As I’ve mentioned before, the author Tom Zuba makes a very important point in his book, “Permission to Mourn.” He says what we believe is the most powerful thing there is. What you think and say about your child’s death, about yourself, about God, about what happens after you die — those ARE your reality. Those thoughts frame not just this experience of death, but your whole life’s journey. Belief is what determines how you see what happens now and next. Beliefs can carry you into peace or away from it.
I was journaling recently, on a hard day, trapped in a cloud of despair, frustration, anger, resentment, fear, anxiety…and I made a list of those things on the LEFT side of a new, blank page. On the right side I wrote where I want to go, where I want to live: hope, joy, anticipation, expectation, love, peace. I added, ” True Joy and Freedom come from….what? Complete trust….in what? The only thing bigger than all this – the grace, mercy, forgiveness, power, love, utter awareness and promises of God.” I looked at one list; I looked at the other. And I thought about those words on the right…I thought about what I have learned, slowly, deliberately, (and not without significant doubt and confusion) about God over these past months and years. I thought about the promises that undergird faith; I thought about the little miracles, the clues that tell me Mark is not just fine but still – somehow! – actively trying to connect, to make me laugh. And I realized that every day I spend on the left side is, essentially, a choice to disbelieve. For me, in order to survive (much less thrive), in order to get to a place of balance and peace in the midst of chaos and eternity, I have to CHOOSE to BELIEVE it’s ALL TRUE.
I’ll back up a step. Here are the questions I believe form the base, the bottom note of any howl of the soul:
Does God exist? Does He love me? Is He aware of what’s happened/is happening?
Our pain is evidence that we somehow know that perfection exists and “this” ain’t it; we yearn for Heaven or Eden or Utopia, for pain to end or not exist at all, but we know, if we are honest and aware, it won’t happen here. So, really — when everything falls apart, we just want to know that we aren’t alone, that love somehow has us all in His grip, and that this current reality won’t be forever true.
At the time Mark died, I was working hard on deepening my faith but I was stuck. I saw God as a Continually Displeased, Distant Taskmaster. I tended to frame things negatively. “Well, my faith must be just pitiful if I need all these signs (i.e., I suck). God must be rolling His eyes about it.” I had not, up to that point, ever learned to lean in hard to the love around me because…I didn’t think I’d done enough to earn it.
One difficult morning, I opened my inbox to find an email from my mom. She talked about how important it was to note that Jesus returned to his friends after he was resurrected because He loved them and knew they were just…human. They needed proof that this Back-From-The-Dead-Version was really HIM, even though they had been with him for years, seen His miracles with their own eyes.
So – at least for me, and perhaps for you, too – in the midst of grieving…really, surrounding and encompassing grief – is our personal wrestling match with God, coming to know who God really is (Love) and who we are (Loved)…and, particularly, how that all works together when your world is falling apart.
What you believe is the most powerful thing.
The written word is huge for me – it’s how I learn, how I hear, how I communicate, and so I’ve read dozens of books as I’ve tried to reframe my thinking. I rely on these authors, much as I rely on friends and family. I’ve re-read chunks of the bible with fresh eyes, looking for the love. And I found so much evidence (even in the Old Testament, where God seems determined to kill off huge chunks of the population every 25 pages, I read about His determined care and guidance. For years I thought the “rod and staff” in Psalm 23 were for disciplining, for whacking unruly sheep…when they are, in fact, for protection and direction. OH.).
Maybe you don’t think much about Jesus. I decided to pay particularly close attention to him, this Jesus guy, to what he said and did. Jesus, we are told by the eyewitnesses behind the gospels, was/is God coming to earth. Jesus healed people; he cured them of blindness, lameness, seizures. Jesus performed miracles – raising the dead, multiplying loaves of bread and little fishes, walking on water; he bent reality, physical law, to prove to the doubting that GOD IS RIGHT HERE (so why would I doubt the little miracles I’ve experienced?). Jesus loved people deeply; he walked, ate, wept and sorrowed right along with them. And he told them to stop worrying, that God loves us and cares for us beyond our imagining…the very hairs on our heads numbered… that God knows when even tiny sparrows die. This same God sees me, loves me, loves you.
I noted the “when” – it’s not an IF. Death is a given, a constant, a guarantee (even Lazarus, who Jesus raised from the dead, eventually died…again). We all will die, and some will die young and in ways that tear at the hearts and minds of survivors.
That’s sort of the meat of it all: desiring balance and peace, we keep walking through this dark valley (sometimes an ongoing, never-ending shit-storm) in search of light and hope. I am starting to see we are truly loved, by God, in a way that transcends circumstance, but circumstances like this…can just about kill you.
My current tattoo plan (for if I ever get one) is to write DWELL on my inner wrist. It’s based on the story in the Book of Genesis about wily Jacob. This is the Jacob who was in the midst of running away from his murderous brother (who was ticked off because Jacob had basically jilted him out of his rightful inheritance – seriously, like a soap opera); Jacob who had been lying all night with his head on a rock in a very desolate place, but having dreamed of a staircase there, one that runs between earth and heaven with angels commuting between. He awoke with a start, probably with a dry mouth and a crick in his neck, and said this: “Surely the Lord was in this place and I did not know it!”
I say that sentence as often as I can remember, because losing Mark was not the end of trouble. I have 3 full pages of prayers for people in the back of my journal. Life can often feel terribly desolate and I know, I know, I know I need to learn this NOW, to “look” past what I see with my physical eyes. A tattoo might actually help me to get this wormed into my soul. I want to learn to DWELL in Love…in the knowledge that – unless God is a liar – He is 1000% trustworthy and He is with me and us and you, whatever my RIGHT NOW is. Whatever your RIGHT NOW is.
Getting past circumstances, getting past decades of thinking never-enough. Easier said than done.
(Part 2 of 3)