Monday, March 28, 2016

Good Grief

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.  (John 16:33)

J.I. Packer has written much about what he calls “the losses and crosses” of life. He uses this phrase to describe the “strains, pains, disappointments, traumas, and frustrations of all sorts…”[1] that we deal with in this world. This life is full of trouble, my dear friend, and you and I are in the thick of it.

Just this week I learned devastating news about two young people that I know. One died tragically from alcohol abuse, and the other clings to life as I write this post, having suffered a massive stroke at the age of 24. Another young man I know is struggling to regain his mobility after a terrible skiing accident, and a member of my church, who just became Dad to a brand new baby girl, will soon pass into glory from liver cancer unless the Lord intervenes.

These are all terrible scenarios, and when we think of the ways these families are suffering, it is easy to affirm their devastation and grief. But what about the smaller, less traumatic losses that many of us suffer every day? Most people who deal with chronic pain are not facing imminent death, paralysis, or lifelong disfigurement (though some are). So, what about our aches and pains, intermittent sleepless nights, and disappointments over missed activities? Are these things to be dismissed or brushed over simply because they are not devastating losses? I don’t think so.

Sometimes, in light of the terrible tragedies around us, we may feel ashamed of our tearful responses to the small disappointments and “minor” losses we suffer, so we stuff those feelings of sadness and deny the impact of the loss. For example, I recently had the opportunity to go on a thrift shopping expedition with some friends. This is something I have always enjoyed doing, but I had to pass because it is just too painful for me to spend that much time on my feet. Now, this is a very minor disappointment compared to the devastating circumstances I mentioned at the beginning of this article, but it is still a disappointment, another part of the new normal to which I must adapt.

This missed opportunity was more than just not getting to shop. It was the loss of that sense of camaraderie, togetherness, and shared memories that made it such a disappointment. Maybe you can relate? When things like this happen, I’m reminded once again how different my life is now, and that my friends are moving on without me. At least, that is what my enemy would like me to think about. If I stuff these feelings and deny that this is a real loss, he tries to bring me back to that old “default” thinking pattern that I have fought so hard to defeat.

But here’s the good news: Satan can’t win this one. I’ve come to recognize his tricks, and I see his tactics with new eyes these days. So, as I learned of this shopping trip and chose not to participate, here’s how I fought him off and got to a place of joy and gratitude:

First, I took a moment with the Lord, to tell Him of my sadness in not getting to go. As I talked with Him, he reminded me of all the good things that have come from this journey of pain and mobility problems; the comfort I have received from His Word and His Spirit, and the relationships that He has formed in my life that would never have come to be otherwise. By the time our conversation was over, my heart was full of gratitude and joy over the wonders He has done in my life.

Next, I called a friend who is unable to drive, but loves to go thrift shopping. She too has difficulty standing or walking for long periods of time, but we both agreed we could go to one store together, and maybe get some lunch while we’re out. We followed through with our plan, and it was a wonderful time of mutual encouragement and fun. This was a ministry opportunity for us, as we both experience these small disappointments occasionally, and we were able to encourage one another as we spent time together that day.

Finally, I messaged that group of thrift shopping friends to see if any of them might like to meet up for coffee one day next week, and catch up on one another’s lives. Just because I can’t traipse around to 10 thrift stores all over the city doesn’t mean that I can’t spend time with those friends, sharing life together!

By the time I’d done all these things, I no longer felt the sting of disappointment and exclusion, as I did when I first heard of this outing. But it was not because I denied my sadness or was shamed into the “Get over it, it could be worse” mentality that I am sometimes tempted by when there are such tragedies all around me. No, the reason I had such peace is because of this biblically sound model for dealing with disappointment:

o   Admit that it hurts, and tell God about it.
o   Find a way to redeem the sting, by reaching out to another sufferer.
o   Watch and see how God can give you what you need, even if you don't get what you want.

He is faithful, and will do it. Hallelujah, what a Friend! What a Redeemer! What a Savior!

[1] Packer, Rediscovering Holiness, pg. 249, 254, as quoted in Kelleman, God’s Healing for Life’s Losses, pg. 3