supports us in it.

I have written before about how our subconscious self keeps track of things that end up popping into our conscious life as grief. For example, my birthday (April 9) will exactly mark the 6 month point of Jettie's departure, and I know that my subconscious self is already anticipating that. But I don't think that's what triggered things this time! I have also discovered that the tragedies of others, like the horrible tsunami in Japan and the battles many of those I love are facing, also open us up to fresh doses of grieving personal loss. I think that's a good thing for many reasons. First, my new awareness of deep loss now tenderizes me towards others who have experienced great loss. I grieve with those who grieve in a much deeper way now, and I trust that this means that my feeble longings I call prayer are deeper too. Second, the opening up of my emotions that allows fresh grief to surface is part of God's ongoing healing process of my grief. Better to experience and express my sense of loss in Father's presence than to ignore it only to have it pop up later as depression or something else. So even if I don't like the feelings that my compassionate heart experiences at the loss of others, I know I need to lean into them and allow Father to use them to bring healing not only to me but to others as well. That's a good thing, I think.

I am learning some others things about grief, too, that I will just throw out to the five of you who read my blog. :-) First, although at first grief is almost completely unmanageable (at least it was for me), as time progresses you do become able to "manage" grief to some extent. For example, now when something triggers sorrow, I am able to choose whether or not to lean into that sorrow or deal with it later (if that's what I sense God wanting to do). In other words, I am now at least to some extent able to choose when, how much and how, I am to mourn. That's more important than we may think since postponing mourning to a more appropriate time enables us to grieve more effectively and more deeply when the time is right. Choosing at God's leading to postpone mourning to a more effective time (and setting) may be part of a healthy grieving process. At least that's what I am discovering.

I am also learning how beautifully God showers us with His grace when the ambushes of sorrow come. I may, as I did this morning, weep and weep in His presence, but I am deeply aware that I am weeping within His embrace, and I am able to sense His leading as to where I should go with the sorrow. Furthermore, His fresh grace brings with it the ability for me to respond in two very important ways to that grace: gratitude for much and generosity to many. I have known for quite some time that the appropriate responses to grace are gratitude and generosity, but it's remarkable to be experiencing these two things in the context of anguished sorrow and see how they contribute not only to my healing but to the healing of others--amazing grace indeed! And I am also seeing how important gratitude and generosity are in preventing my grieving from degenerating into self-focus and self-pity. One cannot be grateful and generous and remain self-absorbed (and focus on self never, never leads to wholeness, in my opinion).

So that's my experience and my thoughts right now. In my grief--opened up this time by my sorrow for others--I again am experiencing God's grace, and His great grace is working itself out in my life as fresh gratitude and a renewed commitment to generosity.


Tom, one of Abba's little boys

Friday, March 4, 2011

Healing Context, Healing Power, Healing Community

     I have been thinking a lot lately about one of my favorite books, Bo's Cafe. I have written previously about this book, so I won't expound on its context except to remind you that it presents in a wonderful way the power of a healing community.
     The reason I have been thinking so much about God's people as a healing community is twofold: 1) my own experience over the past several months of God's healing community through the people who have loved us/me so well through the terrible/wonderful journey my family has recently experienced; 2) the almost constant reminder of how many believers are "stuck" in their sin, brokenness, dysfunction--whatever--because of the need for a healing community added to God's healing power and the healing context of living loved and grace-embraced instead of performance based.
     I am more convinced than ever that seeing people truly healed, delivered and brought to a measure of wholeness requires a holistic process that involves all three of these. In our current American/church culture there seems to be the notion that there is a microwave fix for long term sin issues and/or brokenness. That has led to many believers seeking one quick fix after another yet still mostly stuck, leading them to believe that they will never overcome ____ (you can fill in the blank: addiction to pornography, anger, homosexual desires, bitterness, etc). This in turn leads them to either a) feel like they are defective, b) believe that "this is as good as it gets in this life," c) hide their problems and put on a happy face, etc. None of these sounds like the wholeness we read about in the New Testament (1 Corinthians 6:9-11 comes readily to mind, along with a host of other passages).
     But the wholeness that is held out as normative in the New Testament is available to us today, dear ones, if all the same factors are in place. I don't have time to elaborate much on this today, but in my admittedly still limited experience I have seen wholeness come when all three of the factors I mention in the title are present in a person's life for a sustained length of time. I will elaborate briefly on each one.
     Healing Context: What I mean by this is the paradigm shift to a true understanding of the Good News that includes the revelation of Grace-based living, the increasing embrace of a loving Father and the rinsing of the mind from the performance-based, human effort approach that characterizes much of what passes for biblical Christianity. I and many others have written much about this, but I have yet to see anyone walk into real wholeness without "getting this." Until the person really grasps that God really does love him/her unconditionally and really has forgiven all their sins (past, present and future) so that s/he can always approach God with boldness and freedom, they simply cannot live the empowered life that transforms. Sigh...I wish I had time to write more on this but read Bo's Cafe, He Loves Me, The Shack, etc., if you haven't already.
     Healing Power: This is the factor that is often not mentioned in evangelical circles that do seem to get the other two parts. But even a quick read of the New Testament reveals the presence supernatural expulsion of demons and the supernatural impartation of love and power as the normal Christian experience. Unfortunately, however, some who are reasonably effective in this area don't understand and practice the other two. Deliverance and inner healing alone, apart from the paradigm shift and healing community, doesn't always bring the desired freedom that practitioners often promise. (Hey, I am just being honest here!). On the other hand, loving someone without having power to deliver them won't work either! Nuff said for now.
     Healing Community: I am convinced that, in addition to God's Word and Spirit, relationships are the most important factor in transformation and healing. Even the "paradigm changes" to living loved require others to help us. And the encouragement, acceptance and prayerful support of others over the long haul is the only way I know to see long-entrenched behaviors overcome. Hence the need for Bo's Cafe communities all around us.
     One final note here involves the need for time. I hinted at this earlier, but I want to underscore this again. A person who has been trapped in destructive thinking and behavior for decades is not usually set free from all of that in a moment. Examples abound: the woman who was shamed all of her life by her parents has a lifetime of shame to counteract; a 50 year old man who was sexually abused by a male friend at age 10 has a lifetime of broken thinking and actions to undo. Yes, God can and does heal this sort of stuff more quickly than it took for it to develop (thank heavens), but He loves us too much to do it instantly (most of the time at least). Yes, He loves us enough to want us to experience His grace over the long haul and His love in a loving community around us. So healing comes, but not usually all at once because of what we would lose if we were microwaved to wholeness (note I am not suggesting here that there shouldn't be major times of deliverance, etc. but that the entire journey may be extended longer than we like!).
     Just my opinion here, of course. And I am still pondering and still a mess part of the time from my grief. But I am convinced that at least these three key factors are all required for wholeness to become truly healthy believers. What do you think?

Tom, one of Abba's little boys