Tag Archives: grief
“Without faith it is impossible to please Him (God)…”. You may have heard this before. I’ve recently been soberly contemplating this verse as it seems my faith has largely vanished. Being brought face to face with the ugliness of this life and seeing the general condition of the world around us, I’ve found myself where many others have been: “How can a good God allow these things?”.
For some perspective, I’ve spent the last 16 years as a worship leader in local churches (the last several of which at what many would refer to as “mega” churches). But this past year I’ve seen the disintegration of my family as I have known it through a divorce. I experienced the loss of my father and caring for a mother whose health is deteriorating. I have mourned the untimely and tragic death of a new found love and witnessed the tidal wave of sorrow and confusion for those left behind. I have seen the resulting poor decisions, loss of career, finances and the broken hearts that I have hurt while trying to pick up the pieces. I don’t say this to garner pity or justify any of my poor decisions but to give some perspective of where this comes from. This is not the story I wanted to write.
My faith has been shaken to the core. I have honestly and intently looked elsewhere for meaning, fulfillment and some sense of purpose in the wake of it all. I have perused, pursued and participated in (too) many “alternatives” and have come up just as empty as I went in. Nothing brought relief and nothing seemed to satisfy. Have you ever stood before a congregation leading them in songs that you aren’t sure you even believed yourself? I have. Have you posted inspirational scriptures to social media hoping to find the faith to one day believe them? I have. Have you ever led “worship” while living completely opposed to the values that you claim to share? I have. Have you ever used others that you claimed to love in an attempt to drown out your own pain? Yep, that too. What I have found, though, is my story is not all that rare. Through my trials and poor decisions, I have found far more people that identify with the story I never intended to write. If there ever was an ivory tower, it has been torn down to its foundation. For too long, all I could see was the rubble, but now I’m beginning to see how those pieces could be used to build something of even greater significance (who actually lives in an ivory tower, anyway?), and someplace I hope to one day call “home”–a place that’s honest, and yes, at times uncomfortable, but always real and relevant to me, my family and to anyone who cares to share in the journey.
So why do I write today? Obviously, my audience (both of you), may have changed. I used to write mostly about issues in the “church world” from the perspective of a pastor engulfed in worship and the arts. While those are still of high interest to me, I doubt my current job in sales gives me much credibility in the “arts” world and my past year has pretty much determined that the word “pastor” not be used as a title in my name at least for some time. So, with that in mind, I write here today as simply someone learning how to be a child of God–a beloved child of God. It’s not easy. It feels like it should be. But it’s not. I don’t write as someone who has the answers and I don’t write from a place of healing and victory (yet). I do write from a changing perspective that though I may not have the answers, there are questions still worth pursuing. It’s these questions that I hope to ask and share with you as I journey on this path of being “beloved” of God and rediscover with my heart some really important things I’ve known in my head for a long time. Some will think less of me (yes, I am a hypocrite and a pretty big one at that), but maybe some may find my story redemptive enough to join me on the journey. I still have doubts. Many. BUT I am also finding that if you’ve never doubted, I doubt that you’ve ever truly believed.
So, what has brought me to this place?
I cannot ignore the rational evidence of God.
When I had no faith, I was forced to look at alternatives. I also realized that all self-conscious creatures have to exercise “faith” in something. If there was truly no God, then where did everything come from? I am familiar with many of the alternatives, but honestly, I don’t have enough faith to believe in those either. I’ve always known this intellectually, but now I know this from experience. You see, either way, daily life is a matter of faith or willing ignorance. I’ve never been a fan of willing ignorance (it’s just the way I’m wired), though I’ve participated in it plenty. So, that left me with either putting my “faith” in some form of chance or in an intelligent designer. Personally, I have to choose design. I cannot “prove” God but I also cannot deny the evidence.
