In a series ‘Emotionally Healthy Spirituality’
I actually reworked the order of the weeks a little bit. I was planning on talking about ‘Rest’ today, but this week has been so crazy in the world and in the life of some of my friends, that I really felt like what I wanted to talk about tonight is grief.
Story - conversation with friend (Hannah Brownell) about how their family was doing after suddenly losing their father. And I don’t know if you’ve ever had the experience of really having to hurry to put a funeral together and all the details that go into dealing with the affairs of a loved one, etc. But I was with them during all that stuff and it was amazing how strong and joyful they were in all of that. And we were talking about how it wasn’t really after everything was settled that grief really hit her. And when they were getting everything ready for the funeral and all that she was thinking ‘Wow! This isn’t too bad!’ not knowing that it was all the business that was keeping her from grieving and it wasn’t till after the fact that it really hit her. - And now she’ll stop and just weep. And she’s learning how to grieve.
There’s at least 4 situations that pop up in my head when I think about loss and grief in this room alone where people suddenly lost a parent.
Or even if you think of the tragedies this past week in manchester.
And I think that for a lot of people, including people in the church, don’t know how to grieve.
Warn you: : This message is gonna be a little bit serious. But I really believe that for a lot of people in this room, it’s going to be important.
So my request to you tonight would be just lean in to this. And just come with me, and not just be waiting for me to tell a joke or something.
This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, when the LORD God made the earth and the heavens. (Genesis 2:4)
Now no shrub had yet appeared on the earth and no plant had yet sprung up, for the LORD God had not sent rain on the earth and there was no one to work the ground, (Genesis 2:5)
but streams came up from the earth and watered the whole surface of the ground. (Genesis 2:6)
Then the LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. (Genesis 2:7)
Now the LORD God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. (Genesis 2:8)
The LORD God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. (Genesis 2:9)
The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. (Genesis 2:15)
So this brand new creature called ‘human’ is created by God and is immediately put in a garden called Eden. - Eden is Hebrew word, meaning - delight. So humans are living in a place called ‘Delight’.
You can’t talk about Eden without talking about ‘Shalom’.
Hebrew word - usually translated into ‘peace’ but it’s much deeper than that. Love, joy, peace, health, and vitality, flourishing, long life. To use the tagline of this church: It’s life as God intended.
When God made the world, and when God made mankind, this is what he had in mind. Sadly, Eden is short lived.
And the LORD God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; (Genesis 2:16)
but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” (Genesis 2:17)
And if you know the story, you know that’s exactly what happens.
Summary: Adam and Eve disobey God and follow the serpent.
And the LORD God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” (Genesis 3:22)
So the LORD God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. (Genesis 3:23)
After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life. (Genesis 3:24)
So there’s is a crack in the Shalom of the world. It’s like the breaking of a damn, and pain floods in. The pain of distance between us and God.
In the garden, God was face to face with man. - the Bible says that God would walk with Adam in the cool of the day. - Just walking right beside him. But now Adam and Eve are shut out, and there’s distance. And everything is screwed up from top to bottom.
Adam & Eve start blaming each other: Adam: “It was the woman you gave me!” Next story - Cain murders his little brother Abel. And now even the earth is cursed. The word that the Bible uses to describe this kind of tragedy is: Death.
“When - eat - tree - certainly die.”
But we don’t live in Eden any more. Have you noticed that?
Perhaps Manchester reminded you that of that.
And I wonder if you’re like me where every once in awhile you look at the broken world and you just feel like “There’s just no way this is my natural habitat.”
And it’s true. We were created for Shalom, peace with God, peace with each another, peace with the animal kingdom, even peace with the earth itself.
But that’s not the world we live in anymore.
I would argue that hard-wired into humanity is a longing for the garden.
We see it in our desire for world peace, or an end to racism, or equality.
There’s something in us that experiences that and says ‘This is not how the world is supposed to be.’
Because we wired for Eden, we all experience loss.
Author of genesis
What the author of genesis would call ‘Death'.
And with death comes grief.
