Birthing Healing Out of Grief

They thought if they waited until we kids went to bed, we would not hear. We heard every word, cringing in our beds, almost vibrating to every shouted word. Mom and Dad were fighting again. Often the arguments centered on how they were going to pay the bills. But the significance to us was greater than finances. “What will we do when our home breaks up tomorrow?” I agonized. “Where will I go? Where will my brother and sisters go? Will they keep us together or split us up?” Though my parents never did separate, uncertainty filled my world. Security hung by a fragile thread. The conflict spawned grief that lasted well into adulthood.

But isn’t grief associated with the death of a loved one? Physical death is not the only source of this powerful response to adversity. Grief is a normal God-given reaction to loss, death, or change. It may be a financial loss, deterioration in health, or a loss of self-esteem. But normally the loss centers on the significant change of a relationship. A short definition might be anxiety provoked by loss.

After the end of World War II researchers studied young children separated from their mothers, usually during a temporary hospitalization. Initially the boys and girls protested by crying and calling out for their mothers. Some ran after them or searched them. The next phase was extreme distress, sobbing unconsolably, followed by withdrawal into self, and unwillingness to interact with others. These separation behaviors are expressions of grief. My own grief was an emotional anticipation of separation.

To explore the human phenomenon of grief and find God’s healing, listen to the attached podcast.Birthing Healing Out of Grief

Easter’s Answer to Fear

After the resurrection of Christ, the news that the Savior was alive was first given to women by the angels at the tomb (Luke 24:1-8). They were told to go to the disciples with the message. In advance of the larger group of women, “Marathon Mary” Magdalene ran to the disciples, and Peter and John came running back to the tomb. It says John “believed” and Peter wondered. When Mary came a second time after seeing the Lord, it says the disciples “mourned and wept” (Mark 16:10AV) and disbelieved the message. When the larger group of women came it says the disciples considered the report of the women to be idle talk (Luke 24:11).

The disciples evidence the classic paralysis of FEAR. They were also battling despair or hopelessness, grief, a sense of failure, rejection of their society, and powerlessness against immense odds.

Here is what they missed in their paralysis:
*He was with them “I will never leave you or forsake you!”
*He had gone before them into Galilee, and always goes before His sheep.
*He intended them to believe and act on the report of the women. They wanted more concrete information. We must live in faith like the old Trust and Obey.
*They had His Word and command through the angels.
*He had called them and sent them. He was not looking for policy guidance on the wisdom of that call.
*Though they felt immobilized by weakness, once they stepped out in obedience they would begin to experience His strength.
*When we feel immobilized by fear we must step out and be obedient to the truth we know.

Early in my Christian life I was paralyzed by fear and weakness. I cried out to the Lord “You promised to be my strength! Why don’t you strengthen me! What are you– Deaf? After a long period of time I felt the Lord answered “Get out of that rocking chair and be obedient to what I have already asked you to do!” When I did I began to experience supernatural strength I had never known before. I came to discover that God’s day-to-day plan for us is to live lives of courage and risk, trusting and obeying Him.

Our Enemy — Lies!

I have characterized our enemy as lies. But the central lie that empowers all the others
is unbelief in God, who He is and what He has said, particularly about men and women He has created. The individual lies are symptoms. Unbelief is the real disease.

In contrast, consider some of God’s pictures of our significance:

In Luke 15, you can cut the hatred with a knife. The religious leaders, angered that Christ associated with people they considered unholy, grumble among themselves that He receives sinners and eats with them. The practice of the religious leaders was to disdain association with such people and keep themselves aloof. Christ tells three stories
that show how each person He has created is priceless, and that the religious leaders
had missed the infinite value of one person. It is interesting that the despised tax collectors and sinners were freely coming to Christ. They were drawn by His love and esteem for them.

I Can’t Go On!

“I Can’t Go On!”

Just as Elijah faced his crisis, I faced one in June, 1998. During a vacation at Yosemite, I received distressed calls from my church, saying areas of my ministry were falling apart. It reinforced the lies within, and already depleted, I felt I could not go on.

But this crisis was nothing new. I was frequently at the end of my resources, and always did go on, in pain and desperation, whether I had the resources or not. I cried to God in my darkness. In the coming weeks, the Lord began not only bringing light, but to diagnose root problems that had chained me for most of my life. A starting place was the book Search for Significance, by Robert S. McGee. Now, at a point of great need, I grabbed the book like a drowning man clinging to a lifesaver. Unexpectedly, each sentence of the cure was a burning sword plunged into my heart. I found every sentence painful–it revealed the lies by which I was living. I also found that the nesting place for the lies were individual issues, battle grounds where these deceptions had taken root. In entries to come, I would like to take you to these areas. They may be ones you face.

One Fellow Struggler

One Fellow Struggler

For those of us that struggle in the quest for significance, we are not alone. Elijah, the prophet of Israel, faced this battle in 1 Kings 19 in the Bible. If you are not familiar with the Bible, stick with me. I think you will understand where I am going, and will find the prophet someone with whom you can identify.