I cannot ignore my past experiences with God
If we’re honest, many of us church folks have had “questionable” religious experiences–you know that time the hair on your arms stood up during the key change of your favorite worship song that “spoke” to you during that horrible time in your life only to find out it happened again at the Journey concert with your girlfriend while listening to the intro of “Faithfully” (which is also, no doubt, goosebump worthy–thank you Jonathan Cain). BUT, also if I’m honest, I cannot deny several times that were undeniably “God moments”. It was those moments (mostly during quiet prayer or passionate private worship) that kept coming back to me. Sure, some may explain them away as internally constructed “promptings” of my own creation, but my experience tells me different. Again, I cannot prove them to you, but I also can’t deny them.
I cannot ignore what I know about the Bible
The Bible is an incredibly complex collection of “books” written by over 40 authors over more than 1,500 years amid varying cultural contexts. Most reasonable people (based on many years of archaeological research) won’t deny that. It’s what you believe following these facts that dictates how you respond. I will also be the first to tell you that anyone who tells you they have ALL the answers to the difficult parts of the Bible–you need to be the first to run like the wind. No one does, no matter what they say. There are difficult parts of the Bible–there is no doubt about that. Some appear at a surface glance as a result of differing cultural and religious contexts (should we really stone disobedient children? should women really be silent in church?), and some from seeing what seems to be competing ideas about who God is (like God’s judgment vs. His love, or how can a loving God allow such evil in the world, or what is the Trinity, really?). There are many who have written much about these difficult topics with varying levels of success, but if most of us are honest, we probably identify more with Mark Twain who said, “It ain’t those parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it’s the parts that I do understand.” What I have found about the Bible can probably be summed up in the answers to 2 questions–and herein lies the difficulty:
1) Am I really as bad as the Bible says that I am? Yes.
2) Am I really as loved by God as the Bible says that I am? Yes.
Religion (based on my performance) can’t fix that.
I can’t ignore what I know about Jesus
In John chapter 5 in the New Testament, Jesus sees a crippled man and asks a question we all need to answer: “Do you want to be made well?” If you are a human being and have lived any length of time on this earth and believe that you have absolutely no need of being made well, you can feel free to move along and stop reading now. I can’t help you. You don’t need it. BUT, if we’re truly honest, we know we’re all broken to some degree or another. Most of us deep down inside know we need to be fixed and we all want to be loved unconditionally. But I’ve discovered religion can’t fix me. Turning a new leaf can’t fix me. Living by a set of “theories” about love or anything else can’t fix me either (regardless of what a well-meaning, charming, yet ridiculously moralistic “Christian” movie may say–sorry “Old Fashioned”). But being transformed by a living relationship with God made possible by Jesus can. I need to be reminded of this.
If you want to know what God is like–look at Jesus (John 14:9 – “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father…). Study the gospels, look at the life of Jesus and see the passion (and the failures) of His followers and His beloved in the days following his resurrection. We are not all that different. I resonate with C. S. Lewis (once an agnostic) who said, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”² It’s the only “filter” that really works for me. Are you free to reject Christ’s claims and go wherever you want? Sure you are. I have. But I had to stumble over a Savior with out-stretched hands on a cross to get there and you will too. At the end of the day, the Bible isn’t about rules, but about revealing a relationship with God. In nearly every belief system and civilization in history, citizens died to make someone king, but in Christianity, a King died so we could be citizens. I’m finding a love like that to be more and more undeniable even despite my many doubts.
I can’t ignore the power of genuine community
When my faith has been at it’s lowest points, it seems that often at just the “right” times, God sends the “right” people into my life. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still struggling with those times where I felt completely isolated and alone and those times still come. Bot too often to deny, my faith has been strengthened by someone or a group of “someones” who were there for me. It takes some brutal honesty to get the greatest benefit (at great vulnerability and risk–they might really judge you despite what they tell you), but when you’ve hit rock bottom, what do you have to lose? Over 15 years of “making church people happy” (the unwritten job description most pastors have of their worship and music leaders but will deny to their grave) can wear on you. BUT with all that said, while many churches don’t “get it”, many Christians do and churches everywhere are full of people who do actually “get it”. You just have to work a little to find them sometimes, but they’re there. Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water (look it up if you’re under 30). If you’ve been burned by a church before, I challenge you to give it another shot. Just quit looking for the perfect church, because they’re filled with people like me. But if you find the right one, they just might point you to Jesus.
