How Can I Move Through My Grief? (Lamentations 1:7-15)

The Lamentations of Jeremiah by Marc Chagall (1887-1985)

Her people recall the good life
    that once was theirs;
now they suffer
    and are scattered.
No one was there to protect them
from their enemies who sneered
    when their city was taken.

Jerusalem’s horrible sins
    have made the city a joke.
Those who once admired her
    now hate her instead—
she has been disgraced;
    she groans and turns away.

Her sins had made her filthy,
but she wasn’t worried
    about what could happen.
And when Jerusalem fell,
    it was so tragic.
No one gave her comfort
    when she cried out,
“Help! I’m in trouble, Lord!
    The enemy has won.”

Zion’s treasures were stolen.
Jerusalem saw foreigners
    enter her place of worship,
though the Lord
had forbidden them
    to belong to his people.

Everyone in the city groans
    while searching for food;
they trade their valuables
for barely enough scraps
    to stay alive.

Jerusalem shouts to the Lord,
“Please look and see
    how miserable I am!”
No passerby even cares.
Why doesn’t someone notice
    my terrible sufferings?
You were fiercely angry, Lord,
and you punished me
    worst of all.
From heaven you sent a fire
    that burned in my bones;
you set a trap for my feet
    and made me turn back.
All day long you leave me
    in shock from constant pain.
You have tied my sins
    around my neck,
and they weigh so heavily
    that my strength is gone.
You have put me in the power
    of enemies too strong for me.

You, Lord, have turned back
my warriors and crushed
    my young heroes.
Judah was a woman untouched,
but you let her be trampled
    like grapes in a wine pit. (Contemporary English Version)

“The darker the night, the brighter the stars. The deeper the grief, the closer is God.”

Fyodor Dostoevsky

The only way to the mountain is through the valley. The only way to make the pain go away is to move through it – not by avoiding it, pretending it’s not there, or trying to move around it. Pain and suffering are inevitable; misery is optional.

The reality is that, when experiencing catastrophic loss, you and I will grieve forever. We shall never “get over” it; we only learn to live with it.

Yes, I do believe there is spiritual and emotional healing. Significant change and grinding loss doesn’t need to define who we are. We can rebuild ourselves around the loss we have suffered.

Yes, you and I will be whole again. However, we shall never ever be the same again. It isn’t possible – nor should it be.

The prophet Jeremiah, the exiles in Babylon, and the remaining people of Jerusalem faced a tremendous and heartbreaking adjustment to a new world full of changes and losses. Expressing that grief was central to not becoming stuck in the past, living in the here and now, and moving into the future.

Grief is the normal mental, emotional, spiritual, and/or physical response to any significant change or loss. Grief is not optional but necessary. It is our personhood’s way of facing the pain and moving through it to a place of finding renewed meaning, support, and purpose in life.

How do people move through the grief?

  • Community: Grief needs a witness. It must be expressed. We must tell our stories of life, love, and loss. Otherwise, the grief just sits unmoved deep within and eventually becomes gangrene of the soul.

Help carry each other’s burdens. In this way you will follow Christ’s teachings.

Galatians 6:2, GW
  • Connection: Grief doesn’t so much go away as it morphs into fond memories of remembrance through ritual behavior.

Then Jesus took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” (Luke 22:19, NRSV)

  • Character: No one is defined by their grief, their disease, their mental disorder, their disability, or their addiction. In many religious traditions, people are identified as carrying the image and likeness of G-d.

God knew what he was doing from the very beginning. He decided from the outset to shape the lives of those who love him along the same lines as the life of his Son. The Son stands first in the line of humanity he restored. We see the original and intended shape of our lives there in him.

After God made that decision of what his children should be like, he followed it up by calling people by name. After he called them by name, he set them on a solid basis with himself. And then, after getting them established, he stayed with them to the end, gloriously completing what he had begun. (Romans 8:29-30, MSG)

  • Care: Practice caring for yourself. Give yourself the grace and the permission to be happy… or sad… or angry – to feel what you need to feel. Treat yourself like you would treat your best friend.

Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are struggling hard and carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest. Put on my yoke and learn from me. I’m gentle and humble. And you will find rest for yourselves. My yoke is easy to bear, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30, CEB)

  • Compare not: Please do not compare your grief and loss with anyone else’s. The truth is this: The absolute worst loss is your loss, not somebody else’s.

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. (Psalm 34:18, NIV)

  • Count: Count your wins. Count your blessings. Say them out loud. Write them down. Share them with a friend or loved one.

Bless the Lord, O my soul,

    and forget not all his benefits,

who forgives all your iniquity,

    who heals all your diseases,

who redeems your life from the pit,

    who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy. (Psalm 103:2-4, ESV)

Sometimes, prayer is the only possible way forward. Maybe the Lord will once again hear us and respond, as of old:

“I have surely seen the affliction of my people… I have heard their cry… for I know their sorrows.” (Exodus 3:7, NET)

May the presence of the Lord melt your fear and discouragement. May God strengthen and help you. May the Lord lift you and hold you in gracious and compassionate hands. Amen.

How To Fortify Your Faith (Psalm 91:1-6, 14-16)

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
    will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress,
    my God, in whom I trust.”

For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler
    and from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with his pinions,
    and under his wings you will find refuge;
    his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.
You will not fear the terror of the night,
    nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness,
    nor the destruction that wastes at noonday….

“Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him;
    I will protect him, because he knows my name.
When he calls to me, I will answer him;
    I will be with him in trouble;
    I will rescue him and honor him.
With long life I will satisfy him
    and show him my salvation.” (English Standard Version)

Continual Use

Reading and praying the psalms over and over again is a major way of fortifying faith for a lifetime of handling adversity. 

Psalms are meant to be constantly viewed and used, like watching a good movie several times. Lines from the film become etched in our thinking and vocabulary, not because we sought to memorize them, but because of the many viewings. 

Psalm 91 is a good psalm – one we can read and pray so many times that its theology and message are internalized. It can serve as a rock in times of trouble. Security, safety, and confidence eventually replace fear, worry, and insecurity. Let the divine words of the psalter become part of a routine regimen of facing down the troubles of life.

The Church’s Prayer Book

Historically, the Old Testament Psalms have been the church’s prayer book. The medieval church so valued constant prayer that many people in the middle ages made substantial donations to monasteries so that monks and nuns, largely freed from manual labor, could become “professional” pray-ers on behalf of the rest of society.

Many of them lived a complete life of prayer, praying day and night. Most Benedictine monks and nuns chanted all 150 psalms once a week in a cycle of seven daily “hours.” One of the first tasks required of novices was to memorize the Psalms – all of them – which took anywhere from six months to two years.

In the New Testament book of Acts, when the original apostles needed to clarify their most sacred obligations, they decided to give their attention to prayer and the ministry of the word (Acts 6:4). The New Testament writers pray and quote the Psalms more than any other book of the Old Testament.

Praying the Psalms

The best introduction there is to the Psalms is to begin praying them because the psalms teach us how to pray. Learning the Psalms means praying the Psalms, and praying the Psalms means praying them repeatedly.

If you are not yet convinced why we ought to pray the Psalms, let me offer some more reasons:

1. We learn the promises of God and how to pray relying on those promises. It is both appropriate and necessary to acknowledge God’s promises, remind God of those promises, and look for God to fulfill them.

2. We pick up how to pray together as a community, and not just as individuals.

3. We discover that our hearts need some help with prayer.

“The richness of the Word of God ought to determine our prayer, not the poverty of our heart.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Our hearts can sometimes deceive us. Yet, if we can be mindful to tether our hearts to God’s Word, we can focus on what God has promised – and not simply on what we want or expect.

What’s more, by only following our hearts, we may only pray when we feel like it. 

