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Posts tagged ‘loss’

What Do I Do With My Regrets?

SOURCE:  Jon Gauger/Family Life Today

Rather than letting go of our regrets, we often escalate the trauma by further indulging them.

I should be dead by now. Really.

Thankfully, as a boy of 15, I underwent surgery for scoliosis, a curvature of the spine. Had my parents not opted for such a treatment, statistics say I wouldn’t be alive today because of the crushing my internal organs would have received from the twisting of my own spine. If not dead, my torso would resemble something like the fictional Hunchback of Notre Dame.

The surgery was no minor deal. First, an incision was made from my waist to the top of my shoulders (about two feet long). After straightening the spine and fastening two metal rods (each rod about a foot long) into the vertebrae, the surgeon chipped tiny fragments off my hip and then carefully placed them along the vertebrae to create a bone fusion.

Recovery was slow. Every four hours I was rotated from my back to my stomach on a circular bed frame resembling equipment from a circus acrobatic act. After nearly two weeks of rotating bed confinement, I was informed that the next day would be “casting day,” when I would get a plaster cast covering most of my upper body, allowing for near normal mobility. I distinctly recall the nurse warning me the night before. “Your incision is healing, and you’ll likely feel an itching sensation tonight. Whatever you do, don’t scratch your scar.”

But what I felt that night was more than an itching sensation. It was an itching assault. An itching warfare. I scratched (bad decision). And the scars itched more. I scratched more. And the scars itched still more. At the height of this agony (I do not overstate the moment), it was all I could do to force myself to clench the tubular steel of the circular frame bed and quote every Bible verse I’d ever learned over and over. It remains the most awful night of my life.

Who knew a scar could cause so much pain?

Regrets are scars of the soul.

We carry them around with us, and every now and then they itch. So we scratch them. We replay that thoughtless deed, that hurtful conversation. But instead of relief, we sense only a greater discomfort. Rather than let these memories go, we often escalate the trauma by further indulging our regrets.

What should we do with our scars when they assault us at night or in moments of tired reflection?

Scars, medical experts tell us, require regular and proper care (mine still itch or get occasional scabs). But what kind of care is there for scars of the soul? It’s a question we put to our contributors. Just what should we do with our regrets?

Walter Wangerin

This is simple: Pray for forgiveness. Ask the Christ who fought the devil to come and speak to our regret. Invariably, the word the Lord brings us is, “Go and sin no more. I have forgiven you. Now go on. Get up. Go back to your life and be better than you were.”

George Verwer

I read a long time ago that regret is the most subtle form of self-love. The temptation to regret comes the same way as any other temptation. What we need to do is readily embrace the gift of God’s grace. A lot of people have had their lives filled with failure, yet they do really well at the end. We need to encourage one another with that. Regarding our specific regrets, God has forgiven us. He knows how to work things out for good, so we can’t dwell on regret. We have to somehow move forward because it’s a form of anxiety to dwell on our regrets, paying too much attention to ourselves. We need to claim God’s forgiveness and grace and press on.

Kay Arthur

What do we do with our regrets? Now that’s a question I can answer readily for two reasons. One, I messed up so much before I came to know genuine salvation at the age of 29, and it had great ramifications. Second, I am a perfectionist. I battle with, “I could have done it better, I should have, I wish I had, why didn’t I?” This is where I must run to the open arms of my Sovereign God and all His promises and bring them to bear on my regrets. Also, I would add that we need to remember Satan is the accuser of the children of God (Revelation 12:10-11), so I have to stay dressed in His armor, rejoicing that He will make me “stand in the presence of His glory, blameless with great joy” (Jude 24).

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

The first thing we have to do is thank God for grace. Go back to the cross. Preach the gospel to ourselves and realize, “I am not the Christ. I am a sinner who needs a Savior—and thank God I have a Savior.” I thank God He has not dealt with me according to my sins or as I deserve. The sum total of my life will not be about how well I performed, how well I lived up to my goals, or how successfully I overcame my bad habits or sinful patterns. When it’s said and done, the sum total will be Christ my righteousness. He took my sin—He who had no sin—on Himself. He clothed me in His righteousness, and that is the only basis on which I will ever be able to stand before God and not be ashamed. Every day I have to preach that gospel back to myself and live in the constant conscious awareness that Christ is my life. He is my righteousness. He is my only hope in life and in death.

James MacDonald

Romans 8:1 says, “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” I believe all of our sins—past, present, and future—are under the blood of Christ, that we’re forgiven. I think we need to live as forgiven people. Second Corinthians 7:10 says, “The sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death.” Genuine repentance is not thinking about what I should have done or what I could have done. It’s thinking about what Christ has done, and living in that. When your kids were little and they would act up, what you wanted was for them to forsake the bad behavior and go forward. That’s what I believe the Lord wants for us. Not to wallow in our failures, but to revel in His grace and to give it to others.

Joni Eareckson Tada

I love to read passages in Scripture that remind me that God has a poor memory when it comes to my sin. He remembers my sin no more (Isaiah 43:25). He separates me from my sin as far as the east is from the west, as high as the heavens are above the earth (Psalm 103:11-12). That is what makes the Good News so great! God will not remember our sins. You know what? We shouldn’t either.

Michael W. Smith

You use regrets for good. That’s one reason I started Rocketown, a club for kids in Nashville. I love speaking to youth. I’m able to say, “Hey, guys, let me tell you my story.” Based on my own experiences, I have a little bit of credibility talking to some kid who is smoking dope every day and getting high, struggling with drugs. I say, “I’ve been there.” He might respond, “Yeah, whatever.” Then I tell him my story, and all of a sudden he’s listening because I have been there. I get to say, “Guys, it’s a dead-end street. It’ll take you down. This is not what your destiny is.” Regret gives me an opportunity to speak into kids’ lives because of the fact that I’ve been there.

