sadness

Christmas Sorrow, Christmas Joy

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By Linda Rex

Lately I’ve been going out the door in the morning saying to myself, “We need to take the tree down—it’s been up long enough.” I don’t know what it is about putting away the Christmas decorations, but I just don’t like doing it. Not because of the work involved, but because of the temporary loss of the reminder of the goodness, joy, and peace God brought in his Son Jesus.

I love the colors and the nativity scenes. I enjoy the way all the decorations remind me of why Jesus came. I have observed the Old Testament holy days, and I have observed the Christian holy days. This particular one, Advent and Christmas, has an amazing ability to capture the heart and mind of young and old. We find ourselves singing of peace, hope, love, and joy. And we feel our hearts warm up towards others in new ways when they wouldn’t otherwise.

This season also has the capacity to bring great sorrow and grief. When the Christmas season is a source of sadness and regret, it can leave such pain in our hearts. The pain, I believe, is so deep and real because it is an expression of great loss—a loss Abba never meant to have happen.

Indeed, it was not God’s purpose we live with sorrow, grief, suffering, and loss. It’s not what we were created for. No, he meant for us to share in his eternal life of intertwined oneness with God and one another. We have all been bound together in Christ, and we all gain our life and being from the God who made us.

Our lives and experiences are all interwoven together, and we are meant to be living in the same uniqueness of personhood with equality and oneness of being God lives in as Father, Son, and Spirit. We were not meant to have to suffer sin’s consequences or death. No, we were meant to share life together as beloved children of God in the hope, peace, joy, and love we celebrate during Advent.

The good news about taking down the Christmas tree is we get to put it back up again next winter. The seasons come again and again, and we are reminded anew of the miracle of the Christ child, of when God came in human flesh.

This year taking down the tree reminds me of how Mary and the disciples took Jesus’ lifeless body down off the cross. No doubt they dreaded the process—and it was very painful for them. Even though Mary knew this probably would happen to Jesus, I’m sure it did not make it any easier for her to accept when it did.

Even though we celebrate the birth of Messiah at Christmas, we are reminded anew of the end which loomed over him his entire life. Abba knew the hearts of humankind—that we would not protect and care for his Son, but would reject and murder him instead. Abba’s love for us, though, was greater than any concern he may have had for Jesus in his humanity. Both Abba and Jesus knew at some point the celebration would be over, and the Christ would take the path to the cross. But they also knew that would not be the end.

When we take the ornaments and other doodads off the Christmas tree, we wrap or box them up, and we lay them in tubs, and put them away in a dark closet for a year. In this same way, the human body of Jesus was taken down off the cross, wrapped in linen, and then laid in a tomb. The door to the tomb was shut and then sealed. As far as the disciples knew, this was the end of the story for Jesus. He was shut away in the grave, gone from their lives.

But it was only a passing moment of time. Jesus told the disciples he would lay in the grave for three days, and then rise. The grave would not conquer Jesus—it had no control over him. For Jesus was God in human flesh—and his Abba was not going to leave him there, but would by the Spirit raise him from the dead.

The story of the infant in the manger does not end with Christmas, but follows throughout the year the story of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and ascension. Jesus’ story doesn’t end in the grave, but actually gains momentum—the movement from the grave to his presence with Abba also involves the sending of the Spirit to indwell human hearts. When we look at Jesus Christ today, we find he is busy and active in this world, fulfilling the mission Abba gave him long before any of us existed.

Though the ornaments and decorations for Christmas may lay in the closet again for a while, I know eventually we will pull them out again. We will put up our worn-out tree with its twinkly lights, and be reminded of the ever-living Lord our Light, who was pleased to dwell with men. We will hang our homemade ornaments and colorful ribbons, and remember God so loved us, he gave us his Son Jesus Christ. As we set out one more time the little nativity set, we will be encouraged that God’s love never fails, but is new every morning.

In spite of evil, in spite of death, and in spite of the brokenness of our humanity, we have hope, peace, joy, and love in Abba’s perfect gift. The Spirit reminds me again today not to sorrow, but to be thankful. Whatever prayers I may offer for the suffering and grieving, God has already answered in the gift of his Son Jesus, and he will answer in the presence and power of his Holy Spirit. Whatever comfort I may offer someone in the midst of their sadness and loss is only an echo of the divine Comforter sent by Abba through his Son Jesus.

