Wednesday, March 7, 2012

For Christ's Sake, Take "It" Personal(ly)!

Isaiah 53:4-5

New American Standard Bible (NASB)
 4 Surely our griefs He Himself bore,
And our sorrows He carried;
Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten of God, and afflicted.
5 But He was pierced through for our transgressions,
He was crushed for our iniquities;
The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him,
And by His scourging we are healed.

A question has been pounding in my thoughts lately like a sinus headache. Re-running like an infomercial. Re-playing like a skip on a broken disc.  

When did we all let each other down?  When, precisely, did we stop taking each other's griefs and tragedies personally, as if they were our own? 

When, as a society, we decided that grief (and the accompanying suffering) is too inconvenient, too messy, too time-consuming, and too complicated, do you know what we did?  We shoved it underground and conveniently labeled it "privacy."  And out of all that privacy we so generously gave one another has come a self-enforced "every man for himself" mentality, which is one of the worst social failures ever. 

News flash. People die. All the time.  Children die. YOU are going to die one day. 

Is it the commonness of death's certainty that has determined that we have between 5 days and 5 weeks (depending upon the tacitly agreed upon "value" of the loss) to pull ourselves together and get back on task? Parents die and leave their children.  Worse yet, parents bury their children--an act that is entirely counter to natural human expectation. All kinds of life-shattering deaths, but no armbands, no black drapes over a home, no extended time of ritual...nothing to help us educate ourselves about loss by being a part of the process of grief...part of a community of mourners. 

The particulars of pain are private, but grief is supposed to be public and shared because it is too damned huge and heavy to carry alone.

Galatians 6:2

New American Standard Bible (NASB)
2 Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.

Grief that is smothered under a rug, with "Yucky Stuff Here! Don't Look Underneath!" embroidered into its edges, has the effect of isolating people, or making them feel forced to isolate themselves at a time when they really need community. Grief underground is destructive. It repeats the lies of being alone. It fails to repeat the truths of our faith. It keeps others from understanding because they are kept out of the process. 

No wonder people feel so uncomfortable and inept around deep grief. No wonder they run away from "it" instead of participating.  No wonder they say foolish, hurtful things. No wonder people lose themselves and each other in the wake of terrible tragedy.  No one knows what the heck they're supposed to do!  And what they end up doing turns off natural feeling for everyone--putting absurd expectations of healing upon the grief-stricken person, and impossible standards of understanding upon the folks around them.  Here's the thing: It's NOT supposed to be that way!

Everyone needs solitude--interludes of withdrawal and reflection--but isolation is something so different and dangerous. The difference between isolation and solitude is the difference between shade (which is a cooling relief) and darkness (which hinders sight and amplifies frightening feelings). I am not sure when we all decided to let each other down like that, and thrust each other into the darkness, but it massively sucks that no one knows how to mourn anymore. 

The clumsiness of people who surround the bereaved seems to increase as the unavailability of visible, shared grief becomes more prevalent. The incidences of estranged family and friends, the numbers of divorces and suicides, and the failure of medications and therapies after a dear one dies are so high.  People lose each other and themselves in the vortex of pain because the load is unevenly distributed. People carry too much by themselves.  

When we don't really bear one anothers burdens--when we don't take them personally for our whole lives--how do we help each other access the hope and mercy needed for living well into the future?  Without becoming sharers in the grief, and partakers of the suffering, we never learn how to grieve and mourn ourselves because the process is hidden away from us. 

John 16:33

New International Version (NIV)
   33 “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.”

Taking grief personally doesn't "cure" the pain, but it helps carry the weight of pain and distributes it for a lifetime across a large community so that the one suffering the most can find the strength and courage to do the long, difficult work of recovery. 

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12

New American Standard Bible (NASB)
 9 Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. 10 For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up. 11 Furthermore, if two lie down together they keep warm, but how can one be warm alone12 And if one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart.

