Sunday, March 24, 2013

Good Grief

Throughout this long season of increasingly polarized world views and consequent political stand-offs, the words of 2 Chronicles 7:14, along with those of Nehemiah's prayer for the people of Israel, have been camped out in my heart for God's church and His people around the world. During these complicated days, I've come to understand these verses as calls to deep, personal and collective grief among followers of Jesus. 

2 Chronicles gives us the formula, and Nehemiah gives us the model. It is humility, a contrite heart, prayer, seeking, personal accountability, and repentance that will move God to forgiveness, healing, and rebuilding among His people. So far in this mini-study of grief and the resurrection we've talked about the profound nature of grief, as seen through the life of Mary (the mother of Jesus) and the nearness of God in the process. Today, I want to look a bit more carefully at the goodness and purpose of grief. 

I am sure there are other ways of qualifying the goodness and purpose of grief, but I came up with this short list to try and highlight what I think we gain most from grief when we look at it as the catalyst for prayer and healing/restoration. Good grief—the kind that draws us nearer to God—should yield at least three things.
  • Gratitude
  • Grace
  • Giving
The reason I am so convinced of the necessity of these three products of good grief is because of the ways in which we can see God connecting them throughout Scripture as critical elements of His grand restoration project. Moreover, in the midst and aftermath of sin and death, we almost always see division and strife. Gratitude, grace, and giving do not generally function well (if at all) when we are struggling against God and one another. These are not the only problems that can turn grief from good to bad, but they are definitely a few concerns worth looking at with interest. What I've learned is that gratitude is often the jumping off point for finding the best of what grief has to offer us.

When I think about grief and its connection to gratitude I am reminded of the precious group of bereaved parents that God has brought into my life, and the ways in which so many of them have powerfully and openly expressed gratitude for the lives of their children. Those children exerted a great influence over their parents in life, and that influence continues in death. Sometimes the influence may have been (and may yet be) terribly painful in life, but the unbelievable profoundness  and inner chaos of grieving their child's death can also call up a deep appreciation for all that is good and blessed in life. They can see it more clearly through grief's tears than many of us can see through joy's smile.

We can learn much from that example. Learning to be deeply grateful for every moment of goodness—learning to see goodness in the smallest things, and finding that we live through our griefs and troubles—is one of the greatest lessons we can ever learn. When we do, we gain greater access to God's mercies that are new and abundant every morning. We come unambiguously into contact with the infinite abundance of His grace. It is then that we can say, "Lord, your grace is more than enough."

The grace we can receive through grief IS more than enough for our needs, and we know this because in genuine grief we are stripped bare of ourselves and what we hold dear. We find out what we can and do endure. We see that our true needs are really quite few, and we find, then, that God's excess and abundance is everywhere in our lives. Grief teaches us the value of each breath and each moment. 

Grief also demands that we become purveyors of forgiveness and unmerited grace toward ourselves and others in order to survive. In grief, the weight of bitterness can become unbearable, because grief does not have one ounce of energy to spare for wasted feelings that accomplish nothing and exacerbate misery. That kind of anguish cannot long coexist with God's love and Truth. They are completely incompatible.

Unfortunately, we are sometimes slow to open ourselves to grace when we grieve, but when we believe in our hearts the grace that we profess with our mouths we find that our grief has provided us with a storehouse of generous giving to others...particularly those whose pain and suffering we recognize.  2 Corinthians 1:3-5 explains the phenomenon this way.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.

When we find gratitude for the abundance of grace we receive through our grief, we also find that our grief has manufactured an abundance of grace to be given to others. We ultimately learn in grief that we do not have to hoard grace for fear of one day losing it. It is really quite the opposite. Initially, the shock and fear that accompanies our grief can make us feel the need to hold onto everything more tightly. Later, we may find ourselves terrified to hold onto anyone or anything at all for fear that it will be snatched away. But if we cling to God's Word and His Truth then the tension between holding on and letting go can ease, and we can become wise stewards of our suffering and loss...generous givers of our comfort to others.

As we approach our celebration of the Christ's resurrection, there's a great opportunity for us to humble ourselves and pray, seeking God and experiencing a good kind of grief over our sins and the sins of this world.

Think about it...if My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.

If we, as the body of believers and followers of Jesus, humble ourselves before God to the point of grief and repentance for our sins—our individual and collective sins—then God moves. He hears and forgives and heals. I cannot think of a greater way to come to the Cross and experience the riches of Easter, which we received at Jesus' expense.

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