A common temptation is to give up reading Scripture and praying whenever our enjoyment is gone. If we only do things when we feel like it, most of us would never get up in the morning. Prayer and Bible reading are important spiritual disciplines, even on the days we are not inspired to do so.

In truth, to enjoy the Word of God, we must continue to read it; and the way to obtain a spirit of prayer is to continue praying. The less we read, the less we desire to read; and the less we pray, the less we desire to pray.

4. We attain confidence and joy in speaking with God, just like a small child boldly asking for what she wants in wonderful anticipation of getting it.

5. We unearth direction and guidance for our lives; the Psalms are the GPS for our souls.

6. We join a praise and prayer team that has been going on for thousands of years by believers across the ages in all kinds of cultures. Our spiritual forebears serve as a great cloud of witnesses testifying to the power of God to sustain and grow our faith, hope, and love.

7. We realize the heart of God and adopt that heart as our own heart. In praying, we get to know who God is, and we discover the prayers the Lord delights to answer.

In summary, we bring our own situations and experiences to the Psalms and permit the psalter to reshape our thoughts and our prayers. 

This mentality and discipline forms us into God’s people by re-directing our lives with God’s promises and plans. 

The Psalms are meant to transform us. Repeated exposure to Holy Scripture and daily praying through the psalms will change the way we live our lives and our perspective on the world.

May the Lord Jesus Christ guard and deliver you from the snares of the devil, the assaults of evil spirits, the wrath of the wicked, the sinful nature, and the fear of both the known and unknown.

And may the blessing of God almighty – Father, Son, and Spirit – be upon you and remain with you always. Amen.

How To Handle Trouble (Psalm 94)

Lord, you are a God who punishes;
    reveal your anger!
You are the judge of us all;
    rise and give the proud what they deserve!
How much longer will the wicked be glad?
    How much longer, Lord?
How much longer will criminals be proud
    and boast about their crimes?

They crush your people, Lord;
    they oppress those who belong to you.
They kill widows and orphans,
    and murder the strangers who live in our land.
They say, “The Lord does not see us;
    the God of Israel does not notice.”

My people, how can you be such stupid fools?
    When will you ever learn?
God made our ears—can’t he hear?
    He made our eyes—can’t he see?
He scolds the nations—won’t he punish them?
    He is the teacher of us all—hasn’t he any knowledge?
The Lord knows what we think;
    he knows how senseless our reasoning is.

Lord, how happy are those you instruct,
    the ones to whom you teach your law!
You give them rest from days of trouble
    until a pit is dug to trap the wicked.
The Lord will not abandon his people;
    he will not desert those who belong to him.
Justice will again be found in the courts,
    and all righteous people will support it.

Who stood up for me against the wicked?
    Who took my side against the evildoers?
If the Lord had not helped me,
    I would have gone quickly to the land of silence.
I said, “I am falling”;
    but your constant love, O Lord, held me up.
Whenever I am anxious and worried,
    you comfort me and make me glad.

You have nothing to do with corrupt judges,
    who make injustice legal,
    who plot against good people
    and sentence the innocent to death.
But the Lord defends me;
    my God protects me.
He will punish them for their wickedness
    and destroy them for their sins;
    the Lord our God will destroy them. (Good News Translation)

Courageous, brave, bold, and strong – it seems most people do not characterize themselves this way, especially when they are in the throes of overwhelming circumstances.

Whenever one feels crushed under the weight of adverse situations caused by evil, it can be hard for them to see their resilience and strength.

I suppose it makes sense as to why we lose sight of this, because we can all readily recall times and events in which we wilted with fear; did not speak up; or were not assertive.

The many conversations we have in our heads for which will never take place, are testament to our supposed withdrawal in the face of adversity. We have far too many discussions with ourselves of how something should have gone; and too many brave retorts for someone whom we really have no intention of saying those words toward.

If this all sounds like the convoluted musings of a wimpy kid, that’s not far off the mark. When we get bullied, even as adults, it can be easy to wilt, or to take it, or to simply find a way to avoid the bully. With some folks, we even create elaborate internal reasons why it’s our fault someone is upset with us. In such times, bravery and courage seem a long way from our true selves.

