Grieving lost relationships

“It isn’t helpful to only recount the negative aspects of a person when a relationship ends,” a wise person once told me.

“We also need to remember the good, in order to grieve.”

It’s certainly tempting to rehearse your frustrations – and their flaws – when you’re hurt. But part of the process of letting go is celebrating the things they taught you, and the part they played in your life.

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There’s no guarantee that any friendship, romantic relationship, or marriage will last forever. One aspect of life is saying goodbye, for so many different reasons.

And when the farewell comes, we need to allow room for tears, for grief, for release – as we cling tight to the one who remains forever with us, both sides of heaven.

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.  When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.” (Isaiah 43:2)

If we want to ‘blossom’, we have to take risks

Do you know people who complain about their circumstances but don’t do anything to change them?

We can all fall into the tendency to ‘play the victim’ – to stay ‘safe’ by taking sympathy from others, yet not owning the choices we have as grown adults. And it’s always hard knowing what’s in our power to change, and what isn’t.

But when we remain stubbornly unwilling to seek help or support in making things better, it can be frustrating for those who love us.

“Men are anxious to improve their circumstances, but are unwilling to improve themselves. They therefore remain bound,” wrote James Allen, of those who remain stagnant.

But of the man or woman who knows there is no way out but forward, Anais Nin said:

“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”

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John 5: 1-8 tells the story of a suffering man whose attitude and life situation was challenged by Jesus:

“Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals. Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?”

“Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”

Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.”

This man had suffered for 38 years, and was presumably at the pool in the hope of a healing. The name of the pool ‘Bethesda’ translates to ‘House of Mercy’, and some writings say that at certain times an angel would come down and stir up the water. Then the first person to get into the pool after the water was stirred would be healed of whatever disease or infirmity they had.

Jesus, discovering the man had been sick for so long, asks if he wants to get well. Does he want to receive the healing the Son of God can offer? Is he really hungry for a new life? It seems the man is frustrated by other people going ahead of him when he tries to enter the stirred water. He is weak, and fed up. You could argue he’s making excuses.

But things are about to change. Jesus has come to bring healing. “Get up!” he says to the man. “Pick up your mat and walk.” And he does! For the first time in 38 years…

We might not see many instantaneous healings, but there are solutions to our problems if we look for them. Starting with Jesus. “Do you want to get well?” he asks us. “Get up!” he says.

Jesus promises to walk alongside us, whether we’re healed immediately from disease or not. He promises to offer guidance and wisdom in the midst of our emotional and physical struggles. As we search and pray, he brings people to our life that can point us in the right direction. But we have to be willing to work at things – to refresh our approach sometimes.

Change can be uncomfortable – terrifying even. But playing the victim gets tiring after a while. And sometimes we have no choice but to move forward. To risk blossoming.

Life is not that shiny

A friend was talking with me the other day about struggles at her new church. She recently moved from the inner-city to the affluent Northern suburbs of Sydney, and noticed a big cultural difference. “People aren’t real,” she said. “They just want to pretend everything is ‘happy-happy, joy-joy’ all the time. Just because you’ve found God doesn’t mean life isn’t hard, and that there aren’t issues to grapple with – surely? It’s like people want to take the ‘love and grace’ part of being a Christian, leave it at that, and not go any deeper. They don’t want to talk about struggles of faith, because usually, they don’t have them. I feel like I’m the only one who does.”

I really appreciated her honesty, and I felt for her. We are new friends, and I hope I’m someone she can be ‘real’ with from now on. But it’s a common refrain in many churches. It’s as if Christianity needs a big PR campaign where we have to convince the world – and each other – that life is as shiny as Ned Flanders’ front fence. We don’t want to admit to pain, or suffering, or grief – because that would put our faith – our Christianity – in a bad light.

Or maybe it’s just too hard to dig deep.

But the Bible is full of suffering and impassioned grief.

I’m studying Job at the moment, for a subject at bible college. This man suffers an unbelievable series of tragedies, and his friends are of little help during this time. They blame him for what happened, and essentially try and pull him out of his grieving process. In the midst of loads of unhelpful statements and advice, Job questions God. He feels as though He, too, has turned his back on him. In 31:35 he cries: “Let the Almighty answer me!” He feels like God is deaf to his wails.

Job, a faith-filled man, asks ‘Why?’, just as Jesus did as he bled on the cross. “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” he cried (Matt. 27:46). He knew an acute separation from God.

Grief is raw and wretched and visceral. Grief questions God. Grief screams at the sky. Grief doesn’t care who’s watching.