This is how we become comforters and compassionate lovers of other human beings.  We share their suffering instead of making it a hidden, hideous secret. This personally shared grief and suffering should make the most sense to those who call themselves Christians and celebrate Easter.  Didn't Jesus come to take the suffering of humanity from sin upon Himself because it was too heavy for us to bear ourselves?  How, then, do we call ourselves Christ followers if we don't take one another's burdens and grief personally with Christ--for His sake?  For our good and His glory?  Why do we need Hilary Clinton to remind us what should be obvious to every Christian:


Personally, I think we should be on a mission to bring what is perhaps life's most universal experience--GRIEF--back out into the land of the living where it belongs! How the heck else can people really hold each other up? Online communities of strangers and expensive counselors and medications shouldn't have to stand in the place of human responsibility and community compassion. We shouldn't train ourselves to go it alone underground. We shouldn't give ourselves permission to walk through life's experiences cafeteria style, ignoring the ones we don't like.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

...responsible, forever, for what you have tamed

"Men have forgotten this truth," said the fox. "But you must not forget it. You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed." 
~ Antoine du Saint Exupery, from The Little Prince

As a Christian woman and leader--one who is expected to be honorable, devoted, and nurturing--I've been concerned about how I understand and execute my commitment to the people that God has entrusted to me. 

I say this because severely wounded and broken people are often entrusted to us by the Father, but we tend to have a notion that every step those folks take toward healing--the steps that come under our care and support, that is--should never have any backward motion. We cry failure, theirs and/or ours and/or God's--someone's--if healing comes to a halt, or never progresses very far. 

We often harbor benchmarks of healing that we believe people who have suffered enormous wounds and betrayals should meet once they receive some care and comfort. The trouble is, for people who have been repeatedly violated and betrayed, whether due to their own wrong-doing, the wrong-doing of others, or both--these benchmarks of healing are not necessarily linear and fixed. 

There's A LOT of UN-learning the evils to do while going about the courageous, terrifying, soul-ripping processes of RE-learning the holy. It is truly a lifetime of hard labor because it is not a single process, but many layers of processes that can be very thorny and knotted up together. 

As Christians, when we commit ourselves to the care and nurture of others--which is a BIG part of the discipleship and love we are commanded to engage in--we need to follow through and not grow weary. To do otherwise is to frustrate and potentially derail the part of the healing process that was entrusted to us in the first place. 

That is why I am such an outspoken advocate of transparent, whole-hearted living for everyone...but particularly among pastors and church leaders. If we are so focused on the outward appearances and timetables and benchmarks of healing among those we disciple, we will soon weary of our calling and leave a trail of people who are more wounded and betrayed and hopeless and shamed than when they started. 

I watch regularly as pastors and church leaders spend so much time playing "fruit inspectors" that they become very haphazard, casual pruners of would-be fruit-bearing trees that are poised to bear MUCH sweet, juicy, nutritious fruit for others...disciples making disciples. Instead, these pastors pass off to other churches the folks they determine to be too broken and slow. They forget to be gift seekers and encouragers. They become abusers and perpetrators of shame and guilt...and the cycle repeats itself. 

What would happen if every church and ministry applied the concepts of whole-hearted living promoted by Brené Brown in this TED talk.

I can tell you that I've had Christians ignore "The Power of Vulnerability" for which 
Brené argues so beautifully because she says the word, "shit" in the course of her talk. But to ignore what Brené says about connection and vulnerability is to ignore the problem of shame that keeps people from being connected to one another--the very soul of discipleship, ministry, and pastoral care.

What the heck???

Courage and Honor

...any fool can have courage, but honor, that's the real reason why you either do something or you don't. It's who you are, and maybe who you want to be. If you die trying for something important, then you have both honor and courage, and that's pretty should hope for courage, and try for honor...and maybe even pray that the people telling you what to do have some too.
~ from The Blind Side

Thoughts about courage and honor have been nagging and tugging and gnawing and lingering and constructing and deconstructing and reconstructing in my busy brain for quite some time.  These are not easy, simple thoughts...though perhaps they would be if I didn't teach critical thinking and argument.

You can't talk about courage or honor without also talking about fear and betrayal--cowardice and disgrace.

That's fine, except that you can't really talk about fear and betrayal--cowardice and disgrace--without talking about strength and commitment...and weakness and failure.

And you can't talk about strength and commitment and weakness and failure without talking about grace and forgiveness...mercy and obedience.

Great. Except you can't talk about mercy and obedience without talking about love and and commitment...selfishness and sacrifice

So, of course, there's no talking about trust and commitment, or selfishness and sacrifice, without talking about faith and allegiance...hope and expectation...

No talk of hope and expectation can be divorced of righteousness and justice...truth and holiness.

There is no truth and holiness without glory and majesty...and no majesty without dominion and praise without thanksgiving...and no thanksgiving without contrition...and no contrition without change...and no change without pure motives...and no pure motives without talk of Christ without talk of suffering and death...and no talk of 
suffering and death without talk of joy and life.

And so it goes.  But in each of these is a decision...HIS made for me...mine made for HIM.

Courage and honor.