Faced with a daunting task or an ornery person at work, home, or school, we may wonder if we really have the internal stuff to deal with it. We feel that maybe someone else would be better suited to handle the trouble. 

Yet, what if I told you that you are, indeed, brave, strong, and confident?

What if I insisted that courage resides within you, even if you yourself cannot see it right now?

And, what if I told you that bravery isn’t something you must go on a quest to find, but that it’s been in you all along? 

If you are already enough, then you only need to be aware of it, acknowledge it, and let it out.

You intuitively know I’m on to something here. After all, the most common exhortation and assurance in the entirety of Holy Scripture is to not be afraid because God is with us:

So do not fear, for I am with you;
    do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
    I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. (Isaiah 41:10, NIV)

God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” So, we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?” (Hebrews 13:5-6, NIV)

In the great litany of fear, we face every day, spiritual confidence and personal bravery is not so much commanded by God, as it is a calling forth of something which is already within you.

Now, before you go thinking I’m some looney-tune, hear me out. From the beginning of the world, in God’s creative activity, the Lord did it all by calling forth creation from within himself. What I mean is this: God did not simply command everything into being; instead, he said, “Let there be…”  God let out what was already there in God’s very Being. It was almost as if God belched-out from the great depth of his Being and let out all this wondrous creation.

Concerning our fear and bravery, God does not so much command us to be courageous but wants us to draw from the great reservoir within. The Lord has already created us strong, as creatures in the divine image. We just need to get in touch with what is already there. 

“Do not let your hearts be troubled,” said Jesus to his disciples, because he knew his followers had it in them to walk in his way without fear. (John 14:6, NRSV)

“Let not your heart faint, and be not fearful,” said God to the prophet Jeremiah, in the face of a terrible destruction that was about to unfold against Jerusalem, because the Lord knew that Jeremiah could face what was going to happen. (Jeremiah 51:46, ESV)

Christians can act with boldness because Jesus is the pioneer of our salvation. He is the One which enables us to draw from the deep well of courage:

So then, since we have a great High Priest who has entered heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to what we believe. This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testing we do, yet he did not sin. So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most. (Hebrews 4:14-16, NLT)

I insist that you are brave, you are strong, and you are good. Those are not words meant to make you believe something which may or may not be true, as if I were trying to convince you to take some panacea to feel better.  No, I say it because it is true. 

You really can face the immense mountain in front of you and climb it. You can surmount the adversity you are in the middle of – not because of some words I say, but because you were created for courage.

So, how do you let out the bravery and let the boldness shine? 

You already know the answers to your own questions. You have all the knowledge you need to face your problems. So, the real question is:

Will you let your bravery come out to play, or will you keep it hidden beneath layers of insecurity?

It’s a whole lot easier to let me tell you what to do than to draw from what you already know, deep down, how to handle that troublesome something. 

I’m not going to give you a simple three-step process out of fear and into courage. That’s because you already have been endowed with the process. 

This certainly isn’t a sexy way to end a blog post, but it just might be the most effective and lasting.

Psalm 2 – God

Why are the nations so angry?
    Why do they waste their time with futile plans?
The kings of the earth prepare for battle;
    the rulers plot together
against the Lord
    and against his anointed one.
“Let us break their chains,” they cry,
    “and free ourselves from slavery to God.”

But the one who rules in heaven laughs.
    The Lord scoffs at them.
Then in anger he rebukes them,
    terrifying them with his fierce fury.
For the Lord declares, “I have placed my chosen king on the throne
    in Jerusalem, on my holy mountain.”

The king proclaims the Lord’s decree:
“The Lord said to me, ‘You are my son.
    Today I have become your Father.
Only ask, and I will give you the nations as your inheritance,
    the whole earth as your possession.
You will break them with an iron rod
    and smash them like clay pots.’”