Whatever these decorations mean to me, they are merely pointers to a greater reality, to a real hope which we have in the love and faithfulness of God as expressed in the gift of His Son Jesus Christ. As they come down and are packed away, I am reminded every death now has a resurrection, because of what Jesus has done. Jesus cannot be stuffed in a box or a tomb and put away. No, he inevitably will rise in greater glory and majesty, for that is just Who he is—our glorified Lord and Savior. And one day we will rise with him. What a joyful day that will be!

Thank you, Abba, for the gift of your Son and your Spirit. Thank you for joining us in our humanity, and sharing every part of our lives. Thank you, Jesus, for taking us with you through death and resurrection so we may share life with you, Abba, and the Spirit forever. Please be near with your comfort and peace all those who are facing grief and loss. Your heart and mine go out to them, and I know you will send your Comforter to heal, comfort, and renew. Thank you again for your faithful love and grace through Jesus our Lord. Amen.

“For those who live in Jerusalem, and their rulers, recognizing neither Him nor the utterances of the prophets which are dread every Sabbath, fulfilled these by condemning Him. And though they found no ground for putting Him to death, they asked Pilate that He be executed. When they had carried out all that was written concerning Him, they took Him down from the cross and laid Him in a tomb. But God raised Him from the dead; and for many days He appeared to those who came up with Him from Galilee to Jerusalem, the very ones who are now His witnesses to the people.” Acts 13:27-31 NASB

Our Springs of Joy

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By Linda Rex

Advent—JOY

As one who has suffered on occasion from the blight of depression, I have a sympathetic heart for anyone who experiences living in this dark place. When a person is in the midst of such sadness and grief, it can take all of his or her effort just to do the simplest tasks of life.

This is not a place other people can come to and pull the sufferer out of. It is rather a place where those near and dear can come alongside and offer support, prayer, and encouragement. The best gift a person can offer to one suffering with depression is a constant and faithful relationship—a living presence with a willingness to sit in the darkness with the one struggling.

Sometimes we choose our darkness. Sometime the darkness is a result of other people’s bad choices. And other times, the darkness just is—it exists through no fault of our own. It is merely a result of health issues or circumstances. Darkness—an inner weight of crushing sadness and grief, or just loss of joy—can happen to anyone. Being depressed is not a sin, although it may at times be a symptom of an inner struggle.

For some of us, being depressed comes easily. The negativity through which we see the world becomes a lens which darkens our view each and every moment of our lives. This causes us to miss many opportunities for joy. We can be so used to the darkness that when the light enters, we close our eyes to protect them from its brightness.

Here during Advent, as we approach Christmas and the New Year, we may find ourselves resisting the holiday spirit, and feeling overwhelmed by loss and grief for various reasons. It is hard to feel upbeat when your heart is broken and your thoughts are filled with memories of what was and what could have and should have been. It is easy to be overwhelmed by the darkness during a season which should be filled with great joy.

The Holy Spirit calls to us during Advent to remember the One who joined us in our darkness, who didn’t feel it was enough just to say he loved us, but who actually came and sat in the sadness, grief, sorrow, and death with us. For God it was not enough just to be gracious and loving—he did gracious and loving. He took on our humanity and lived shoulder-to-shoulder with each of us.

God’s judgment on sin and our proclivity to evil and our preference for the darkness was the precious gift of a baby in a manger—the Word of God in human flesh—Immanuel, God with us. God’s judgment on our darkness was a gift of joy in the Person of his Son. He judged all humanity worthy of grace and worthy of salvation, worthy of his presence in the midst of their evil, suffering, and death.

That dark, starry night as the shepherds sat with their flocks on a hill outside of Bethlehem, God entered this broken world welcomed by Joseph and Mary as the fulfillment of the word of God through an angel. This little baby may have seemed insignificant and unimpressive in his humble circumstances, but his birth was the cause of the celebration of the angels. As we read in Luke 2:

“Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!’” (Luke 2:8-14 NKJV)

Here was a message from God to his people—a message of peace and good will from God toward his people—a message of joy. These shepherds were astonished and overwhelmed, but their response was to seek out this baby to welcome him.