It’s Never Too Late for Jesus

SOURCE:  desiringgod.org /Constantine Campbell 

Death is the great enemy, though many of us live in denial of it.

Our culture tries to hide death. We don’t see bodies in the streets, as in some parts of the world. Corpses go straight to the morgue or the funeral home — out of sight and out of mind. Many of us have never seen a dead body. Fewer have witnessed a person actually die. We would rather not think about death, we don’t like to talk about it, and we’d prefer to pretend it won’t happen to us.

But it will happen to us. In fact, in one hundred years from now, everyone reading this will be dead. Does that sound harsh? That’s because it is harsh! But it is also true.

Only as we confront the reality of death will we appreciate the hope of resurrection. There is nothing like death to make us desire resurrection.

John 11 begins with a sick Lazarus. His sisters Mary and Martha sent word to Jesus to come to Bethany (John 11:1–3). But Jesus does not go right away. He delays. In fact, he waits two days — until Lazarus is dead (John 11:4–7, 11, 14) — because he knows exactly what he is about to do.

Grieving with Hope

As soon as Martha heard that Jesus was approaching the village, she went to meet him, while Mary remained seated at the house (John 11:20). This is a little strange, isn’t it? Why does Martha go out to meet Jesus while Mary stays put? Is it simply that Martha is the more active of the two? Is it because she is the one who gets things done, while Mary likes to sit (Luke 10:38–42)? Maybe. Or maybe there is something else going on.

Martha’s words to Jesus must have been hard to hear: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:21). Given his great power and the signs he has performed already, Martha believed that Jesus could have prevented Lazarus’s death. But what she says next is extraordinary: “But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you” (John 11:22). Martha does not know the end of this story, as we do. She has no idea what Jesus is about to do and she does not expect him to raise Lazarus from the dead. And yet she expresses hope even after death has occurred. It is as though she is saying, “I don’t know what you can do now, Jesus, but I have hope that you can do something.”

Jesus immediately comforts Martha by saying, “Your brother will rise again” (John 11:23). He tells her exactly what he plans to do, but Martha misunderstands: “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day” (John 11:24). While she misses Jesus’s direct meaning, her response is a good one. She expresses hope through theology. Martha holds to the Jewish belief in the resurrection of the dead that will occur on the last day (Daniel 12:1–2; John 5:28–29).

The Resurrection and the Life

Jesus takes Martha’s belief in resurrection at the last day and redirects it toward himself.

“I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:25–26a).

I don’t think Martha understood at that moment what Jesus said. How could Jesus be the resurrection? What does that mean? Why does resurrection occur for those who believe in Jesus? While she may harbor such questions, she responds again with belief when Jesus asks, “Do you believe this?” (John 11:26b). “Yes, Lord,” Martha says, “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world” (John 11:27).

But why does Martha respond this way? Jesus says he is the resurrection and the life, and Martha says yes, you are the Christ. What is the connection between the Christ and resurrection? Again Martha shows herself to be a theologian as she seems to understand the connection. In 2 Samuel 7:12–13, the LORD promises David that one of his offspring will rule on the throne that God will establish forever. If this Messiah is to rule forever, then surely he will not be ended by death. Either he will never die, or if he does die, he will not stay dead. There is thus a connection between resurrection and the Messiah, and Martha seems to understand that.

Grieving Without Hope

While Martha exhibits hope through theological insight, Mary’s interaction with Jesus is noticeably different. While Martha immediately went out to meet Jesus, Mary doesn’t go until Martha gets her (John 11:28). Then it is striking that Mary says the exact same thing that her sister said to Jesus: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:32).

Mary utters the exact same words as Martha. But do they mean something different? Notice what Mary doesn’t say. She does not follow up this statement the way Martha did, with the words, “But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you” (John 11:22). No, Mary just says that Jesus could have prevented Lazarus’s death — period. But now he’s dead, so that’s that. There is no hope expressed.

It seems like Mary did not entertain the idea that Jesus could do anything now that death has come. Death, after all, is the great enemy. Jesus might be able to heal the blind (John 9), turn water into wine (John 2:1–12), and prevent death (John 4:46–54), but no one can do anything about death once death comes. Right?

Mary’s lack of hope in the face of death is understandable. Sure, Jesus is powerful and can do amazing things, but even today no one can do anything about death. With all our advanced science and medicine, the best we can do is delay death. We can put it off a while. But we cannot prevent it from happening in the end. And once it happens, there is nothing we can do about it. The finality of death is clear to all humanity — past and present. Mary accepts this finality and there is no hope.

Jesus Can Always Do Something

Jesus’s response to Mary also contrasts Martha. After Martha expressed hope, Jesus comforted her with the amazing words that Lazarus would rise again and that Jesus is the resurrection and the life. But what is his response to Mary? There is no word of comfort. There is no theological promise. He just says, “Where have you laid him?” (John 11:34).

But it’s also interesting to note Jesus’s nonverbal response to Mary: “When Jesus saw her crying, and the Jews who had come with her crying, he was angry in his spirit and troubled” (John 11:33). Most translations smooth out the phrase, “he was angry,” but this is what the text literally says. It is smoothed out because it is not clear why Jesus is angry. Why is he angry when he sees Mary’s grief?

The usual explanation is that Jesus is angry at the tyranny of death. He is angry to see what death does to relationships and to those left behind. It is awful. It is wrong. This reason for Jesus’s anger makes sense, but there might be another explanation. Could it be that Jesus is angry and troubled because Mary grieves as one without hope? After all, he was not angry in his encounter with Martha, who expressed hope.

In fact, Jesus gets angry a second time (John 11:38), but this is in response to what Mary’s fellow mourners say: “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?” (John 11:37). Ignoring the paragraph break, Jesus’s immediate response is again to become angry. Could it be that he is angry because they too lack hope in the face of death? Yes, the crowd knows Jesus is powerful — he opened the eyes of the blind man — he could have prevented Lazarus’s death. But once death has occurred? Not even Jesus can do anything about that, right?

