Monday, February 19, 2007

Feeling Better Yet?

After the death of a loved one—or any other sorrow or loss—there is the expectation in the minds of many Christians that the sorrower should put their grief aside and move on with their life. Our troubles are like hurdles placed in our path to test our spiritual fortitude. It’s a sign of spiritual maturity (so we tell ourselves) to rise above the pain or at least to conquer it at some point. The goal is to surmount successfully these miserable hurdles and get on to the smooth stretch on the other side. Someone who months or years later still feels depressed, still talks a lot about their loss, or whose eyes still well up with tears at the mention of their loved one, just doesn’t know how to let go.

As much as others expect it of us, no one wishes to walk away from grief more than the person who is grieving. And we are hard on ourselves when our broken hearts don’t heal. After the death of his beloved wife, Joy, to cancer, a broken C. S. Lewis admitted it was hard to get beyond his grief. In his poignantly personal book, A Grief Observed, he exposes the fallacy of this kind of thinking.
“To say the patient is getting over it after an operation for appendicitis is one thing; after he’s had his leg off it is quite another. After that operation either the wounded stump heals or the man dies. If it heals, the fierce, continuous pain will stop. Presently he’ll get his strength and be able to stump about on his wooden leg. He has ‘got over it.’ But he will probably have recurrent pains in the stump all his life, and perhaps pretty bad ones; and he will always be a one-legged man. . . . At present I am learning to get about on crutches. Perhaps I shall presently be given a wooden leg. But I shall never be a biped again.”
The intriguing thing about Lewis, and other suffers like Job and Naomi, is that the lingering pain is actually purposeful—actually opens a conversation with God (heated and intense at times to be sure), but one that wouldn’t occur otherwise. They’re asking questions about God that their pain provokes, and they’re looking at Him through their pain. Forever after a major part of them was always missing, and there was a distinctive limp to how they walked. Their lives were shaped and deepened and defined by their losses and the wrestlings with God that ensued.

If we’re not careful, we can use Scripture or one or two key theological precepts to short circuit that conversation. God’s sovereignty over our circumstances or over the number of our days doesn’t blunt hard questions about God, but rather provokes them. Why bother questioning God if He was wringing His hands over the weather on Mt. Hood? Why be upset with Him if He wasn’t around or if He was helpless to protect the three climbers from their deaths? No, God’s power, presence, and love are the very reasons we are troubled when He doesn’t intervene to spare us from painful losses, and we are swamped in grief.

Christian philosopher, Nicholas Wolterstorff, shared Lewis’ perspective when his son died in a mountain climbing accident. “The world has a hole in it now,” Wolterstorff lamented, “I shall look at the world through tears. Perhaps I shall see things that dry‑eyed I could not see.”

Are we feeling better yet? No. Not really. For God and we have work to do. According to Lewis, there will always be a limp. According to Wolterstorff, there will be growth, and we will come to know God better. In the meantime, there are questions to be asked and wrestling to be done. But we have every hope that through our tears, we will see things that dry-eyed we could not see.



Elizabeth said...

As a family nurse practitioner and a clergy wife I have seen many in grief. The hardest thing for them is when someone tells them that it is time to be "over it". Clearly, when this is said, the author of the statement has not been deeply wounded and grieved (or is in such denial that counseling is needed). You are so right to say you will have a limp, but that doesn't keep you from continuing to walk. Those of us with limps recognize each other. And there will be those days when the limp hurts worse than other days (like bad arthritis that flares up when it rains or is cold). Those days we need an extra dose of grace of mercy from our Father and our friends.

Bless you Carolyn.

Judi Wampler said...

I am sorry I was not able to be in Upland. Circumstances changed.

I lost my son-in-law to cancer October 2004 after a 6-month rollar coaster ride. I have read Lewis' A Grief Observed and his excerpt you have here. This is excellent! It is how it is. And I am learning not to 'stuff' the grief. Elizabeth's comment is true! I agree with her 100% We never get over our grief. But we have our Father and our most precious Redeemer who KNOWS what it is to suffer grief and they are with us to give us that extra dose of mercy and strength when it is needed, just as Elizabeth says.

Sometimes when I speak of Craig my eyes fill with tears and the person to whom I am speaking feels awkward, not knowing what to say, but it's OK. I don't feel awkward and I try to help them understand that it's ok to grieve. I sometimes think the old custom of wearing black in public mourning for a year is not a bad idea! People seemed to understand "a time to mourn", respected that, and were not so adamant to pursuade one to "get over it because life goes on". I believe they are thinking more of themselves than the mourner, because they do not want to hurt, share the grief. Exactly why our Father tells us that He sends these things into our lives that we may comfort others with the comfort we have been given.

QQ said...

Loss Or Absence?

Thank you, dear wonderful Carolyn, for the forum so we have a place to share our spiritual journeys since we all walk different paths and carry different crosses.

I thought about loss, then I thought about absence. I can not tell which one is more painful? I see a mother weep for the loss of her baby son, but what about the woman who can never conceive a son? I see a son weep the loss of his young mother, but what about the one who was orphaned since birth?

A philosopher said, he cried for he lost his shoes, until he walked on the street and saw someone lost his feet.

Katrina's victims lost their houses and possessions, but why do we help them to rebuild their houses when many were dying from hunger and exposure? Why do we weep for what we lost, but why don't we weep for those who never have?

A child went on a Christmas gift trip with her dad in the neighborhood, because daddy wanted to teach his daughter what it meant to give. Then, when they were preparing for gifts, his daughter pulled out the beautiful hat he bought for her for the Christmas and wanted to give it away. Daddy was surprised and did not want her to give that away -- after all, that was for her. Then it dawned on him that it was not him, but his daughter who was the real teacher of what giving meant.

Facing loss or absence -- I ponder -- which is more painful? Loss is sudden, while absence is chronicle. Loss is obvious, while absence is hidden. Loss is showered by condolences, while absence is conveniently forgotten. Which image of God is more attractive, the one who is "not there" for a moment, or the one who is "not there" for a very long time?

helen qiu:

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for these words written and for sharing the thoughts of C.S. Lewis. They have indeed ministered to me.

I lost my father this week, suddenly, and now find myself struggling with grief. Many of your thoughts were my thoughts just this morning as I recognized that God is taking me to a closer and much deeper walk with him. In these hours of agony where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord!

My father was a very important person in my life. He modeled the love of God to me throughout life yet for many reasons we had been estranged for several years. I receieved the dreaded phone call on Wednesday night from my son who informed that the local police had stopped by our home in an attempt to contact me to deliever the "emergency message". It was the news that I had not wanted to hear or face.

Because of the estrangement and hurt feelings between my family and I, I chose not to be a hypocrite and did not drive the many miles to the funeral. It was a decision in which I struggled and lost much sleep over. How could I hypocritically show my face now when I didn't care to call just months ago. I believe I will always carry the guilt of past decisions and it hurts.

I have no idea why things have turned out the way that they have except to believe that our Sovereign God was and is completely in control. One thing I do know for sure is tht despite my actions, God is working all things for my good and His glory. Please keep my in your prayers.