After years of authoritative ministry when threatened by Queen Jezebel, Elijah ran for his life gripped by fear. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, well South of Ahab and Jezebel’s territory, he left his servant. He abandoned needed companionship and perspective, while he continued into the desert. He came to a juniper tree, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. Listen to his self deprecating words: “I have had enough, LORD,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” Then he lay down under the tree and fell asleep (1 Kings 19:3-5 NIV). 

Why would a powerful prophet cut and run after his greatest victory, the confrontation at Mt. Carmel? Following the dramatic firefall, the people cried “The Lord He is God.” Afterwards, threatened by Jezebel the Queen, he realized that the expressed desire of the people to serve the one true God was only a sham, and conditions would continue much as they had been, an ungodly king and queen ruling a largely unbelieving nation. The death of his lifelong dream crushed him, and he yielded to despair, considering himself a failure, vocalizing, “I quit!”

Why would a person accept a verdict that places him far below the high place that God has for him?

Lord I Feel So Small!

Pullquote: Before God we are priceless and precious.

Lord I Feel So Small!

Greg’s loving nature took an interest in those around him. Genuinely selfless, he loved group outings with our children and others in their 20’s. His friends appreciated his solid values and concern for others. After college, it was no surprise that he took a staff position with Point Loma Nazarene University, in San Diego, California. All seemed well, promising a future of happiness and usefulness. But Greg’s cheerful exterior hid a private, lifelong battle. He had been hospitalized several times for depression. In the Spring of 2005 he drove his car onto railroad tracks in San Diego, California, and took his own life.
His shocked and saddened friends asked “Why?” The clues came from his parents. Greg fought lifelong trench warfare with issues of personal significance.

The Lying Voices

Those of us who have faced the battle know it well. We often cry “Lord, I feel so small!” I know the daily struggle, as for decades I viewed myself as a failure. Sadness overshadowed my life. In a crisis seven years ago, it seemed I could not go on. I thought the only thing I could do to benefit others was to give blood. I have given over fourteen gallons.

For friends and close family members, this seems strange in the extreme. I am a former Air Force pilot, have a master’s degree, and am a pastor of almost 30 years, considered very successful by most. But I lived in constant slavery to this sense of smallness. Voices within echoed, You’re a failure. You will always be a failure. You lack the gifts and strengths of others. You are a small person, unworthy of the love and friendship of others. Tragically they drowned out the high call of God.

Perhaps these voices sound familiar. Only those of us engaged in this bloody combat for our happiness know the daily, moment-by-moment anguish that sometimes takes a life. More often it saps us of joy and fulfillment, and sentences us to wage a lifelong warfare to find our true place under God’s sun.

Whether you face the struggle or not, questions come to mind. How is it possible that a person would accept a verdict that places him far below the high place that God has for him? Why would he believe lies? What is the true picture of one’s significance? In my next blog, let me begin our search with Elijah.

 

Cover Image

Premise of Lord I Feel So Small!

A significant number of adults and teens fight a daily struggle to discover their personal significance—including a surprising number of pastors and Christian leaders. They are defeated, and held in bondage by a world of lies. God created us unique, as gifted persons of great worth under his call, loved in infinite measure. Yet, because of sin and deception, we set aside our heritage. The struggle may be initiated in a childhood home by a lack of love, rejection, or demeaning evaluations. It may come from the culture of false yardsticks by which people are measured by touchdowns, org charts, or dollars. The lies flourish in our own minds, emotions, and wills, and are supplemented by an enemy who deceives us about our true worth.

How is significance related to depression?

In their classic book on depression Happiness is a Choice, Frank Minirth and Paul Meier (http://www.minirthclinic.com ) describe the devastating emotional pain of depression. They describe symptoms that fall into five categories: sad affect (or expression and demeanor), painful thinking, physical symptoms, anxiety or agitation, and delusional thinking. In the painful thinking that accompanies depression, issues of significance often play a major role.

The book notes “As surely as a broken arm is painful physically, so the thinking of a depressed individual is painful emotionally . . . his thoughts are self-debasing. He has a negative self-concept . . . He tends to view himself as being deficient in qualities that he considers important, such as popularity, intelligence, or spiritual maturity . . . The depressed individual has an overwhelming sense of inadequacy and has feelings of worthlessness. He feels as though he is a nobody–a zero.”

Quick Summary of Lord I Feel So Small!

Can I go on? Should I give up? Is there any hope? The world’s false yardsticks demean and devastate you. Feelings of insignificance overwhelm you. Daily combat with giants such as fear, rejection, and comparison exhausts you. Lord I Feel So Small  explores twenty battlegrounds of significance to expose the lies that demean, to discover the miracle of God’s purpose, and to equip you for a life of unshakable confidence.

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