In our personal darkness, we may feel as though God has forgotten us, or as though we are lost in a dark night, barely holding ourselves together. But the truth we need to be reminded of is that God’s heart toward us has not changed. He is faithful and he still loves and cares for us. God has come into our darkness in the Person of the Word of God, and in Jesus Christ has lived our life, died our death, and carried us from death into life in his resurrection.

And it was not enough for God to join us in our broken humanity. He also sent his Spirit—pouring out on all the gift of life in his Son. The call to faith, is the call to believe in and embrace the joy, the good will of God toward each and every person in the gift of his Son Jesus Christ. God has given us an inner source of joy in the gift of his personal presence in and with us in the Holy Spirit. As the psalmist said: “All my springs of joy are in you.” (Ps. 87:7b NASB)

The reality is, when we are in a dark place such as depression, depravity, or despair, we need a source beyond ourselves to raise us up and deliver us. We need a source of joy which is real and endless, and which will not be squelched by our stubborn desire to remain in the darkness. We need “springs of joy” to draw upon.

And God has given us this in the gift of his Son and his Spirit. We celebrate the breaking in of heaven into our darkness this time of year, and we find in the birth of Jesus Christ the hope, peace, and joy we would never have otherwise. He is the source of our true life, a life which God has lived in for all eternity, a life he is determined to share with you and me for all the eons to come. He calls us to trust—to believe in the truth: God is here. God is near. And he is with us forever. Immanuel—the most precious gift of all!

Dear Abba, thank you! Thank you for the precious gift of joy. Thank you for not leaving us in our darkness, sorrow, grief, and depravity, but giving us a way out—your own Son. Fill us by your Spirit with all your hope, peace, joy, and love—we do not find these things within ourselves. They are a gift. And so we thank you, and praise you with the angels, through Jesus our Lord, and by your Spirit. Amen.

“O sing to the Lord a new song, for He has done wonderful things, His right hand and His holy arm have gained the victory for Him. The Lord has made known His salvation; He has revealed His righteousness in the sight of the nations. He has remembered His lovingkindness and His faithfulness to the house of Israel; all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God. Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth; break forth and sing for joy and sing praises. Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre, with the lyre and the sound of melody. With trumpets and the sound of the horn shout joyfully before the King, the Lord. Let the sea roar and all it contains, the world and those who dwell in it. Let the rivers clap their hands, let the mountains sing together for joy before the Lord, for He is coming to judge the earth; He will judge the world with righteousness and the peoples with equity.” Psalm 98 NASB

Sharing the Ups and Downs

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by Linda Rex

It never fails to astonish me how I can go from one extreme to the other in less than a day. One minute I’m sharing a fun, laughter-filled conversation with a couple new friends, and the next I am talking on the phone with someone who is experiencing a life crisis, sharing their concern and tears. Whether we like it or not, life in the Trinity contains some elements from the entire spectrum of the human experience.

We may think the divine Godhead only experiences transcendent bliss all the time. But in reality, the Father, Son, and Spirit have opened up their life to include ours. And ours is filled with experiences which are positive and negative, and every nuance in between.

As God in Christ by the Spirit shares all of life with us as he lives in us, and as God in Christ through the Spirit experienced in his life here on earth human experiences just like ours, we have a God who shares the wide measure of experiences and emotions we do as human beings. And he does not avoid our painful situations or struggles.

The testimony of the Old Testament shows us a God who wrestled with his chosen people. The psalmists and prophets write about a God who experienced and expressed love, compassion, anger, sorrow, pain, and many other emotions. This God we worship is the same One who created our human capacity to experience this wide variety of thoughts, feelings and responses to our experiences in life. They reflect the very nature of God himself.

It is possible as a human being to be ruled by our emotions to the point we do not control ourselves or our responses appropriately. Obviously, this is not what God intended for us, since it really isn’t a good reflection of who we are as God’s children.

But neither did God intend for us to bury our genuine human response to those things we experience in our lives. Sometimes we do this without realizing this is what we are doing. This may be because of past experiences in our life which have left us wounded. Or it may be because we were taught expressing our emotions verbally or in other ways is inappropriate or unacceptable.

In any case, it is good to reflect on the wide variety of emotional expression which is attributed to God in the Scripture, and to examine whether we ourselves express emotion in healthy ways. It is obvious being a healthy person includes healthy emotional expression. And there is much we can learn about ourselves from the example of Jesus Christ.

