It may be that you, personally, do not need to read this post. If you are someone who already feels, in your soul, that you are loved – even in spite of circumstances, or your feelings – then it’s OK to skip this one. Plus, TBH: it’s kind of long. Sorry.
I am writing it because I recently recognized a kind of human crisis, one not limited to those who grieve. I was on a faith-based Facebook page and was completely surprised at how many of those commenting there (these are religious people!) said they do not feel loved or loveable; they are more likely to feel condemnation and judgment instead of grace and forgiveness. That God would feel delight, joy about them, His creation? Pffft. Nope.
Why? Isn’t it hard enough for us to live, in our messy, gritty reality, in our humanity, without feeling there is a divine scorekeeper also watching…and finding us lacking? Why is it that the whole “God so loved the world…” thing has gotten lost?
As I mentioned before, I recently picked up “The Broken Way” by Ann Voskamp. She’d already picked up on this thread I’ve been feeling my way along. Seems like grief is a knot of many threads.
“What in God’s holy name do you do when it feels like you’re broken and cut up, and love has failed, and you’ve failed, and you feel like Somebody’s love has failed you?”
“Not one thing in your life is more important than figuring out how to live
in the face of unspoken pain.”
“What if the busted and broken hearts could feel there’s a grace that holds us…calls us Beloved…says we belong…What if we experienced the miracle of grace that can touch all our wounds?”
Wow. She’s talking about peace…about balance, where you are settled and sure in your very center: a landing place and a launching pad. I haven’t finished her book yet, but I’m adding her thus-far wisdom to my brain stack, her voice joining the chorus inside my head where all are saying something very similar, that a big part of the “cure” for what ails us, a central piece of finding your solid-rock-to-stand-on-in-spite-of-everything, is actually quite simple: practice gratitude…and watch your life slowly start to change. Look – even through tear-dimmed eyes – for all the ways you are being loved right now (even in your current wreckage).
OK, stop. STOP. The worst thing ever happened. The VERY WORST THING I could imagine. And I keep tripping over EVERYTHING…not just my logic warring with faith, but this ENORMOUS sadness, so much anger…and my mistakes, the things I did or didn’t do. That last part can get too loud if I am not careful; you’ve seen me dip into those dark waters in this blog. And in between the accusations in my ears, and the anger, and the sadness, there is a small voice continually urging me, inviting me into the long, slow process of releasing it all. So I’ll explore this more…I’ll write and try to untangle this knot until it makes sense.
What you believe is the most powerful thing there is.
It seems like….it seems like, as I review all I’ve learned, love is the answer and it’s about the Flow. Opening up to receive love – believing you are worthy of it – and letting it fill you up, and then releasing/sharing it from a spiritually healthy position of abundance, of plenty, from joy in knowing you are beloved by your Creator. In my deep grief, on top of the sadness and confusion, I have felt the crushing weight of my faults as well, until that splinter in my soul gets really dug in…until what I feel mostly is condemned, somehow deserving of this pain. This is not how we are meant to live (and runs completely contrary to the whole concept of grace) but how can I get out of that mindset? Does practicing gratitude slowly open your eyes to how much you are loved? Or does choosing to believe you are loved (because that’s Who God Is, and What God Does) in spite of everything (your circumstances, and/or failures, and/or doubts and questions) need to happen before you can truly receive love – see love – in all its varied forms? What needs to change within you so that you’ll (finally) believe you are worthy of love, grace, mercy, forgiveness, joy and delight? What will it take for you to let love in, let it soak into all the fissures and crags of your shattered heart – like a salve, a balm – so that you can begin to heal and to open your eyes in gratitude and wonder once again?
There have been times in my life when I have really felt connected to God – like when I am in Sanibel or some other mind-blowingly beautiful place (sometimes just in my front yard, gazing upward at deep blue skies) and feeling soul-deep awe. Or when I feel my Grinchy, squinched-up heart suddenly lurch and expand with joy over the very passionate existence of the three-year-olds I spend time with each week…or when I’m dancing with my friends on a long weekend full of laughter. It’s when I lose track of what grace is, when I feel my failures are what define and trap me instead of believing mercy is bigger…this has been what keeps me disconnected, keeps me from completely accepting love (and yes, sometimes from even seeing it).
And then there’s the flip-side, the resentment and anger I stewed in for months…the arrogant me yelling “HOW DARE YOU!?!”
What a muddle.
Anyhow: how’s that mindset been working for you, Emily?