Have you ever been in a place where you doubted your faith? What brought you to that place? How did you get back or have you? I’d love to hear your story and I think others would too.
“The story we’re telling the world isn’t half as endearing as the one that lives inside us.” – Donald Miller from Scary Close: Dropping the Act and Finding True Intimacy.
With Thanksgiving approaching, you may find yourself in a place where you are wondering what in the world you’re going to be thankful for this year. For you, this year may look very different from last year–it certainly does for me. Maybe you find yourself on the mountaintop or maybe you are wondering what in the world you’re going to do next. Maybe you’ve lost a marriage, a family member, a love, your job, your sanity or maybe all of the above.
You may have more to be thankful for than you know but it may look very different than you think. Don’t stop. Keep looking. I’m looking too.
When we first moved here to the Alpharetta area, one of our members described living here a little like “living in Disney World” and in many senses this is so true. We live in a great community surrounded by beautiful landscapes and the benefits of affluence, hard work and the American Dream. All of us know, however, that no matter where we live on planet earth, there are none of us that are immune to grief. We all suffer loss, whether that be the loss of a business due to a bad economy or the loss of our deepest relationships from disagreements, misunderstandings, or even death. Someone much wiser than I has said, “When times are good, they are rarely as good as we think they are, and when times are bad they are rarely as bad as we think they are.” I really believe that the Scripture would bear this out as well. Our worst of times and best of times will fade quickly compared to the glory that will one day be revealed in us (Rom 8:18). So, with this hope, we rejoice even though we live in a fallen world and even though we see suffering all around us.
Over the last couple of weeks, my heart has shared in the pain of two significant events. A couple of weeks ago, hearing of Rick Warren and family in the loss of their son Matthew to suicide (he suffered from mental illness his entire life)–my heart literally hurt. Rick has been a “pastor to pastors” and has been a pioneer and champion for reaching the unreached and adding value to millions through his books. For any family this would be painful and especially to such a public figure, I knew this would be a tragic loss and one that would meet it’s deal of “haters” from some in the media and mainstream culture. Yet, we have seen the hope of Christ and His Church shine through as many have lifted this family up in prayer and as we have witnessed the testimony of Rick, Kay and the family through social media and personal testimony.
Of course, we all have heard of the bombings in Boston over the last couple of days and our hearts go out to the many families and friends of those that were lost and injured during the blasts. It is so easy to become immune to this as it seems we hear of a bombing somewhere nearly every day. When these tragedies strike so close to home, it is a difficult reminder, however, of the evil that does exist in our world. How can anyone hate that much?
Yet, through the scriptures we also are given several examples of those who also worshipped in the midst of pain.
Job worshipped through grief. Job lived a righteous, God-fearing life. He was blessed by God with a dear family and much material wealth, yet he was allowed to be tested by Satan, who took nearly everything from him, yet Job said, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21).
Hannah worshipped through grief. Hannah was barren and wanted a child with every ounce of her being, yet this blessing was delayed and she was found weeping in the temple yet “They rose early in the morning and worshiped before the Lord” (1 Samuel 1:19).
Jeremiah worshipped through grief. So much so, in fact, he is often known as the “weeping prophet” probably due to a book in the Bible that he penned called “Lamentations”. The theme of this book is developed as Jeremiah grieves over a wasted and desolate Jerusalem as a result of Israel’s exile. Yet in the midst of all of this he says, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will hope in him” (Lamentations 3:24).
Jesus, of course, knew grief. On the night before His crucifixion, we see Him praying in the garden of Gethsemane and weeping as it were “great drops of blood.” Yet in the midst of this, he prays, “Not my will, but yours, be done,” and “Father, glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you” (Luke 22:42, John 17:1). We also read in Hebrews where it give us insight into the “big picture” that Jesus was able to keep before Him even despite His great suffering and grief–”Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of [our] faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb 12:2).
Like Jesus, may we see the “big picture” and worship through our grief. It doesn’t mean that grief won’t still hurt or that suffering won’t still sting, but it does mean that we know the One who somehow through it all will one day “make all things new”.
How have you worshipped through grief? What advice do you have for those who have suffered a great loss? Let us know by leaving your comments below.