Embracing Loss – the paradoxical road to joy

tears in the night, joy in the morning, and saying yes to both

In the marvelous little book “I Quit”, Geri Scazzero writes, “once you end the pretense of superficiality and ‘niceness’ that characterizes so much of the Christian culture today, you will experience liberation, freedom, and a genuine body life that is truly a taste of the kingdom of heaven”.

The single little paragraph explodes with important truths for me and, I hope, for you too:

1. Superficiality and Pretense are woven into Christian culture. It’s not just Christians, of course, who are guilty of such, but we are guilty.  We love the resurrection and all that comes on the far side of death, betrayal, loss, and sweating drops of blood, but I’m convinced that many Christians still don’t believe there’s room for these other critical elements.  Somehow, conventional wisdom fixates on joy, strength, and an almost godlike transcendence which believes that, come what me, Christians rise above it all because we’ve been taught that good Christians don’t get tired, or angry, or afraid – that good Christians don’t weep or come to the end of it, or the bottom of it.

The result is that we spend a great deal of energy putting on the strong and happy face, like so much make up.  Sing louder, say our mantras about being able to do everything, even though our adrenal glands are exhausted, and we’re not sleeping well, and we’re overwhelmed with children, or aging parents, or the loneliness of being single, or maybe even all of it at once.  I write, in my book on spiritual disciplines, about a moment when my wife was weeping as she led the song “I will enter His gates with thanksgiving in my heart…He has made me glad” in our little house church in the mountains, and how people kept singing until someone pointed out that “she doesn’t look very glad at all just now”, which was an astute observation.  It led to a real conversation about feeling overwhelmed, and tired, and angry.  And that, I’d suggest in retrospect, led to real worship because it was worship born out of brokenness, and fear, and good conversation.  This leads me to a second observation, which is that:

2. We must put an end to the superficiality. There’s only one way to do this.  We need to become people who spend less time using slogans, and more time listening to what our own hearts and bodies are telling us.  By ‘slogan’ I mean sayings like this:  “I couldn’t be better” we say, when we slept terribly and our stomach’s in a knot.  Or, “that’s OK” when the reality is that we’re terribly disappointed, or hurt, or angry because some convergence zone of our own story, and circumstances, and something someone said, all conspired to make us mad.  But, since Christians can’t be angry, we deny what our emotions and body are telling us and lie, pretending all is well.

We need to stop doing this and when we do, we’ll find ourselves in good company.  Abraham doubted.  Moses reached the end of his limits and told God had rather die than continue in his ministry.  Paul despaired even of life.  John the Baptist doubted the Messiahship of Jesus at his lowest moment, arrested and forgotten in a dungeon as he was.

Just this weekend, I receive an e-mail from someone, and as I’m reading along I come to one particular sentence and for some reason it terrifies me.  I feel my chest tighten, my breathing become labored, as fear rises up, followed quickly by some tears (which I, of course, fought to hold back).  It’s all much too personal to share more in this venue… but with my wife sitting right there beside me, we both know this much:  these emotions are valuable. God is trying to tell me something, to tell us something.  To the extent that I’m able to acknowledge my fears of loss, my weariness, my disappointment, I’m able to be honestly present – with my wife, and God, and other close friends and family.  That kind of honest presence, with myself and others is, I’m finding, the richest soil in which the seeds of wisdom can germinate.  By my God – it’s hard to let myself be afraid, or weep, or express fear or even weariness.  I’m learning, but it’s requiring me to swim upstream against the triumphalist Christian culture that is deeply embedded in me and others. It requires slowing down and listening to my own heart, and then giving that heart the freedom to express itself, knowing that even in, and perhaps especially in, my brokenness, I’m deeply loved.

3. The paradoxical end of this path: Joy Psalm 126:5 says it this way:  They who sow in tears shall reap in joy and singing.  There’s a reason for this.  Far from being evil, emotions like fear, anger, sadness, and weariness are God’s way of speaking to us and drawing us to God so that we might find the resources we desperately need for our own ongoing transformation.  Paul said that he despaired even of life, and then went on to say that it was this convergence of challenging circumstances that led him to new levels of dependence on Christ, new relinquishment of his own agenda, new exposure (no doubt) of his own false motives.  Thank God he faced the valley with honesty, rather than simply turning up the praise music a little louder.

