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I know that those who follow Christ have a happy gospel. After all, the word gospel literally means, “good news.” We know that our God is not in a bad mood. However, does this mean that we have no permission to be sad from time to time, or to express human emotions such as grief and pain? Is God’s desire for us to “be strong” and take whatever life hands us with a smile? I think not.

Our culture often imposes unwritten rules on us that sometimes get translated into our faith. Such rules assert that strength is best expressed through stoicism, that any hearty expression of emotion is somehow wrong, or less than virtuous. Now we don’t usually speak about this, but I have a feeling that if some of the biblical prophets of our day were living and breathing today, we might all but shun them for their human and natural expressions of emotion. We prefer to insulate ourselves from such expressions, thinking that denying what is inside will somehow make it go away.

Grief and mourning were as natural for God’s people as feasting and celebrating. There is one entire book of the Bible entitled, “Lamentations.” People hired professional mourners, to assist families in expressing their own grief. There is nothing like hearing someone wail, to help get the ball rolling in the grief process! Most of the Psalms are also songs of lament. When was the last time you heard a sermon on learning to lament?

From the time our kids are young, we tend to teach them that expressing grief is wrong. We try to minimize the pain in all sorts of ways, shielding them from it, buying our way away out of it, or glossing it over. We tend to see emotional outbursts as weakness. As a result, we have grown people who bottle things up inside, sweep issues under the rug, and refuse to mourn. Even our Christian culture is producing people who are great at looking presentable, but are weak when it comes to enduring the pressures of life. Marriages fail, relationships crumble, unforgiveness erodes people’s bodies. Why are we so weak? Perhaps it is because we are not taught how to turn the pressure valve to release our emotions on when we need to.

I love what Peter Scazzero says in his book, Emotionally Healthy Churches, “Pain enlarges our hearts.” He also explains, “A subtle message that has filtered into our churches that to be emotional is less than spiritual.” He goes on to talk about the importance of grief, loss, pain, and suffering in our lives. Scazzero quotes a man named Gerald Sittser, who lost his mother, his wife and their four year old daughter in one tragic accident. In his words, “Sorrow took up permanent residence in my soul and enlarged it… The soul is elastic, like a balloon, it can grow larger through suffering.” There are some things that the soul can only learn through suffering.

Jesus toiled over this principle in the garden of Gethsemane when he prayed, “If it is possible, please take this cup (of suffering) from me.” Instead of relieving the pain, God wills that Jesus must go through this agony, for what will be gained on the other side. Tears, pain, and sorrow need not be wasted. Like the woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears, each tear was precious in his sight. The Apostle Paul seemed to regard suffering as something worthy to embrace, “Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.” (Colossians 1:24 NIV)

There is no priest who has not entered into the suffering common to humanity at some level. Jesus was the ultimate priest who hung between heaven and earth for us. We, in turn, are assigned the role of priests who hang between heaven and earth for our brothers and sisters, and for a dying world. Suffering and grief makes us infinitely more qualified for the job. No wonder Jesus said, “blessed” or “happy” are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. (Matthew 5:4)

I want to teach my own soul to never fear the full experience of suffering. We all enter into suffering at some point. It makes no sense to try to categorize and rate our sufferings with another. No amount of suffering is to great or too small to go unnoticed or unfelt by our Father in heaven. Each time we express a form of suffering whether it is the natural loss of grown children leaving the nest, the grief over sin, or the pain of losing a loved one through death, we have a choice. We can choose to embrace the experience, allowing God to enlarge our hearts for him and for others as we open ourselves us to uncharted territories, deeper waters in God. We can explore these waters in God or we can drown in them, trying to face them alone.

Experiencing a loss? When you pour your sorrow at his feet, it becomes immensely valuable. Weakness expressed transforms into strength unshakable.

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