If we go through life thinking if we just do things the way God wants us to, everything in our life will be marvelous and wonderful—we need to reconsider. God doesn’t give us those types of guarantees.

Yes, life is better when we live in the truth of who we are as God’s children. When that perfected humanity which is in Christ is the humanity we are doing our best to live out day by day in the Spirit—life is indeed much better. Relationships are healthier and happier. Things seem to run much smoother in our lives—especially when we are part of a healthy, happy spiritual community.

But we do live in a broken world, with broken people, who do silly, stupid, hurtful things. We get caught unawares sometimes and say and do things we never mean to say or do. Catastrophic events occur. Our bodies give out, get sick, and betray us. Life just happens—and it’s not always pretty.

And so we respond to all these experiences in our life. And our responses cover a very wide spectrum of emotions, actions, words and deeds. Whatever our response may be—let it be genuine and real—from the heart. Let it be what is really down there deep inside.

If you are grieving, then I say—grieve. Travel that road of grief which takes you through that valley of sadness, anger, depression, and resolution to the other side where you begin your new life without whatever or whoever you have lost. Feel your pain and express it in healthy ways. Don’t hang on to the past—grieve it and move on, as and when you are able to.

If you are angry, then I say, as the Scripture does—be angry and don’t sin. Anger is an expression of our response to us, or someone else, being violated in some way. The purpose of anger is to help us have the ability to respond to this so we can make the situation right. But what does that look like? If we bury our anger inside or turn it against ourselves, that isn’t healthy. If we take in out on others—that’s not healthy either. But anger can be a good thing when it is used the way God uses it—to make things right in the end.

Do you feel joy? Share it with God and with others! Sing those praise songs. Tell those who will rejoice with you about how wonderful life is right now. How do you like to express joy? If it’s healthy and blesses you and others—then share that joy! I love it when someone is just bubbling over with joy and it drips all over me, and I end up grinning from ear to ear.

Too often we allow those around us and their opinions of us determine our response to our experiences in life. Yes, no doubt, there are times to be self-controlled and discrete about our responses to things. Occasionally one has to wait for the appropriate time to express oneself. I’ve caught myself giggling in the midst of an important business meeting—very bad timing to be expressing joy when the boss is laying down the law. But for the most part, can we not learn to be genuine and real?

Part of our sharing in the Triune life is the feeling and expressing of genuine human emotion. This includes such a wide variety of human experiences and our responses to them—taking us through deep dark valleys, and up sun-lit mountain sides as well. Who knows what a day may bring to us? Whatever we face, we go through it held in, surrounded by, filled with the very Presence of God in Christ by the Spirit, sharing every human expression of life with the Trinity.

Thank you, Abba, we never go through life alone. You feel what we feel—you experience with us all of life, knowing how painful things are, how wonderful some things are, and how crazy life is sometimes. Thank you, God, for sharing all of life with us. May we always be genuine and real in our response to what life brings our way, through Jesus our Lord and by your Spirit. Amen.

“In the days of His flesh, He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His piety.” Hebrews 5:7 NASB

“You have taken account of my wanderings; put my tears in Your bottle. Are they not in Your book?”
Psalm 56:8 NASB

And There Will Be Tears

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Gathering of pumpkins
Gathering of pumpkins

by Linda Rex

Yesterday I received one of those annoying but helpful emails about an appointment my mother had with her cardiologist. I made the obligatory phone call, letting the receptionist know that my mother would not be able to keep her appointment, since she had passed away last month.

The lady who answered was very nice, telling me she was sorry for my loss. What went through my head at that moment wasn’t very nice—it was something like, “Oh, you’re just saying that because you have to.” I was surprised by the irritation I felt at such a simple expression of compassion being used in our conversation.

Then as I hung up the phone I was surprised by my grief, with deep, wrenching sobs wracking my body. The tears didn’t last very long, and I dried them and prepared to move on to something else. My daughter came in to see if I was all right. In an affectionate hug, we both spent a moment in shared sorrow and comfort.

I know that my mother would not want me to wallow in grief. And I really have no reason to, because I do not sorrow without hope. I have the assurance that in due time, we will be together again in glory.

