An Invitation to Think Differently

8c5e1d_13f453a0d8854641b18b7e16b86c1908So — more on one particular book. Here’s the back-story….

A friend recommended this book called “Permission to Mourn: A New Way to Do Grief” by Tom Zuba.  Lots of good Amazon reviews…. OK. I ordered it. And was blown away (and wrote a little about it in early February).

I read it fast, underlining passages in pencil and writing “YES!” next to some, in between blowing my nose and crying and laughing. And then I read it slowly. There is a great gentleness to his writing, a great kindness in his words. He’s walked this walk three times (see below). But he also, for me, presents a great challenge: to change the way we (societally and individually) tend to traditionally think about death and dying.

I was so intrigued that I joined, for the month of March, an on-line (secret Facebook) “grief recovery group” Tom was facilitating. There are 38 of us who participated; most are widows, but there were roughly 10-12 of us who are living with the death of a child (ranging from 12 years to 48, I think, with a number of 18-22 year old sons in there. Sigh). Tom himself has experienced the death of two of his 3 children AND his wife – all separately, due to cancer and other medical conditions.

I’ll try to summarize Tom’s way of thinking and if it’s in quotation marks, he wrote it. The two chapters that really really made me think are the last two bullet points:

  • “We were not born to suffer. We were born to be radiant.” God did not create us to suffer, but to shine. The death of a loved one “cracks you open” and can be a doorway of sorts, leading you into your fullest life.
  • Question everything you believe, especially if that/a belief causes you more pain on top of the pain you are already feeling.
  • In order to heal you have to get the grief UP and OUT – by feeling your feelings (not avoiding or denying or suppressing), and through any activity or endeavor that helps you express your feelings (for me, it’s writing).
  • Our loved ones are NOT “lost,” not far away, but right with us, all the time, and eager to communicate with us – through signs, synergies, “coincidences,” songs, feathers, coins (!), dreams (!!), etc. – and our relationship can continue. Tom is one of the only authors that has successfully addressed what I’ve personally experienced (the love-burst, the deer, the coins, other little signs/miracles) within a not-wacky context.
  • (Chapter 14) Our words, the things we tell ourselves, have great power. They determine whether or not we will heal.  For instance, you might be saying “His life was cut short” whereas you could say “He lived the perfect number of years.”  I see the wisdom of his words – what we CHOOSE to believe, the words we tell ourselves over and over again, is the most powerful thing there is.
  • (Chapter 18) Ask yourself these questions: “who or what gives life? who or what takes life?” and does that entity (God, in my parlance) ever make mistakes?  Or does God “only allow each of us to die right on time? Regardless of the circumstances of our death.”

As I’ve said before: I’m all about rules. Tom is asking me get out of my inflatable baby pool and go jump in the ocean…without a lifeguard, and no swimmies on my arms.

At the same time, I am reading a lot of other books, and some of the authors are also taking what feels (to me) a similar viewpoint — can we lift ourselves up high enough to take the qualifiers off what happens in our [very short, in the eternal sense] lives?  What we label as “bad” can be life’s most powerful teachers, helping us separate the wheat from the chaff in a hurry.  What we label “good” might just be something that’s ultimately NOT good for us.

Mind. Melting.

Wait — doesn’t the bible talk about “all things working together for good for them that love God?” (Romans 8:28) Is that the same thing?

But…some of this feels sort of bathed in mauve paint. Where in this worldview is there acknowledgment of sin, of evil…that dark stuff that makes people do awful things to other people? To children? What about war, poverty, starvation, child pornography? Do we just sit back, polishing our halos (because everyone gets in!) and let the world run on, content to know that everyone and everything is going to enter and exit in perfect timing? What about those who perpetrate these horrors against other beings? Should we think they “lived the perfect number of years” and “went home” having accomplished what they came to earth to do?  Too simplistic! One size does not fit all!

And then I argue back: is God in control? Or not? And if He is, then what do we make of evil? He must allow it – why? If God allows it then should we continue to call it “bad” or is it “formative?”  And isn’t evil really just the dark side of free will?

One of my favorite authors, Philip Yancey, has written some excellent books.  In his books “What Good is God?” and “The Question That Never Goes Away” he talks about two possible answers to these eternal questions:

(1) “Often, when people [ask what good is God], they are asking why God doesn’t intervene more directly and with more force… According to the Old Testament, God did take an active and forceful role in the past, yet it failed to produce lasting faith…[and so] God consistently tilts toward human freedom.” (p. 287, What Good is God). We choose…every moment of every day.

(2) how we have a model, in Jesus, for what to do with evil, with suffering. In his living and dying, Jesus shows us, Jesus IS “a way to wrest good out of what at first seems irredeemably bad.”  (p. 130, The Question That Never Goes Away). Jesus was nailed to a cross like a criminal until he physically died (for a time), and yet everything changed because of that horror, that which seemed “irredeemably bad”…the curtain in the temple ripped from top to bottom, the doors of heaven flung wide. There’s Romans 8:28 all over again.

So many different ways to look at our existence.

What I begin to see is that we humans search for meaning, for a template, for lenses through which we can decipher life, which is full of both living and dying.  Tom Zuba offers a new way to think that encourages us to let go of anything that doesn’t allow us to live freely and fully with the death of our loved one(s), in the light of radical trust. We could continue to debate free will, predestination, light/dark for centuries, but ultimately it’s like he says: what we (each) BELIEVE is the most powerful thing there is.

I believe for myself that trusting God, in spite of EVERYTHING, is what I must constantly try to do…every single day. And that with His help, over time, this – the death of our only son, Sarah’s only sibling – will be, is being worked into a far greater good.

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