Tag Archives: #grief

‘Faith’ is not a pretty package, it’s a raw heartache for home

“If we only had eyes to see and ears to hear and wits to understand, we would know that the Kingdom of God in the sense of holiness, goodness, beauty is as close as breathing and is crying out to be born both within ourselves and within the world; we would know that the Kingdom of God is what all of us hunger for above all other things even when we don’t know its name or realize that it’s what we’re starving to death for. The Kingdom of God is where our best dreams come from and our truest prayers. We glimpse it at those moments when we find ourselves being better than we are and wiser than we know. We catch sight of it when at some moment of crisis a strength seems to come to us that is greater than our own strength. The Kingdom of God is where we belong. It is home, and whether we realize it or not, I think we are all homesick for it.

Frederick Buechner

Faith is not a slogan, it’s not a marketing campaign, it’s not a clever acrostic, it’s not fundraising, it’s not comfortable seating, it’s not smoke machines, it’s not theater lighting, it’s not my favorite song in my favorite key, it’s not strategies catered to my consumer appetite.  In modern America, we’ve thanked God for creating us in His image and decided to return the favor; we created Him in our image.  We’ve turned the bounty of His banquet table into another conference of trinkets.  We re-branded Jesus from the ‘friend of sinners’ to the self-righteous protector of the chosen flock.  We got in bed with the political powers of the empire of our day and no longer question the harlot we lie with.  The grotesque scandal of the Cross has become a pretty package.  This is not a faith I understand.

Faith is heartache.  Faith is painful longing for home.  Faith is a recognition that all that is presently is not what it will be.  Faith is an understanding that the pain, suffering, violence, death and destruction we are living in was not intended that way.  Faith is an admittance that we (humanity) have gone our own way and we are not better off for it.  Faith is a longing to come home, to come home to the heart of the Father who is ripping through the walls of dimensions to reach us with His tsunami of love.  Faith is stopping to realize that the One we long for has been on a frantic pursuit of us all along.  Faith is understanding that He loves ALL His missing children the same.  Faith is a recognition that the treasures and trusts of this world will never satisfy, that only the morsels from His table are the kind of food that doesn’t make us hungry anymore.  Faith is a raw heartache to be home again with Him, a longing for all things to be as they were intended.  No compromise, not one single inch of compromise.

We’ve forgotten our ‘story’.  We’ve forgotten where we’ve come from.  We’ve forgotten what He is like.  We’ve forgotten who He is for us.  Our very existence as the Church is not for our comfort, it’s for us to remind each other of our ‘story’.  It’s for us to announce the reality of the coming of the Kingdom of God in all power and goodness.   We are not here to judge the world, we are here to love it, serve it, sacrifice for it and participate in its redemption as our marching orders.   Our language is love, joy, peace, grace, mercy, hope, justice, forgiveness and kindness towards all our neighbors.  Faith is not pretty, it is raw and it is life.

We exist to create authentic Kingdom community and then give it away.  We exist to carry this heartache for home with one another.  Kingdom community is the life we all long for, it is what we were designed for.  Don’t settle for counterfeits.  If you don’t know of such Kingdom communities, go start one.  I’ll help you.  We swear singular allegiance to the King,  all else is idol worship.

Amos 5:21-24 “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.” (The Message)

The Gift of Good Grief

“Pain removes the veil; it plants the flag of truth within the fortress of a rebel soul.” – C.S. Lewis in the Problem of Pain


The Christmas season always stirs up for me a sense of ‘good grief’.  A couple of days before Christmas in 2005, my wife and I received a call in the early morning to get to the hospital ASAP because our almost 2 year old niece had stop breathing in the middle of the night due to a rare strand of pneumonia.  At the time I was pastoring a networked house church community while teaching high school as my day job.  We rushed to the hospital and I remember struggling with my identity as to how to approach the chaos of the catastrophe.  Was I a pastor, brother-in-law or friend?  I was confused and overwhelmed.  We got to the ER and was ushered into the sterile room where my sister-in-law sat embracing her gift of a daughter that had now passed over the veil into the fullness of the Kingdom of God.  The pastor in me had only one goal, it was to raise the little one back to life.  All of the stories in our Scriptures tell us that this can be so, that we have a faith of resurrection.  But by the time my hands touched the bodily forehead of my niece, Kate, my prayer changed.  I was not destined to be there because of a bodily resurrection, I was there to be invited into a long season of ‘good grief’.