Wrong.

Neither Martha nor Mary knew that the story would end with a resurrected Lazarus. Mary saw death as the end, and not even Jesus could fix that. But Martha put her theology to work together with a trust that Jesus could always do something.

We should be more like Martha.

To the Sons and Daughters of Divorce

SOURCE:  Paul Maxwell/Desiring God

Few things are more traumatic than a car accident — 2,000 pounds of steel and glass bending and scraping, with no respect for the limits or boundaries of the human body inside. There’s a path of healing that every victim of a serious accident must take.

Children with divorced parents have experienced a different kind of violent, traumatic collision. And every child of divorce must likewise walk a path of healing. It will, of course look different for different sons and daughters, but no one can deny that the emotional and relational bleeding needs attention, likely long after the papers are filed.

A chorus of adults with long-divorced parents will dismiss in unison: “I’m not broken, thanks very much. I’m not a project. I’m fine. It’s not even a big deal. I’m not a victim, and it certainly doesn’t deserve this much attention.”

I totally get that.  Depending on the day, I might say the same thing if I read my first two paragraphs.

My parents divorced when I was nine. I’m not a victim, but the break still broke me. It wounded me in ways I could not control. Years later, because I didn’t have the resources to work through things as a nine-year-old boy, certain forms of brokenness seem native and normal to me.

Divorce “attacks the self, because the self is formed within the belonging and meaning provided by the family. When it is destroyed, the threat of lost place and lost purpose becomes a reality. Without place or purpose, one becomes a lost self” (Andrew Root, Children of Divorce, 21). More than losing myself, though, I lost the ability to relate to my heavenly Father. I certainly didn’t think that God had anything to say, or even cared, about the mangled, overturned vehicle in our living room. I’m sometimes still tempted to think that way today. But he does. He speaks. And he cares.

Right now, we’re just focusing on what you (and I) experienced, and how you can heal. This isn’t meant to judge divorced parents, or to deter parents from getting divorced for legitimate reasons (abuse or adultery). The point is to see how, as children of divorce, Jesus Christ is a light in dark places, a hope for the broken, confused, and lonely. We will piece together some themes from Scripture to explain how God understands and relates to children of divorce, in ten points.

Divorce Does Affect You

1. Everyone in a family is organically, emotionally, spiritually connected.

Paul explains, “For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy” (1 Corinthians 7:14). While not the main point of the text (primarily speaking about marriage between a believer and unbeliever), we can note three things:

  1. The family is a unit — an organically connected singular entity (“because of his wife . . . because of her husband . . . as it is”).
  2. The child’s spiritual well-being is interwoven with the integrity of their parents’ marital well-being (“made holy . . . made holy . . . they are holy”).
  3. A broken marriage, therefore, has breaking effects on the child (“Otherwise your children would be unclean”).

2. For a child, experiencing a divorce is experiencing a violent storm.

Malachi argues, “Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth” (Malachi 2:15). Ah, yes. “What was the one God seeking? Godly offspring.” In the Hebrew, “A child of God.” What does the child experience? The Lord enters the scene to explain what happens to a child when parents fail to guard their marriage “in the spirit”: “For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her, says the Lord, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence, says the Lord of hosts. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless” (Malachi 2:16). There is always violence in divorce — a scary, violent, destructive storm within and all around the family.

Divorce Tears What Cannot Be Torn

3. Divorce does not just separate parents.

“So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matthew 19:6). “I know.” We use a metaphor for divorce: “It’s like getting gum out of a rug. It can’t fully be done.” Okay. We forget that the spouses aren’t the only ones who get “separated.” The gum metaphor certainly doesn’t capture what happens to a child of a divorce. A marriage can be separated, at least in some ways; A child cannot. A child is an irreducible unit — a singularity cannot be separated from itself. And yet, we are. What the parents experience relationally, the child experiences internally.

4. Divorce separates you from you.

So when your parents — your first example and measure of relational unity and security — were separated, you were torn in a way that a human is not built to be torn. There is no “gum” and “rug.” There’s just you. You’re one “thing,” and now you feel like you’ve been cracked in half into two things. Even if you don’t experience the emotion explicitly, you still feel and experience and respond to the tension, because the separation is real.

Regardless of whether the divorce was justified or biblical — completely aside from any of those questions — divorce was a violence you experienced. What man “separates” in divorce happens to you, too. What happens between Mom and Dad happens in you. “There is no soundness in my flesh . . . because of the tumult of my heart” (Psalm 38:7–8). The effects are far-reaching, often more than we are immediately aware. Depression, anxiety, addiction, anger, compulsions, and distractions, are all possible effects of being torn, and very often, we are not even aware that these things might be related to the “accident.”

Facing Brokenness is Freedom

5. Brokenness is not unrighteousness.

Scripture uses many different metaphors to speak ethically, but theologians have used at least two terms that are relevant here: the “forensic” and the “renovative.” The “forensic” is legal. It’s declarative. It’s right and wrong. Scripture uses the terms “righteous” and “unrighteous” for the forensic (Acts 24:15). The “renovative” is felt — it’s inside of you. It is helpful and hurtful. Scripture uses the terms “holy” (1 Timothy 2:8) and “broken” (Psalm 44:19; Psalm 69:20; Proverbs 29:1; Ephesians 4:22). To put it in a crass and reductionistic way, the forensic is the external evaluation, and the renovative is the internal state of affairs. In order to heal, we need to be able to distinguish between our brokennesses.

6. You didn’t do anything wrong, but you still have to heal.

Popular therapy for children of divorce will say again and again, “You didn’t do anything wrong.” That’s a forensic category. And it’s true. Your parents’ divorce is not your fault. But, unfortunately and tragically, it still breaks you. You are still, in a real way — in an on-the-ground, in-your-fibers sense — overwhelmed by weight too heavy to lift and twisted in knots too complex to untie in a single counseling session.