Even if you’ve had it easy.
And when people think of grieving they tend to think about someone who has lost a loved one. (Which of course is a lot of people in the room tonight) and so they think ‘Grieving isn’t for me. My family is all alive, I’m good.’
The reality is, whether you’ve had it easy, or you’ve had it hard, we all experience death and loss.
So yes it’s all normal life, but it’s not how life was supposed to be.
The point: Loss is a part of life in a post-eden world. And so we grieve.
The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. 6 And the LORD regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. (Genesis 6:5-6)
God himself grieves over the state of the world. So you could say it like this: “It’s Godly to grieve over the state of the world.”
When you saw Manchester, most of you grieved. I work with teenagers, and I think of them excited to go to a Ariana Grande concert and never coming back. And I’m grieved by that.
Sometimes I think of the Psalms.
If you’re new to the Bible, the Psalms, are ancient Hebrew poetry, set to music. That were used for worship in the temple in Jerusalem. So if you would go to the equivalent of church, this is what you would sing.
Here’s what’s amazing: over 2/3rds - are ‘lament’ - which is anger, a frustration, and sorrow and pain, and feelings, and brutal honesty, and confusion and doubt and faith all wrapped into one.
“Lament is when you bring all your emotional pain before God as an act of worship.”
Here’s an example:
How long, LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? (Psalm 13:1)
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me? (Psalm 13:2)
Look on me and answer, LORD my God. Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death, (Psalm 13:3)
(Talk to me or I’ll die!)
and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,” and my foes will rejoice when I fall. (Psalm 13:4)
(Now notice the shift)
But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. (Psalm 13:5)
I will sing the LORD’s praise, for he has been good to me. (Psalm 13:6)
Notice the brutal honesty.
“God will you forget me forever?!” - “How long will you hide your face from me?!”
I’m going to die here if you don’t show up.”
And in the next breath “I will sing the Lord’s praise, for he has been good to me.”
Most of us don’t know how to live in that tension. To one moment be filled with utter despair and the next moment sing of the goodness of God. But this kind of raw emotion is all through the psalms.
My tears have been my food day and night. (Psalm 42:3)
Why have you rejected me? Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy? (Psalm 43:2)
Has his unfailing love vanished forever? Has his promise failed for all time? (Psalm 77:8)
Has God forgotten to be merciful? Has he in anger withheld his compassion?” (Psalm 77:9)
This isn’t what we sing anymore. Like it could be cool to was we close the service tonight to sing a song of lament like they did in bible times, only one problem. We don’t have any!!
We have a few songs with lots of minor chords. Does that count? Can you imagine singing this stuff? It’s like right on the edge of blasphemy.
God wants us to take all our emotional pain and bring it to him.
That’s why we have dozens and dozens of psalms of lament in the holy scripture. - To show you how to bring pain to God. The point here isn’t to learn to how have a good ‘vent’ at God. The point is honesty.. To bring the pain that we carry with us, that part of our life, and then the part spiritual part of our life, where we love God and sing songs, and mash them together into one wild and crazy life.
1st idea: We were made for Eden, but we don’t live there anymore. And b/c of that, we all experience loss, and pain, and death in one form or another and so we grieve.
So tonight I want to say: That’s ok. That’s not bad or unGodly, or weak. You’re right in line with the people of God for centuries.
We read about the death of one of Jesus’s best friends - Lazarus.
He was also best friends with his 2 sisters: Mary and Martha.
So this is an incredibly sad day for all of them.
And so I want you to see how Jesus deals with death.
When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (John 11:32)
When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. (John 11:33)
“Where have you laid him?” he asked. “Come and see, Lord,” they replied. (John 11:34)
Jesus wept. (John 11:35)
Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” (John 11:36)
So the idea in the original language was that Jesus was sobbing. He’s deep in emotional pain.
Notice that Jesus doesn’t rebuke Mary for her bad attitude. He doesn’t pull out a Christian cliche.
Contrast that to the miserable comfort that Christianity so be so quick to offer.
So Jesus here, he goes to the place of pain. He let’s it wash over him.