Pretense and superficiality were hacked to death in Rwanda during the genocide years in the mid-nineties, as the blood and bodies of the faithful clogged the rivers.  But last January, while there, I witnessed the most beautiful worship I’ve ever seen.  What made it beautiful was the uncontrived blend of tears and laughter, weeping and dancing, joy and sorrow – it was unscripted, honest, and beautiful.

To the extent that we’re able to say “I’m tired” or “I’m afriad”, or “I’m angry” or “I’m sad” we’re opening the door, just a crack, towards the kinds of authentic humanness that alone, can reflect God’s glory, receive God’s healing, and know God’s joy.  May you weep today, and face your weariness, and name your fears, all as part of God’s joyful journey.

 

 

About Richard Dahlstrom

As Pastor of Bethany Community Church in Seattle, Richard teaches with vision of "making the invisible God visible" by calling people to acts of service and blessing. It's working, as a wilderness ministry, homeless shelter, and community meals that serve those living on the margins are all pieces of Bethany's life. "We're being the presence of Christ" he says, "and inviting everyone to join the adventure." Many have, making Bethany one of the fastest growing churches in America in 2009 according to Outreach Magazine.

  • jayne engle

    “There’s a crack, a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” (Leonard Cohen, Anthem)
    I’m learning to walk the journey you’ve described, toward being more authentic, honest, self-compassionate and real (in the Velveteen Rabbit-battered sense of real). A wonderful guide for this odyssey is Brene Brown’s “The Gifts of Imperfection”.
    Thanks, Richard, for pointing out the elephant in the corner….we’re wearing masks and playing games. “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

  • J. Boyd

    Helpful! It reminded me of something from O2, “The Journey is the Destination”. I read my three sons parts of your book during an extended outdoor trip and that became the universal response when one of us asked the age old travel questions, “When are we going to get there? and How much farther is it?” As a youth I never thought I would long for an end to this earthly journey but the older I get the more often I give it thought.

  • Eri c P

    I think when I am being superfical, I am running from God and his love for me. I hiding behind religous activies of prayer, bible studies, and getting involved in church life( These are good things for a Christ follower to have but they are not a subsitute for the Person of Christ.) When I am hiding I am stuffing my cynical and arrogant attitudes, Trying to impress people who do not need to be impressed And closing myself to God’s love and Grace.
    Honesty before God leads me to lay aside my pretention and just walk with God. When I walk with God , I am not trying to be anything special or spiritual. I am just a human being that is trusting in God’s love and goodness for me.
    Like many people we have had vairous experiences with religous communites. These experiences can be tiring to the soul. If you think these experiences make us tired , Just listen to what God is saying through the Prophet Amos
    I can’t stand your religious meetings.
    I’m fed up with your conferences and conventions.
    I want nothing to do with your religion projects,
    your pretentious slogans and goals.
    I’m sick of your fund-raising schemes,
    your public relations and image making.
    I’ve had all I can take of your noisy ego-music.
    When was the last time you sang to me?
    Do you know what I want?
    I want justice—oceans of it.
    I want fairness—rivers of it.
    That’s what I want. That’s all I want. Amos 5:21-24 – The Message

  • Amy

    Thank you for this blog. It came just at the right time, for I’m weak and tired and don’t know how much more I can take. I realized just today that it’s okay for me to feel this way as long as I turn toward God. And that may not necessarily mean church or life group, it may mean one-on-one time with God.
    Thanks again!

  • Christine

    Thank you for this. I’ve been dealing with some serious health issues that have had my doctors stumped for months. Throughout it all, I’ve found all I can do is run to God with all my fears and frustrations. In going through this ordeal I’ve experienced God in amazing ways because I stopped pretending I had it together. And in being honest about the mess I was, I have found peace and joy that I wouldn’t have otherwise.

  • http://www.covhope.com Steve

    I think superficiality and pretense result from the stories we like to tell, where everything changes for the better when we come to Christ or turn back to God. Sometimes those stories happen, but sometimes the real story is God being with us and giving us peace in the mess we are in. It seems like God often waits to work until we admit our need for help, and we maintain the pretense of “everything is fine” because we think that’s how it should be for Christians.


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