The choice given to the child of divorce is not whether or not they should experience the brokenness of their parents’ divorce, but whether they will consciously process or unconsciously suppress the breaking. Henri Nouwen explains, “What is forgotten is unavailable, and what is unavailable cannot be healed.” Likewise, to intentionally face the reality of being broken is not to face defeat, but healing.

Facing God After Divorced Parents

7. Marriage and divorce communicate something about God’s love.

Parents represent in a priestly and prophetic way, for good or ill, Christ’s attitude toward their children (Ephesians 6:1-4). This happens, not only in the direct relationship of parent-to-child, but in an exemplary and indirect way in the public, parent-to-parent relationship lived before the eyes of the child (Ephesians 5:25-33).

And so, in divorce, parents communicate a view of God’s love that speaks more powerfully than words. It is important to recognize, then, that there will always be a painful proverb in the back of your head that has its root in that experience. It’s not the same for everyone.

“Love doesn’t last.”
“Failure in love is always my fault.”
“I need marriage to escape my loneliness.”
“I will never get married.”
“God’s ready to leave me any moment.”
“My love isn’t enough to keep people together.”
“I’m not enough.”

All lies.

But lies are powerful when they have good material to work with. Divorce is a fertile ground for lies of justified self-hatred. Children of divorce, myself included, have always searched too hard for love. Like the song goes, “I fall in love too easily; I fall in love too fast; I fall in love too terribly hard for love to ever last.” We are searching for a sense of home, a way to convince ourselves the lies in our abandonment and loneliness won’t have the last word.

8. God’s has a special affection for you.

What do we see in the texts we’ve looked at so far? A condemnation of the divorced? No. It’s not even about that. What do we see? God’s caring hand for the child. For you. Even if you’re an adult. These texts are God speaking, and naming violence that you’ve experienced. Malachi 2:15 is God saying, “You’ve been in a car accident, and you need to heal.” He says, “I’m looking after you. My eye is on you. You are my child.”

We see God’s protective care for children of divorce. We see the structures that he has set up to care for the weak, and his grief over the violence that breaking these structures does. God is the lifter of weight. He is the untier of knots. His specialty is in redeeming — in healing, restoring, and strengthening. His forte is in trauma, and in complex pain — not always in fixing or explaining right away, but in being-with (Isaiah 43:2).

He has a singular and unique affection for you: “As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him” (Psalm 103:13). That verse probably means nothing to you. In fact, it may make God feel further away. The ‘father’ pictures in Scripture have never been anything but painful for you. That doesn’t change the fact that God does show perfect and intimate compassion to you the way a good father should. He does.

Facing Others After Divorced Parents

9. God is building you to help others.

Through sorrow and tragedy, God gives you an awareness of the world. A sixteen-year-old with divorced parents is, in a sense, more aware of the world around them than the same sixteen-year-old without divorced parents. We all fight through adversity, of whatever kind, so that we can fight for the weak down the road.

“If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small. Rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter” (Proverbs 24:10–11).

These verses flip suffering on its head. If we had divorced parents as a child (and faint, because it’s too much for us), it is so that we can rescue others when we’ve been made strong. In the end (and even in the midst) of your healing path awaits a unique strength that will not only deliver you, but will allow you to carry others through the same journey, fighting the same voices, healing the same wounds, building the same faith and perseverance.

10. Reach out to others who have walked this hard path.

Ernest Hemingway wrote, “The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places.” To put it tritely, experiencing the divorce of parents is just really, really hard. There’s no escaping that. It comes with tears. It comes with being very afraid. It comes with anger. You carry the bitter weight of having divorced parents.

I don’t presume to know your situation, what your parents are like, or what your family has gone through. All I know is that it must be extremely painful, and that God knows your pain. By his grace, it will not destroy you, but make you stronger (Isaiah 42:3–5). Paul realized that he went through an affliction “so that [he] may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction” (2 Corinthians 1:4). He is a man who once “despaired of life itself” who now “[does] not lose heart” (2 Corinthians 4:1). He learned to be strong because he was weak (2 Corinthians 12:9), and God is still using him to comfort Christians in chronic and excruciating pain all over the world.

I don’t think I have found more help in my own journey of healing than in seeking help from others who have walked the same paths — who have had to do the hard work of finding Christ through the weeds of having divorced parents. Look for other sons and daughters — of God, and of divorced parents — and walk with them.

You are not pathetic. You are not alone. You deserve to be deeply loved, and you are deeply loved by God. He will carry and keep you.

 

THE DARKNESS OF CHRISTMAS

SOURCE:  Courtney Reissig/The Gospel Coalition

Until one year, when it didn’t.

I had been married a little more than a year when my first dark Christmas hit. I had every reason to think I would be bursting out of my normal clothes and growing a little baby. But I wasn’t. There were no food aversions, no bouts of nausea, and no need for stretchy pants. The baby inside me had stopped growing weeks before. I was devastated. I felt little Christmas joy that year; there was only Christmas ache and a longing for what might have been. It wasn’t my last sad Christmas, as we waited for God to provide us with children. What was once such a happy family time for me, suddenly became a stinging reminder of the very thing I wanted most but still lacked—a family filled with children of my own.

Whenever we talk about Christmas we think about happy, joyous times, and that is most certainly the case for many. In the years since our first loss, we’ve had Christmases of joy and Christmases of sorrow. We know the feelings of both. But for others, Christmas can carry a dark cloud of sadness, a sadness that never seems to let up and is only exacerbated by the happiness swirling around you. For some, Christmas is a reminder of the darkness of painful circumstances. It carries no tidings of great joy. Maybe you are facing your first Christmas without your spouse or parents. Maybe you are reminded every Christmas season of your longings for a spouse. The loneliness can make celebrating the holidays too much to bear. Maybe your table is missing a beloved child who is wayward, and things never seem the same without him. Maybe your parents are divorced and you shuffle between two houses on Christmas day, while your friends spend family time together. Christmas feels isolating and meaningless when all is not as it should be.