Don't believe - God causes evil. I don’t have tons of time to get into this, but I’m not the kind of Christian that believes everything that happens is because God is causing it. I don’t. I don’t believe God causes people to strap bombs onto themselves and kill innocent people. But I DO believe that even when things go horribly wrong that God is always in the background doing something beautiful and surprising and redemptive. And one of those things is to enlarge our hearts.
That’s the idea in the book: ‘Embrace grieving and loss’.
In emotionally healthy churches, people embrace grief as a way to become more like God. They understand what a critical component of discipleship grieving our losses is. Why? It is the only pathway to becoming a compassionate person like our Lord Jesus Christ. I covered over my losses for years and years, unaware of how they were shaping my current relationships. God was seeking to enlarge my soul and mature me, while I was seeking a quick end to my pain.
Like I said the first week: Being emotionally healthy doesn’t mean being happy all the time. Having a perma-smile.
Sometimes the emotionally healthy thing to do is to weep.
Most of us don’t live like this. Most of us when we encounter grief, we medicate.
And there’s a time for medication. I am NOT one of those preachers that think if you’re on an anti-depressant that you don’t have the right faith or something. I think there’s a place for all of that. But nobody can argue with the fact that we are a medication-happy culture, and antidepressants as of a few years ago are now the best selling drug in the US.
100’s of millions of new prescriptions every single year. That’s not all bad, and in some cases it’s absolutely needed. But I hope you’d agree that there’s more to grief than taking a pill twice a day.
Or maybe you medicate with TV or shopping or business, or food or sex or alcohol or relationships, or going to church all the time.
And the one thing we don’t do is bring our emotional pain to Jesus.
Some people end up getting ‘stuck’ in grief. Where they’re not pushing through something, they’re just camping out somewhere. Where you can’t or maybe you won’t move forward.
But it’s also true that for a lot of people, they don’t even go there in the first place. But in Jesus, we see him going to the place of pain.
The line in the book: “God was seeking to enlarge my soul.”
There’s a book by Jerry Sitzer - he’s an professor in Washington.
Years ago he was in a head on collision with a drunk driver, and in 1 second he lost 3 generations. He lost his mom, his wife, and his 4 year old daughter. In one second.
He has a book on suffering called “A Grace Disguised: How the Soul Grows through Loss”
And he says this:
“The soul is elastic, like a balloon. It can grow larger through suffering.”
And I think when we just hide from pain, we miss out on a time when our soul can actually grow larger.
Where God can come and bring us new compassion and strength, and patience, and love, and peace.
So getting stuck in grief, yes that’s dangerous. But it’s also dangerous when we move on too quickly. We actually stunt our spiritual growth.
I hope this has nothing to do with your life right now, but maybe you’re here tonight and you’re grieving right now. Maybe it’s death, or sickness, or abandonment, or abuse, or loneliness.
So the question is :’how’ do you grieve in a healthy way?
Sometimes it’s obvious. Someone you love died, that’s pretty straight forward. But sometimes it’s not nearly as obvious. - Maybe you’re sad and you’re not really sure why.
But then you look beneath the surface and you see “Oh, its b/c my relationship with my dad." I think my relationship is over. But don’t minimize it, don’t run from it, don’t laugh it off. No, feel it.
Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. (1 Peter 5:7)
So that’s the idea, you cast all your fear and worry and pain onto God. Why? B/C he cares for you.
And in that moment, be honest with God. Lament if it’s time to lament, that’s ok. Let yourself FEEL. Let yourself feel all those emotions in God’s presence.
Whenever you do, don’t grieve in isolation.
Yes there’s a time to go off and be alone, but not in isolation. Need family / friends / community around you.
Grieving usually takes longer than we want.
I think sometimes people feel like they have 1 week to get better.
“You’re STILL sad about that?” Yes.
You just lost your dad, that’s going to take time.
Pain comes in waves. And pain kinda has this way of coming in waves. Where it’s excruciatingly hard for like 15 minutes, and then it lets up for 15 minutes, and it can go on like that for months. Years sometimes.