I’ll never forget the moans and sobs emanating from my boss’s office one day at work. Normally she’s contained, reserved – a ‘together’ kind of person. But this was the day her mother died. And she’d just received the phone call.

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This week my lecturer, in speaking about Job and suffering, spoke about our tendency these days to turn funerals into celebrations. He shared his thoughts, somewhat controversially, that turning the occasion of a close relative’s death into a party can sometimes dismiss or detract from the natural process of grief. Bereaved people need permission to wail if they want (and party if they need to too, in my opinion).

We need to make way for a range of emotional responses, whether our friends are grieving, or questioning God, or broken and dying inside. Sure, it’s confronting – but this is the world we live in.

May we always look towards Jesus. He took his light into some of the darkest places, and gave his life on a wooden cross for us. You can’t get much more ‘real’ than that.

Thank you, God, that you hear our cries, our wails, our screams. Thank you that you know pain intimately, because you chose to come to earth in the form of a man and die for our sins. Thank you that you also conquered death by rising from the grave. One day you’ll take us away from all our earthly suffering.

Thank you for helping us to be real, because it isn’t easy to be honest sometimes. Help us to be the kind of people others want to share their struggles with.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.

What’s your ‘starfish story’?

Do you know the story about the starfish?

Just in case you haven’t, here it is (author unknown):

While walking along a beach, an elderly gentleman saw someone in the distance leaning down, picking something up and throwing it into the ocean.

As he got closer, he noticed the figure was that of a young man, gathering the starfish one by one and tossing each one gently back into the water.

He came closer still and called out:

“Good morning! May I ask what it is you’re doing?”

The young man paused, looked up, and replied:

“Throwing starfish into the ocean.”

The old man smiled, and said: “I must ask then – why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?”

“Well, the sun is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them in, they’ll die.”

Upon hearing this, the elderly observer commented:

“But young man – don’t you realise that there are miles and miles of beach and there are starfish on every mile? You can’t possibly make a difference!”

The young man listened politely. Then he bent down, picked up another starfish, threw it back into the ocean, past the breaking waves. He said:

“It made a difference for that one.”

This story poignantly reflects a common rationale when it comes to helping others.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who becomes overwhelmed with the injustice in the world. Like many, I think I can’t possibly make a difference. But every person counts, and we have to start somewhere.

“There is no greater tragedy than doing nothing for fear of doing too little,” as the saying goes.

The Bible has a lot to say about helping others – especially the poor:

“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.” (Proverbs 31:8-9)

“If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.” (1 John 3:17-18)

“Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.” (1 Timothy 6:17-19)

I especially love that last verse. So that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.

We don’t give just because it’s a good thing to do. We don’t give just because God tells us to. We give because we see that life is not so much about this life, but life after we die. The best legacy we can leave on earth is one that involved telling people about the love of Jesus, and showing them his love in our actions. That’s the kind of legacy that will last. And the best possible future we can hope for is our future in heaven, when we will finally understand God’s purposes for this world. There, we will celebrate what God did through us. Not because of our own innate ‘goodness’, but because of the Holy Spirit working in us to carry out his will. He is our only real and lasting hope, and the only hope for our friends and family. This hope is one that will last into eternity.

What’s your ‘starfish story’? Remember – every person matters.

(In case you want to prayerfully consider supporting something new, my family aids the work of The Indian Christian Mission Centre (ICMC) in Salem, South India. It exists to serve impoverished communities with food, education, and teaching about Jesus. Visit their website to find out more.)

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My son (in red) visited ICMC, India last year, and loved the experience.

I don’t hate the weather. I just can’t stand talking about it.

How are you at talking about the weather?

I’ll be the first to admit – I’m not very good at it. Whenever someone brings up this topic, of all topics, I’m quietly annoyed and stumbling for words. Especially if it’s the fifth weather rant I’ve heard that day.

I completely understand it’s the go-to topic when starting conversations. And we do need openers.

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But continual anecdotes do my head in. I’d rather say nothing and stand in awkward silence than go there. Please, do not go there with me. OK, it’s raining. OK, it’s hot. OK, OK. OKayyyy…

But at the risk of sounding completely anti-social and psychotic, I do like other conversation topics. And I don’t avoid people altogether. Even the weather-haters.

I think what frustrates me is the perpetual ‘small talk’. And I know I might be in the minority here. But I blame it on my fraught, melancholy, INFJ personality. I’m just not good with the standing-around-chatting-about-this-and-that-thing. Unless we’re talking food… Then, I will talk all day. So yeah, I can be shallow too.

I think I just have a propensity towards over-sharing – ponderous thinking, if you like. And I realise that can get boring too unless you’re just like me. Maybe that’s why I need a blog to get it all out.