Whatever darkness you are facing this Christmas, know this: with all of the songs and festivities that point to good cheer and great joy, Christmas recalls darkness unlike any we will ever experience, but a darkness that brought light into a fallen world.

Mary’s Soul-Piercing Pain

While Christmas is about the dawning of great joy in the coming of our Savior, it also foreshadows the darkness of his crucifixion. Simeon told Mary of her son’s purpose, that a sword would pierce her own soul (Luke 2:35). Mary, the woman whose heart warmed for her son with every kick in the womb. Mary, the woman who nursed and diapered the very Son of God. Mary, the woman who loved and raised her son like any other mother would do. And while he was no ordinary son, he was still her son. Bearing the Son of God did not make her numb to the often painful realities of motherhood, and her pain would be excruciating. No earthly person felt the weight of Christ’s purpose like she did. While many were rejoicing at his coming, she would one day face the agonizing grief of watching her son suffer on the cross for her sins and our sins.

It’s easy to idolize Mary as a super-human vessel, ready to do whatever was asked of her. While she was certainly godly, she was still human. She was still a mother. This is what Simeon is getting at in his prophecy. With the atonement for our sins came the motherly pain of Mary. As she stared at that little baby in the manger, she may not have fully understood all that was going to take place, but God the Father did. The birth of our Savior carried an ominous shadow of the darkness to come.

God’s Chosen Pain

Mary may not have fully understood what Jesus was sent to do, but God the Father knew of this imminent grief and ordained it to be (Isa. 53:10). Jesus knew what was expected of him, and he agonized over the grief and suffering waiting for him at Calvary (Luke 22:39-46). With every shepherd’s praise and magi’s gift, the Father knew that the perfect fellowship would soon be momentarily broken for sin. In her book When God Weeps: Why Our Sufferings Matter to the Almighty, Joni Eareckson Tada wrote of the Father and the Son’s grief at the cross:

The Father watches as his heart’s treasure, the mirror-image of himself, sinks drowning into raw, liquid sin. Jehovah’s stored rage against humankind from every century explodes in a single direction. “Father! Father! Why have you forsaken me?!” But heaven stops its ears. The Son stares up at the One who cannot, who will not, reach down in reply. The Trinity had planned it. The Son endured it. The Spirit enabled him. The Father rejected the Son whom he loved. Jesus, the God-man from Nazareth, perished. The Father accepted his sacrifice for sin and was satisfied. The Rescue was accomplished. God set down his saw. This is who asks us to trust him when he calls on us to suffer.

With the joy over this little baby in the manger came the promised reality that the joy would soon turn to momentary grief. We have a perfect heavenly Father who knows what it means to grieve over loss. The darkness of our Christmas is not foreign to this God. He is not aloof. He is present with us, because he knows us deeply and walks with us in our pain. He has endured deep pain, too.

When we think about Christmas and are heartbroken to face another holiday with tears, we have hope. While Mary faced heart-piercing grief as she birthed her son, this grief was for the good of us all. While God the Son suffered at the crucifixion, by this suffering we are healed (Isa. 53:5), and he is a great high priest who can sympathize with our sufferings (Heb. 4:15).

Whatever darkness you face this Christmas, it is not the final word in your life. It may be lifelong. It may feel like it will never let up. It may threaten to undo you at times. And it is real. But we can grieve this holiday with hope that one day the baby who came in a manger will wipe every tear from our eyes and make his blessings flow for us forever (Rev. 21:4). The darkness that hovered over his cradle did not win. And it won’t win over us either.

Realizing the Good in the Bad

SOURCE:  Taken from The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict by Ken Sande, Updated Edition (Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 2003) p. 216.

 The Peacemaker’s Harvest

When someone has wronged you, it is also helpful to remember that God is sovereign and loving. Therefore, when you are having a hard time forgiving that person, take time to note how God may be using the offense for good.

  • Is this an unusual opportunity to glorify God?
  • How can you serve others and help them grow in their faith?
  • What sins and weaknesses of yours are being exposed for the sake of your growth?
  • What character qualities are you being challenged to exercise?

When you perceive that the person who has wronged you is being used as an instrument in God’s hand to help you mature, serve others, and glorify him, it may be easier for you to move ahead with forgiveness.

Conflict, along with trials, suffering, loss, and other hardships, can be what God uses to bring the most good in our own lives or in the lives of those around us. It’s often the most painful events of life that bring the biggest harvest.

God brings us through the times of conflict, trial, or suffering that can bring a great harvest. Yes, it’s work; often it involves hours (or months) of tears, heartache, and discipline, but the ultimate reward is one of becoming more like Christ. In these situations, God gives us opportunities to glorify him, to serve others, to be a part of what he is doing, and even to receive personal reward.

Yet in our stubbornness, our refusal to forgive, or our demand to be right or vindicated, we fail to seize those opportunities. We miss the very harvest for which we’ve toiled.

The sowing, the tending, and the harvest all depend on each other–one could not happen without the other. But we are promised that–

“Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness” (James 3:18).

May your harvest be a great one as you sow peace in the midst of the conflicts you face.

Grief: Letting Go Of What We Can’t Keep

SOURCE:  John Townsend/Beyond Boundaries

 Grief: What It Is and What It Does for You

Grief helps us process the reality of loss. Simply put, grief is letting go of what you cannot keep. Grief requires accepting, both mentally and emotionally, that something you loved and valued is no more. There are many areas of life in which we can experience loss and for which we need to grieve:

• The dissolution of a marriage
• The end of a dating relationship
• Family ties that break down
• Friendships that end
• The death of a loved one
• Career opportunities that don’t materialize
• A relapse into addiction after years of sobriety
• Declining physical health
• Financial setbacks
• A trauma that forever mars an otherwise happy childhood

These represent important and life-changing experiences. However, just the fact that you have experienced losses doesn’t mean you can’t have a great and meaningful life. People endure great losses, like the ones mentioned earlier, and still have lives that are full and rich. The process of grieving losses is what helps you to deal with them and move on. This process is especially important when it comes to relational losses.