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, (James 1:2)
because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. (James 1:3)
Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:4)
Something to consider, often times the people we really respect and are touched by are you people have experienced intense pain. But then we experience pain and we think it’s nothing but stepping backward.
What NT authors call your ‘Flesh’ - that primal animal side of you.
That part of you that desires to do the wrong thing.
Sex / power / money / drunkenness / violence.
This part of you will flair up during times of pain.
You’re a human being.
Take care body / get sleep / get something to eat / Go for walk / exercise.
Don’t just do beers and Cheetos.
Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:18)
Not FOR all circumstances, but IN all circumstances.
No matter what you’re up against, there’s something in your life to be thankful for.
The reality: Even when horrible things are happening, there are still good things happening.
Just like I said, God doesn’t bring the bad, but he’s able to do good in the midst of the bad.
From the book, here’s some things that come from loss:
We have a greater capacity to wait on God and surrender to his will. Grieving breaks something in our fearful self-will that wants to run the universe for God.
We are kinder and more compassionate. Sadness softens our defenses and people find us safer.
We are less covetous, less idolatrous. Life is stripped of its pretense and nonessentials.
We are more apt to rid ourselves of the unimportant things in life that others so desperately want.
We are liberated from having to impress others. We can follow God's plan with a new freedom because we are not as motivated to please people.
We are able to live more comfortably with mystery when it comes to God and his plans. We are not afraid to say, "I don't know,”.
We are characterized by a greater humility and brokenness.
We enjoy a new appreciation for the small moments and drops of grace along the way.
We have fewer fears and a greater willingness to take risks.
We sense the reality of heaven in a new way, understanding more fully that we are only temporary residents on this earth.
We have a greater sensitivity for the poor, the widow, the orphan, the marginalized, and the wounded. We understand them.
We are more at home with ourselves and with God.
Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— (1 Corinthians 15:51)
in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. (1 Corinthians 15:52)
For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. (1 Corinthians 15:53)
When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” (1 Corinthians 15:54)
“Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:55)
The good news: One day, death will die once and for all.
Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. (1 Thessalonians 4:13)
For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. (1 Thessalonians 4:14)
So we grieve, yeah. It’s emotionally healthy. But we grieve with hope.
Hope isn’t wishful thinking. It’s expectation of coming good based on the character of God.
“The quickest way for anyone to reach the sun and the light of day is not to run west, chasing after the setting sun, but to head east, plunging into the darkness until one comes to the sunrise.” (Jerry Sittser)
If you’re familiar with the Bible, at the end, you know that we basically end up back in Eden.
Eden is in our past, but it’s also in our future.
Eden isn’t where we are now, but it is where we’re going.
And so as we grieve, as we lament, as we mourn, we do it with hope.
Those the LORD has rescued will return. They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away. (Isaiah 51:11)
That’s the future. That’s your future.
There’s coming a day when all pain, and fear, and grief, are a distant memory.
There’s no more anti-depressants, b/c no one needs them.
Maybe for you tonight, none of this applies to you. You’re great. Well then maybe for you the message is to be with people as their grieve. Not to fix them, but to be present.
Compassion - compat-io - ‘to suffer with’
Or maybe : you. It's ok to grieve, and it's ok to find hope.
I will bless the LORD at all times; his praise will always be on my lips. (Psalm 34:1)
I will glory in the LORD; let the afflicted hear and rejoice. (Psalm 34:2)
I sought the LORD, and he answered me; and delivered me from all my fears. (Psalm 34:4)
Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame. (Psalm 34:5)
This poor man cried, and the LORD heard him; and saved him out of all his troubles. (Psalm 34:6)
The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them. (Psalm 34:7)
Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him. (Psalm 34:8)
The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous, and his ears are attentive to their cry; (Psalm 34:15)
The righteous cry out, and the LORD hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles. (Psalm 34:17)
The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. (Psalm 34:18)
Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the LORD delivers him out of them all. (Psalm 34:19)
Whatever you have to say, he can handle it, trust me.