I noticed a question this morning, posed by a popular Christian writer/speaker, about what difficult circumstances people are navigating and how they are taking it to God. A similar theme in the responses I read seemed to be along the same lines, “I know I should be happy they’re in heaven but…”. Or, “I know God is all I need, but…”. “If my identity is in God, then…”. I’ve actually been pondering these statements I find myself making, I see others make, or others have said to me, as demonstrated in those comments. These “Christian” things we say to ourselves…what do they actually mean? As a Christian, I find I beat myself up about all the things I think I should be feeling or doing. What is the truth about these statements?
I can only speak for myself, but I think that many of us, who love Jesus and cling to His every word, find these places of pain and worry that we aren’t being joyful enough or happy enough or working hard enough in the Kingdom, etc. We question ourselves. I know I’m more blessed than I deserve. I know I have received eternal life. So, why do I not feel happy? Where is my identity? If this hurts this bad and is causing life to be such a struggle now, was my identity misplaced? In fact, this became a major worry for me after Clint went to Heaven. I spoke with my counselor about this. Wondering if maybe God took Clint because I loved him too much…maybe I had made an idol out of him and God wanted me to lean only on Him? My wonderful counselor, who also was a widow herself, said that it seemed to her that if I’d made an idol out of Clint, then in losing him, I wouldn’t be clinging to Jesus through this. If I’d made him an idol, then his death would have completely destroyed me and she added, that this isn’t how God works 😉 We are called to lay down our lives for each other. It’s a radical, deep kind of love. How much more for a spouse?
I think so many of us, predominantly in our culture, think that if someone isn’t “happy”, then they are doing something wrong. Maybe that’s the problem. I don’t like this sad place I’m in. Unhappiness makes us and others uncomfortable. It’s awkward to know how to be there for someone if they just can’t “move on”. This life isn’t about being happy though. I don’t see Jesus in the garden before His impending crucifixion, as “happy”. I didn’t see Him as “happy” at Lazarus’ grave, even though He knew He’d raise him from the dead. The shortest verse in the Bible is “Jesus wept”. I didn’t see Him as “happy” when He looked at His people, and grieved that they did not recognize Him as Messiah. Jesus is teaching me that I am not responsible for being happy or strong or shaken to my very core at the loss of my life partner. All I am responsible for is seeking Him in the middle of it all. But happy is not the goal.
So, what do I do with all the emotions I have, that tempt me to think that I am sinning or doing something wrong, by not being happy enough or stronger or whatever else myself or society likes to super impose on us? Clint used to tell me that feelings come and feelings go…it’s ok. We really aren’t in as much control of them as we would like to think and very often, when we try to control them, it can backfire. All I am required to do, in any stage of life I’m in, is seek Jesus!! Trust Jesus!! Be content with where He has me! Choose not to sin in that place. Sinful thoughts need to be acknowledged to Jesus and then replaced with Truth. Example of sinful thought for this particular place, would be if I felt that Clint was the only thing that mattered in my life and therefore, I had no reason to go on. In the beginning, right after I lost Clint, I did need to combat this lie with truth! I had to remind myself and be reminded that God had good plans for me and that I had children here that needed me. This is also very normal when a person endures great loss! The mind is absolutely assaulted following a tragedy!! We do want to surround ourselves with people who can remind us that life isn’t over; that we are loved by God, He has us in His big hand, and walks with us through the dark night that a soul plunges into because of the loss. So, emotions aren’t a problem…it’s what we do with them!
Just because someone is in Heaven doesn’t take away the pain of their loss. Just because we know God is all we need, doesn’t stop our hearts from wanting the person back that we have lost and missing them in every area we were used to having them in. This is where we have to back up and realize that our heads may know these things, but our hearts have been broken.
My body is made up of arms, legs, toes, a heart, a brain, etc. I am not identified as just one of those parts. I am the sum total – a body! In the same way, I am identified as a child of God, but I have other roles, parts, identities. If I lose a baby toe, I will have phantom pain like the missing toe still hurts. I will have to go to physical therapy to learn how to walk again! One loss of a baby toe can change your whole world! Here’s the crazy thing…even though we all have been told that and believe it to be true, I’ve always had this thing inside me that just thinks that can’t be true. I mean, deep down, I really think I could walk without that little toe just fine. It’s only if I experience it for myself that I realize I can’t! No matter how bad I want to think I understand what it would feel like to try to walk without a baby toe, I can’t!!! This is where it gets dangerous… we are tempted to be too hard on ourselves and others because we just don’t have an understanding for the particular loss they have endured.
Loss requires us to go through an emotional physical therapy of sorts. The work isn’t easy. If you aren’t stumbling, then you aren’t walking. Processes can’t be rushed. I imagine the child who has broken a parent’s rule of throwing a ball in the house. Something is broken and the child knows mom and dad are coming home soon. The child rushes to glue the object back together and it becomes painfully obvious that a nose does not belong on the foot. And, where exactly does the arm fit back in to? Only God is wise enough and patient enough to know when and how to put the pieces back together again. Only He is qualified to know what areas need to have the pieces still missing. I think some pieces of our life have to stay missing, so we are always reminded that we have been broken–this keeps us empathetic (if we allow it) and able to step in to other’s pain humbly.
So, after all I’ve said, how to wrap up? Hmmm…remember that this life is a process. It is a marathon not a sprint. It’s different to walk a path versus observe someone walking a path. Be gentle on yourself and others as you watch them navigate their personal journey. Be careful with the blanket statements that remove the heart from the mind and thinking it should be quick or on someone else’s time frame. Trust the process. Trust the only One Who knows how to walk us through the process. And be content with whatever is thrown in the path that makes it difficult to navigate. But feel free to sit, lay down and sob, stomp your feet and ask God questions if you need to! Clint always told me that the struggle is good! Not to be afraid of the struggle!! Because if I will wrestle with God through it, then I will own it! And once I own it, no one can take it away from me!!! Happiness is not the goal. Trust is the goal!