Grief helps you redirect your energies and focus on what you can have and what is good in your life. It provides a way to clear out regrets and hurts as a way to make room for the new. And grief converts a wound into a memory. That is, when you learn the process of letting go, the pain you feel in the present moves down your neurological pathways into your memory banks, where the past resides. In the memory banks, you can review the past, understand the past, and learn from the past.

Without grief, the wound never becomes a memory. You remain stuck in reexperiencing the hurt and hard times over and over again. Much like someone who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, people who fail to grieve experience a cycle of repeated thoughts and feelings, almost like flashbacks, that offer no relief. Grief ends this cycle and recalibrates your mind.

Six Components for Grieving a Lost Relationship

When it comes to the loss of a significant relationship, there are six essential components necessary for grief to do its work.

1. Acknowledge the Attachment
We get attached to people. That is the draw. And without an emotional attachment, there is nothing to grieve. This may seem obvious, but it is important to state it. The greater the grief you feel, the greater the love you have for the person you lost. And you can’t instantly undo the attachment. In the context of a relationship, you can’t simply stop feeling your feelings for someone just because the relationship is severed or changes. As we’ve noted before, the pain you feel is a good thing; it is a sign that you are alive inside.

2. Accept That You Can’t Control the Loss
Grief requires that you give up control of the other person’s decision and admit that you do not have the power to make him or her love you or move toward you. You are accepting a type of helplessness: “focused” helplessness, not the global helplessness of the victim position. It’s focused because you can choose to let go, choose to let your feelings out, choose to let other people in, and choose to even tell the person you don’t want the relationship to end. But in the end, you must accept that the other person is in the driver’s seat of his or her own life and path, toward you or away from you. You are, in that specific arena of life, helpless, because you don’t have permission or power to change the other person’s decisions.

This is a difficult area for most of us. No one wants to feel helpless. It renders us vulnerable and unable to make things happen the way we would like them to. I recently spoke with a woman on our radio program who described how her ex-husband had called her every day for the past four years — after the marriage had ended. He was unable to accept that the marriage was over. Some people think if they have one more talk with the other person and say the right thing at the right time, they can undo the alienation. Others think that if they become more lovable and attractive, that will work. The extreme cases engage in stalking behaviors. All of these behaviors are driven by a failure to accept the reality that one cannot control the loss of a relationship.

We resist helplessness when we don’t want to lose love. However, the sooner you can allow yourself to experience focused helplessness — to admit that you have no control over the other person’s decisions — the better off you will be.

Jesus allowed himself to experience focused helplessness by restraining his own power to make us love him: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing” (Matthew 23:37). It is a model for us: if the All-Powerful could restrain his might to let people go, we who are finite in power can do the same.

3. Name What You Valued
When you value someone, you affirm that he or she is important to you. When the connection is over, there are certain aspects of the person and the relationship that you miss the most. These are the values you have to grieve. Here are some examples:

• Warmth: he was accessible and moved toward you
• Vulnerability: she allowed her weaknesses and insecurities to emerge
• Structure: she could focus and get things done
• Intellect: he was smart and interesting to talk to
• Honesty: he could hear and tell the truth
• Spiritual values: she loved God and helped you become closer to God
• Acceptance: she could care about you even with your failings and imperfections
• Personal values: he had similar values about love, family, and relationship
• Culture: your backgrounds meshed well

Sometimes, the value you need to grieve is connected to specific memories as well. It could be a trip you took or a private joke you shared. It might be a time of deep intimacy in which you were very close. Perhaps it was good times with the family.

Why is it important to name the specific things you valued? Because you must say good-bye to the entire person, not simply the negative parts of the person. You cannot walk away from the things you disliked, which may be the things that ended the relationship, without also saying good-bye to the things you loved as well. A half grief is never a healing grief.

Here’s another way to think about it. Chances are you’ve been in a situation in which a friend is sad about a relational loss, and you want to help. So you do the most instinctual and protective thing, which is to trash the other person! You might say things like, “I never knew what you saw in him.” “You are better off without him.” “He doesn’t deserve you.” Such statements are well-meaning and probably encourage your friend for awhile. But it also distances her from what she needs to say good-bye to, which is what she valued.

Moreover, it sets her back. The ungrieved “good parts” stay inside her mind and heart and haunt her. That is why some people can’t get over a past relationship or why they find other people who aren’t so good for them but remind them of what they missed. It is better to help your friend say things like, “I know he was controlling, but I do miss the good times.” In that way, she is able to begin letting go of the whole person.

You need that as well. When your friends trash your ex, instead of feeling like a righteous victim, tell them, “I know she was all that, but I have been missing the good things, and I need you to let me talk about those too.” It might feel a little humiliating — how can you be so weak that you still have feelings for a person who mistreated you? Go ahead and push through the humiliation. It just means you were attached to someone with both strengths and weaknesses. And you are valuing the good so that you can say a complete farewell.

4. Surround Yourself with People Who Are Comforting
Grief is letting go of something we can’t keep, but nature abhors a vacuum. It is hard to let go of a relationship all by yourself, because there is a vacuum inside where the person used to be. In other words, you will continue reaching out and desiring the other person even though you know the relationship is over. Having people around you who have the capacity to comfort can help to fill the vacuum.