Now then, you kings, act wisely!
    Be warned, you rulers of the earth!
Serve the Lord with reverent fear,
    and rejoice with trembling.
Submit to God’s royal son, or he will become angry,
    and you will be destroyed in the midst of all your activities—
for his anger flares up in an instant.
    But what joy for all who take refuge in him! (New Living Translation)

Our view of God determines how we live. If our perception of God is a being who is small and ineffective or does not really see or care about everything that happens on earth, then the response of the nations in Psalm 2 is likely.

Demagogues and delegates meet for summit talks; God-deniers, the Messiah-defiers get together and say, “Let’s get free of God! Cast loose from Messiah!” (The Message)

However, if we discern that God is far larger than we can ever imagine and sees all, then we know that in heaven the Lord breaks out in laughter as he sits on the sovereign throne, as if amused by such insolence. 

People who think they can distance themselves from the God of the universe are, at best, delusional, and, at worst, in danger of being swept away like an ant hill.

In the past, God spoke through the prophets to our ancestors in many times and many ways. In these final days, though, he spoke to us through a Son. God made his Son the heir of everything and created the world through him. 

The Son is the light of God’s glory and the imprint of God’s being. He maintains everything with his powerful message. After he carried out the cleansing of people from their sins, he sat down at the right side of the highest majesty. And the Son became so much greater than the other messengers, such as angels, that he received a more important title than theirs.

After all, when did God ever say to any of the angels:

You are my Son.
        Today I have become your Father? (Hebrews 1:1-5, NIV)

The sovereign Lord blesses and protects all who seek what is right, fair, just, and true. So, we are to be smart and show respect. Because the fact of the matter is that God is bigger than anyone or anything. That’s good news for those who serve God and bad news for those who don’t. 

For the faithful, nothing can separate us from God’s steadfast love; and for the unfaithful, no nation has more power than God; and no organization, institution, or government can continue unabated in their unethical ways. 

So, when we face adversity, hardship, and difficulty we have a very large God who has our back. It may seem, in the short term, that evil is winning, and arrogant people are having their day, but ultimately God will deal with it. Jesus is king, and we are not.

The presence of God is everywhere. Whenever nations or institutions or governments or communities or individual people fail to discern this, then all hell breaks loose.

Sensing the Lord’s presence, knowing the love of God in Christ, is of upmost importance.

Parishioners must desire the presence of God in a church building more than the building itself. 

Christians must desire the presence of God in their liturgies, spiritual practices, and ministries, more than the programs themselves. 

Clergy must desire the presence of God with them at all times more than the presence of budgets, books, and butts in the pew. 

Spiritual parents and grandparents must desire the presence of God in their families more than the presence of kids, or order in the house, or wanting everything to be up to our standards.

God wants our hearts where they belong: desiring the divine love and presence of the Lord more than anything. Many religious folk in biblical times lost their true sense of purpose as God’s people. They neither perceived nor focused on God’s presence but cared more about the presence of animals and sacrifices, making money, and keeping their social positions secure. 

Failing to seek God’s presence, we are then likely not to see it, even when it stares us in the face. 

A few years ago, the Washington Post orchestrated an interesting experiment. They had arguably the best violinist in the world, Joshua Bell, play in the train station as a regular looking street musician complete with open violin case to catch monetary offerings. 

Not only did Bell play some of the most difficult pieces of music for the violin, but he also played them on a Stradivarius worth $3.5 million dollars. 

His earnings for a few hours of work were exactly $32.17, which is less than just one $100 ticket at a Boston concert hall he played three weeks before. No one noticed the extreme talent right in front of their faces, much like those who merely discern God as a pathetically ineffective deity, or those who only see Jesus as a regular guy.

“The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.”

G.K. Chesterton

Immense God, you are sovereign above all creation and everything in the earth. I choose this day to submit to the words and ways of Jesus, who is the true ruler of all. May all the nations come to see you for who you really are, the great and wondrous king. Amen.