The questions that followed were clearly horrifying.  First there was the practical.  It was but 2 days before the Christmas holiday, is the funeral home available and open for planning?  Is there time to find a burial plot before the workers go on holiday break?  With all the holiday planning, when is the right time to have a funeral for a little one?  To have to compartmentalize practical questions in the midst of shock and early mourning seemed particularly cruel.  Then there was the deeply surreal and spiritual questions.  How do we now as a family approach the adoration of the Nativity scene having just lost one of our own dear babies?  The darkness was on the doorstep with the taunts of a destructive bully, how does one respond?  More specifically, how does a community respond?

Here’s what I have learned . . . you respond with ‘good grief’.

Suffering of most any kind can lead you to a place of utter isolation.  I found some hope in Shelley Trebesch’s book “Isolation: A place of transformation in the life of a leader” after this season of grief.  Shelley describes these places of isolation in terms of desert or wilderness experiences.  They are unwanted, unplanned and avoided if at all possible.  Her thesis is that we don’t try just to survive, endure or get past these times, but to begin to see them as the very transformational experiences that may be preparing us for another journey.  Within the crucible of pain, grief and isolation, we can learn and grow in powerful and transformational ways that only suffering can do.  We shouldn’t try and ‘avoid’ these times, but we should embrace them as a kind of ‘good grief’.  The crucible of pain reveals the shallowness of our previously held goals and expectations and we realize that God desires to deepen our life into more of what the truth really is about ourselves and our world.  In this way, the truth very much does hurt.  However, it is also only the truth that sets us free.

What I learned is that every single person that Jesus healed eventually died.  Every person he resurrected, died again.  So what is the point of healing in the Christian faith?  I believe that all healing has nothing to do with the actual act of healing, that’s simply just a re-arranging of sick cells in the body.  Rather, that each divine act against the laws of nature are meant to be a resounding announcement that there is a God and we aren’t him.  In the same way that we have a worked out belief in healing, we also need to grow up and have a mature belief in ‘not healing’.  When God doesn’t re-arrange cells as we wished he would, what do we do then?  I learned that when a spiritual community has ‘good grief’, meaning they grieve with a violent sense of hope, that also is a resounding announcement of a Kingdom that has come.  Healing and n0t-healing are both a primal and rebel yell of hope.

Since these tragic events of Christmas 2005, it changed the way our small church community worshiped.  It was as if our faith wasn’t about making ourselves feel better anymore, but that we were at war with the bully of despair and our cry was one of hope.  We didn’t want to sit still in our little cocoons, we wanted to buck up and have the courage walk through the dark night of our suffering to come out in the end to the light.  As a father, I had to deal with the mortality of my children.  Life needed to be about the precious now, and connecting with them was more important than my selfish ambitions.  Dealing with the loss of their cousin, the death of Kate changed my kids’ worldview.  They see the world and the future somehow more grown up.  They organize their thinking and planning about their bright future around the idea of spreading the virus of hope through their unique giftings and abilities.  Life is short and precious, make it meaningful.  Hope is violent, pick a fight there.

We need not seek to avoid these times, we can embrace them.  We don’t like grief, it’s painful, but in the hands of the One who made us, there is such a thing as ‘good grief’.   We can find Hope even in the most grievous of times and circumstances.  In utter darkness, light can yet shine through.  I love these words from Henri Nouwen:

Hope is not dependent on peace in the land, justice in the world, and success in the business.  Hope is willing to leave unanswered questions unanswered and unknown futures unknown.  Hope makes you see God’s guiding hand not only in the gentle and pleasant moments but also in the shadows of disappointment and darkness.” (60)  Turn My Mourning To Dancing