Let me stop here for a moment. Failure in life is pretty much a guarantee and when you screw up, remorse is appropriate. Part of grieving Mark is grieving missed opportunities; sins mostly of omission vs. commission, ways I missed the mark (ha) as a mom to both kids because I was too wrapped up in my own agenda, not always dedicated enough to their Greatest Good to set firm, loving boundaries. Is there a mom that doesn’t have the same or a similar list in her mind? The crux of the matter is this: what do you DO with all that? Braid up all those guilty strands into a cat o’nine tails and beat yourself up? Or say you’re sorry, ask for forgiveness, and give it to God and trust that He’s going to help you do better, become your best, over time?
I’ve done too much of the former, and I see how destructive unreleased guilt is in the lives of others as well (and, irony of all ironies: focusing incessantly on what a failure you are can actually make you super self-centered – if everything is your fault then you must be really important and powerful – or it can make you into a stepped-on-worm, always squirming, trying to earn people’s love, or God’s). So I try not to go there now.
And yet: to some extent, that same old I’m-never-good-enough thinking led me into trying to get up from the necessary processes of grief and “run” again, to get back to being busy as…what? Some sort of proof of my worth? See, God?! See me now?! Here I am! Doing good stuff! *Tappity-tappity-tap* (when I do this, I feel this sort of tired but slightly amused gaze coming back at me. “She still doesn’t get it.”). This doesn’t mean there isn’t value in getting out and doing good stuff – we are not meant to stay home in grief forever. Just check the motivation…check your why. A great reminder for me has been in the form of discovering bandaids scattered around in my world…a lot. To me, they are a signal that the work of healing is still ongoing…and I need to make sure I leave room for practices that help.
Here’s the good news for me, for us: over time, the whispers of hope, of redemption, of a love with greatness and depth I cannot imagine, have grown louder and louder.
Jesus loves me, this I know.
Look for all the ways you are being loved.
Love has held us, delivered meals, cried with us, spoken words of remembrance, sat with us in the darkness, prayed for us with fervency and tears.
Love has said “I know this is so hard. I know you don’t understand. But look! Look! This is not the end. The worst thing is never the last thing.” (Thank you, Pastor Katie, for the last sentence. Like a lifeline.)
Love was my dear husband, looking deeply into my face as I fretted about how haggard I think I look (I don’t want pity at all, much less because I look like hell) and saying, “Just smile, Emily.” He invites me to wholeness, to joy that defies (gasp!) hair color. There was a penny on the floor, winking up at me from just under the platinum blonde section at CVS the other day, as I pondered whether to ditch the grey. It made me laugh – so much his humor. (Really, Mark?! NO.)
Love has shown up with mercury dime earrings, shared dreams and stories, brought pumpkin bread (I ate half the loaf), walked a thousand miles by my side, texted every single morning, listened listened listened, read all my stories, taken me kayaking, let me cry in front of the whole church (more than several times) while I’m “leading” worship, hugged me with a strength that feeds my soul.
Love is the antidote, the cure and the very breath in my lungs. Love is where Mark lives. It’s where, when I soul-breathe and try to smile, let go of my fears, my failures, my deepest sadness…and remember how much we loved each other…it’s where I feel like I find him waiting. I don’t have to look so hard, try so hard, strain so hard. He’s just there…right on the other side of the mirror, in between the atoms, smiling back. Inviting.
Did I tell this story? One day I went for a walk and it was like Mark and I were walking together, reliving his life. A baseball in the grass, a Lego in the street, a Nerf dart under a bush, a rolled-up newspaper to remind me of the Boy Scout newspaper drives, where we’d let a passel of delighted 8 year olds ride around in the van (at super low speeds!) dangling their legs out the open back and sides. And I felt like he was saying “it was those little things that mattered, Mom. And it was all really good.”
We, the “blessed who mourn,” often start to figure this out, in fits and starts, as we/after we get through the hard, hard hours, days, months and years of early grief (this illustration is so accurate; grieving is NOT linear, and every single one of the bereaved will follow their own path). Tiny bits of light show up here and there, like stars in between the clouds on a dark night. And the clouds will clear, they do clear; not every day, but even so: you start to notice the stars more than the clouds.
We start to learn how love surrounds us and we notice the gifts of grief, how many of our relationships have grown deeper and richer in this storm. We find some happiness in our memories – the gift of the life of our child becomes more and more obvious. We take walks and find incredible beauty in creation, in the brilliance and artistry of its Maker. Being cracked open makes us, in time, more compassionate and more aware of others’ pain. We learn to forgive and we ask for forgiveness…and believe it. We finally stop questioning the little miracles and just receive and delight in the profound mystery – God does love us so much that He wants us to be comforted!! Yes. YES! Ha HA! Your loved one is really more than fine! When we can really laugh, when we can take a deep breath and move away from, out from under our sadness and anger…we find the love has been there all along, quietly waiting.