The process of comfort begins with God, “who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God” (2 Corinthians 1:4). How do you know if someone has the capacity to comfort? By the degree to which they remain present with you when you grieve. Being present means they don’t try to give you advice, cheer you up, or change the topic. That’s what people who are anxious about their own losses do. But people who are familiar with loss know how to just be with you. They give you eye contact, are sometimes quiet, and sometimes are just empathic. Allowing yourself to be comforted by others not only salves your grief, it also greatly reduces the power of the vacuum.

You may have little experience with grief and letting go. I find that many business people, for example, will simply move on from a bad situation or relationship without feeling their sadness. It is important, however, to be intentional about grief and not skip over it. Otherwise, you run the risk of never being able to fully let go of a person or lost opportunity in your past.

5. Allow the Sadness
The emotion of sadness encompasses both longing and mourning. When you are sad, your heart feels downcast. Tears may come. Even though you may have to wait for these emotions to come — you can’t manufacture them at will — there are things you can do that will help you access your sadness.

• Intentionally set aside time to step away from your busy routines and activities and settle into a quiet place.
– Think about the person you lost.
– Recall the negative aspects of the relationship, but don’t allow yourself to stay angry or to get sidetracked by an internal argument about how wrong it was.
– Remember the good aspects of the relationship and the warm times.
• Meet with a friend or counselor and tell him about the things you remember and your experiences with the other person.
• Ask a friend to play the part of your difficult person in a role-play conversation, in which you say what needs to be said: “I care about you, and even though it’s been hard,

I always will. Good-bye.” If you are going to talk to the person, this will help you experience the feelings and fears ahead of time. If you don’t have the opportunity to talk to the person, the role-play can still help you work through what you feel and resolve it.

Some combination of activities like these can help you get out of the doing mode and into the feeling mode. Then you will more readily access the sad emotions that must come. By welcoming your sadness, you allow your feelings to simply catch up with and ally with your thoughts about the reality of the loss.

6. Give Yourself the Gift of Time
Time is like an oven. It takes all the raw ingredients of grief and loss that we’ve talked about so far and cooks them up into something new; it transforms them, creating a new way for you to experience your loss. You cannot microwave grief. However, you can speed up the process by taking time and devoting energy to working through this process. Alternatively, you can also prolong your grief, sometimes forever. You don’t want that for yourself. You want to get it done right so that you can move on.

I once worked with a couple whose adult son, Brian, was a drug addict. He had rejected their help and the relationship they wanted to have with him. He was determined to go his own way and saw no reason to involve them in his life.

Brian’s father mourned the loss of his son over a period of several months and eventually began to invest his energies into other pursuits and family relationships. Brian’s mother, however, hated the idea of sadness — it was uncomfortable, and she did not like the sense of being out of control. So she would allow herself to feel a little sadness and then go through periods of “getting herself together.” She would tell me, “I’m done with this grief stuff. I have accepted that Brian doesn’t want us in his life. That’s his choice, he’s a grown-up. It’s time to move on.” And every time, within a few weeks she became lethargic, had trouble concentrating, and felt weepy about her son. Then she would be a little bit sad again, followed by another round of being “done with it” again.

I felt bad for her. She had come from a professional family in which sadness was seen as a weakness, so the feelings caused a great deal of shame and self-condemnation within her. I told her, “Maybe you’re done, but I doubt it. This is the fourth time you have struggled with your sad feelings like this.” Then I turned to her husband and said, “Why don’t you tell her how you feel about her sad feelings about Brian?” He looked at her and said, “You’re the only other person in the world who understands what we are going through. When you allow yourself to feel our sadness, it brings me closer to you and I feel hope for us.” When she heard that, she began to soften. She was able to stay with her sadness and slowly did make steady progress — instead of the false starts and stops — in letting Brian go.

While some people such as Brian’s mom resist their grief, others can get frozen in a permanent state of grief. They access their sadness, but something breaks down, and they cannot move on. So they continue years of living in loss and have difficulty being happy. Sometimes the breakdown is due to isolation and not having enough safe people with whom to process their loss. Sometimes it is because they idealize the person they lost and can’t imagine anyone could replace them; they build a mental shrine to that person. People whose spouses or parents have died often suffer from this. Making another attachment seems disloyal to the other person’s memory, so they sacrifice their opportunities for a good life in the future on the altar of the life they can no longer have.

If you think you may be frozen in this way, it will help to make a list of the positive and negative qualities of the person and reflect on them. This is not dishonoring to the individual. It is simply a way to allow you to say good-bye to the real person, so that you don’t stay stuck in seeing only the good parts.

These six components have an order and a structure to them. They work. But remember that grief has its own pace as well. One part may take more or less time than you expected. Don’t attempt to force or control your grief process. Give yourself margin within the components. In time, you will be able to let go of the relationship and move on.

Grieving a Living Person

Letting go of a relationship when the individual has passed away is no easy task. However, it can be even harder in some ways when the person is still alive. This was the case with Brian, whose parents had to grieve the loss of their relationship with him. As the saying goes, where there is life, there is hope, and if you know the person is still breathing, it is easy to imagine scenarios, conversations, and tactics that could return and restore the relationship. We all have hope somewhere inside us, the anticipation of a future good. We need hope, because it helps us endure a difficult present, knowing that the future will be an improvement. However, when that capacity for hope attaches to a person simply because he or she is alive — not for any sound reason that makes sense — it is a vain hope.

If this is your situation, you don’t want to waste any more time on vain hope. The only thing it does is slow down your ability to move beyond boundaries and into great relationships. You may need to focus on this issue. Here are a few ideas that might help:

• Tell yourself that you still have a death to deal with: the person is not dead, but the relationship is.
• Write down the evidence you have of the loss and reflect on it: the divorce paper, the person has another relationship, there is no change in the person’s toxicity.
• Ask a friend to tell you why he or she thinks the relationship is over and listen to it from his or her perspective.