I really do prefer the ‘how are you really‘ question to the ‘how are you’. I want to talk about life, and relationships, and struggles. I want to be real, authentic, truthful – even if I don’t always live up to this ideal.

I want to be able to cry if I need to, rage at the world – or listen to another person do the same. Am I sounding high-maintenance yet?…

And sometimes I just want to sit in silence with you. And be OK with that too.

We’re all designed for relationships, as complicated as they are. We might, for a while, convince ourselves we don’t need them. But friends are like ventolin to an asthma sufferer. We need to connect with our ‘puffers’, or we die inside.

So, if you’re already my friend, please be honest with me. And I’ll try my best to be real with you too. I won’t wow you with my weather talk, but I’ll be one of the best listeners there is :)

Life ‘on the outside’ is scary

In the 1994 movie The Shawshank Redemption, a character named Red (played by Morgan Freeman) speaks to new inmate Heywood (William Sadler) about a prisoner who’s been serving there a long time…

“The man’s been in here fifty years, Heywood. Fifty years! This is all he knows. In here, he’s an important man. He’s an educated man. Outside, he’s nothin’! Just a used-up con with arthritis in both hands. Couldn’t even get a library card if he applied. You see what I’m saying?
These walls are funny. First you hate ‘em, then you get used to ‘em. Enough time passes… you get so you depend on them.
They send you here for life, and that’s exactly what they take. The part that counts, anyway.”

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The film is a fascinating insight into the impact of imprisonment. It shows how, even when ‘free’, some inmates prefer their old life. They’re so used to the prison routine that they don’t know how to live anywhere else.

I think we can all relate to this on some level. There might be areas of our life where we’re entrapped, imprisoned. But the prospect of change is terrifying. Life outside the walls might be less consistent, less ‘safe’ – and breaking free might make us feel more caged-in than ever before. We’re afraid of the unknown – the unfamiliar – so we remain in our shell. Unmoving.

Victims of abuse can suffer from this mentality. As the quote says, first they hate it, then they get used to it – then they might, in a strange way, depend on it. Abuse is the only reality they’ve ever known. In the worst cases, the victim becomes a perpetrator too because they’ve never understood the pattern they are in.

When true freedom doesn’t seem so ‘liberating’, we are stuck. When old ways become the only way, we are frozen.

Only when we unlock the door, dream about the possibilities outside, and dare to step out – do we find there’s a whole other world out there. We don’t have to be victims of our past. We don’t have to stay entrapped. There are always people who can help us find courage – and wings.

“Be brave for us…”

A few months back I was deeply impacted by a girl who spoke as part of a mixed-age women’s gathering. She candidly shared some of the hardships of teen life, and emphasised the need for strong role models. With tears she spoke five words I’ll never forget:

“Please… Be brave for us.”

She represented a community of youth who desperately needed strength and resilience modelled to them. A tribe of girls who wanted to know what bravery looked like as they faced uncertain futures.

Her words made me consider how I could better love those in my care. How I could show what a courageous life lived for God looked like.

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And tonight I read this article by Jackie Knapp about the reality of suffering in the ‘best years of our life’ – and the importance of hearing our ‘elders’ talk about it.

Knapp writes:

“We… need to hear from the older generations, how they have faced hard things and fought for faith. We need their perspective, their wisdom, their words spoken into our lives. We want to hear more from our pastors and leaders about how they move though struggles.

We wish the church were more honest, that we didn’t feel alone there in our addictions and sin and heartbreak, that we could walk in and be real. Most of us don’t care all that much about the music style and building aesthetics. We long for transparent relationships with people who are willing to enter our mess and point us to Jesus.

[We need] to teach them that even the ‘best’ years of their lives will include heartache and pain. We want them to have all the excitable idealism of being young, but we want that enthusiasm to be met with wisdom and tempered with reality. Most of all, we want to tell them of all the good we found along the way, how we learned to live again – and how we look to our next decades with hope that God is making something new out of our crushed expectations.”

Amen!

…Have you considered sharing your “crushed expectations” with someone younger than you?

Youth need ‘real talk’ as much as anyone. Let’s cheer them on – be brave for them… And part of that bravery involves sharing honestly our own disappointments, heartbreaks, failures and triumphs.

God blessed me with a number of wise role models in my youth. They rejoiced in my successes, held me close in my hearbreak, and pointed me towards a God who loved me more than they. I remember the tears and the nurturing well. They didn’t pretend that life got better – but they gave me hope that I’d become better at working things out.

I want to be a role model like that.

And I want to be brave – not just for them, but for me.

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6)

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