Giving up vain hope doesn’t mean that relational miracles don’t occur. I have seen many dead connections resurrected. So be open to the possibility. But let go. You can enter sadness and still leave a door open at the same time. It sounds like it can’t be done, but it can in this way: you are putting your energy and focus into the next steps and the next relationships. But you are not God, and if God miraculously changes the situation, you can respond to that. Move ahead, but let God be God.

But what do you do if the relationship is not over? For example, say you are married, and it is a hard marriage, but you want to keep the commitment and repair whatever is broken, even though it is painful. Is this a matter of grief? Yes, it still is. It is not about letting go and saying good-bye to the person or the relationship; they are still in the picture. But you do have a loss: the loss of the good that was there.

There were good days and times of connection and happiness before things began to go wrong. It may sound strange to grieve the lost, good parts of your relationship and still relate to or even live with the person, but the idea still holds: you have suffered a loss, and it must be grieved. Don’t prevent yourself from grieving just because you are still in the relationship. The loss is still real and important to you.

If the relationship never had a good season, how do you grieve that? For whatever reason, character issues, disconnection, control, manipulations, addictions, and even abuse could have been the norm from the beginning of the relationship. Obviously, you can’t grieve that — there is nothing in the relationship to grieve. That is, except for one thing: the hope. That is, the hope of what you wanted to happen. You grieve your dreams and desires for love, connection, success, partnership, acceptance, or support.

We generally begin a friendship, a family relationship, a business relationship, or a courtship with some sort of hope of a good outcome. Why else would we try to connect in the first place? If you are in a situation in which you feel there is nothing good about the relationship to grieve, you can grieve your lost hopes and what did not happen. Again, I need to say that I have seen relationships that were stillborn and never fulfilling that, with work, began to thrive in health and intimacy. So if the structure of the relationship still exists, I encourage you to continue working for a better future, while at the same time saying good-bye to your dreams of the past.

You Have Nothing to Fear from Grief

Allow me to add a bit of perspective here, especially if concentrating on grief and understanding its nature are new to you. Grief doesn’t have to control or consume your life. Depending on the situation, it can take days or it can take years. How long it takes all depends on how important the relationship was to you, whom you choose to help you along, and how focused you are in the process. But don’t be afraid of your grief. You can have a good life and still let go of that which is no longer yours. Take it from wise King Solomon, “A sad face is good for the heart” (Ecclesiastes 7:3).

Grief is like the weather; it’s always changing and often unpredictable. It is more organic than systematic. So while you are in the season of letting go of the relationship or a part of the relationship, allow yourself to engage in it and embrace it. Your grief will subside, and you can regain joy and positive feelings. Then another wave of grief will likely return. But the process works in such a way that each time you engage in grief, the bottom — the lowest part of the sadness — should be a little less severe and a little less dark. And in time, you will be yourself, actually more than yourself — because you have integrated and metabolized the loss of the relationship and learned from it.

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Townsend, J. (2011). Beyond boundaries: learning to trust again in relationships. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Loss Is Real, But So Is Jesus

SOURCE:  Taken from an article by  Karl Benzio/Lighthouse Network/Stepping Stones

Loss Is Your Door to His Stability

When we are children, the reality of loss is a lesson taught and learned very quickly. Missing a meal, seeing the needs of others met before our own, watching a mother’s attention focus on a newborn sibling, losing a beloved toy, losing at games, loss through parent’s divorce or job relocation, death of a close family member, or death of a pet. Perhaps the worst to absorb is the loss of innocence through abuse or extreme life circumstances.

Life is filled with many kinds of loss. And regardless of the cause, one thing is certain: all loss hurts. We recover quickly from some losses. But others take months or even years to absorb and process. Certain losses are temporary while others are permanent.

Nowadays, many people are facing the loss of their jobs because so many businesses are closing or downsizing. This kind of loss can be devastating to anyone, but especially to the breadwinner of a family. Even losing a second job may represent a threat to survival, credibility, identity, or stability for our spouse or kids.

Job loss can produce many emotions, but fear is usually at the root of any uncomfortable response. Will I lose my home? My child is leaving for college this fall—will I have to break the news that it will be impossible? We have built up credit card debt trying to keep our heads above water … what now? Who will respect me? Will our marriage survive this pressure? Will she still love me? Do I still have worth and value to anyone?

These concerns are very real and can seem extremely threatening. If we keep our eyes on the waves of hardship, we will sink into despair and hopelessness. This is the time when it is difficult … but also imperative … to focus on Jesus, not on the problems. This is the time to remember that He, not that job, is our source of value, peace, security, comfort, redemption, and abundance.

We may go through some real challenges. We may have to tighten our belts and make some sacrifices. These struggles are not easy, but with Jesus, we have hope, and more importantly, a powerful peace. Our jobs may be gone and the economy may be falling apart, but God has not changed. Step back from the hardship and see your life from God’s perspective. If you think He has abandoned or persecuted you, think again. It is because of His mercy and loving-kindness that we are not already obliterated by the adversity.

Today, dig into the areas where you struggle or have experienced some recent hardship. What is the fear at the bottom of the issue? Infuse Jesus’ teachings into your fear, let Him bring healing and comfort to your pain. Then re-evaluate your struggle through these new lenses. Remember, great and abundant are His stability and faithfulness in all things. How you handle loss is your decision, so choose well.

My Father and Lord, This economy and my finances have left me feeling angry and fearful. Help me to regroup … to remember that You are here, that You love me and my family, and that You have a plan. Help me remember that this economy, my recent loss, or any other adversity have not taken You by surprise … and that You have already made a way for me. Thank You that Your compassion never fails and that Your stability and faithfulness are abundant. I pray this and all prayers in the name of the One who provides my stability, Jesus Christ; – AMEN!

The Truth
It is because of the Lord’s mercy and loving-kindness that we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; great and abundant is Your stability and faithfulness.  

Lamentations 3:22-23

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.

John 10:10

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