But there is a gap in my life now that creates pain. And the reason it creates pain is that we were created for relationship and that joining of human lives through relationship is a reflection of the divine life and love. We were never meant for death or the separation that comes through the loss of a loved one.

Even the loss of a beloved pet or the loss of an unborn child creates this pain. We grow attached to people and animals, and when we don’t have them in our lives any more, we find there is a gaping hole that we cannot fill. And that hurts—it hurts a lot. And it should, because it is not what we were created for.

We were created for lasting relationships of love. God never meant for us to have to experience death or the loss of a loved one. We, as humans, brought and bring death into our existence. This is why God came in Jesus and died our death for us and rose from the grave. He conquered death so that death is no longer the end to our relationships. Now death is merely a stepping stone or door to an eternal life of knowing, loving, and being truly known and loved.

Even so, death happens and we have to deal with its reality. One of the things I learned in my Christian counseling training and in my short stint as a hospice chaplain is that grief and how it is experienced is unique to each individual. And it can take different shapes and forms as a person goes through the healing process—moving from loss to creating a new life without the loved one.

There can be a sense of denial—acting as though the loss hasn’t really happened. The one who grieves may experience depression. And they may find that they are angry—maybe filled with a deep anger that is much more severe than my mild irritation at the receptionist. And a person may, for a variety of reasons, get stuck in their grief—unable to move on because they have not resolved past hurts and losses.

Grief at the loss of a loved one, furry or not, is real, and needs to be treated with honor and dignity. If someone near you has experienced such a loss, please be understanding and compassionate. Try not to use platitudes or to explain why the loss happened. Only God knows the reason why our loved ones suffer and die. Explaining why or trying to fix the situation is not helpful. Offering companionship, understanding and genuine compassion is.

The grief a person feels about the loss of someone dear to them may lessen with time. But that hole in their lives will always be there. And there will be moments when a life event or a circumstance, a smell, sound or taste may bring back a flood of memories. And then there will be tears, because he or she will experience that loss all over again.

But crying can be good therapy when we remember that death is not the end. In fact, death has no power over us anymore. Death is just a temporary blip in the scheme of eternity—there may be tears in this night but we will have joy in that new morning.

And that brings back a memory—of kissing Mom good night, knowing she might not live through the night. I would tell her, “I’ll see you in the morning,” realizing it could be my last goodbye. It was a good one, because I know I will see her in that new morning when all is renewed and we can be together forever.

So there will be tears. But God has promised to keep track of each tear, and one day to dry every tear from my eyes. I have hope and that will carry me through my grief as I learn to build a life without Mom in it. It’s going to take a while, but I will, in time, move on. I am grateful that I never have to do this alone—I have God in me, with me, and for me—and I have family and friends as well. Thanks to each of you who have expressed your comfort and encouragement to me and my family in our time of loss. We deeply appreciate it.

Holy God, you are always faithful to carry us through each circumstance we face in our lives. Thank you that in Christ you share our griefs and our sorrows. Thank you that by your Spirit you are near and faithful to comfort us and give us peace in the midst of our losses. And thank you that we have hope through Christ of living forever with you and our loved ones. Grant us the grace to rest in you in the midst of our grief. In your name we pray, amen.

“Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried;…” Isaiah 53:4 NASB

“You have taken account of my wanderings; Put my tears in Your bottle. Are they not in Your book?” Psalm 56:8 NASB

“He will swallow up death for all time, and the Lord God will wipe tears away from all faces, and He will remove the reproach of His people from all the earth; for the LORD has spoken.” Isaiah 25:8 NASB

“Cease striving [let go, relax] and know that I am God;” Ps 46:10 NASB

Saying Goodbye

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by Linda Rex

There are two final goodbyes that are on my mind this morning. They are completely different one from one another, and yet they are in many ways one and the same. Saying goodbye for the last time to two people who played such an integral part in forming me as a person has truly stretched me and forced me to rethink many things about what really matters in life.

Etched in my mind is the day when I received a frantic phone call at work from my mom that my dad had collapsed outside at home while trying to meet the UPS delivery man to receive a package. An ordinary snowy day turned into a crisis at the hospital with Mom and I watching as the emergency room personnel frantically tried to shock my dad’s heart back to life. When it became obvious that their efforts were fruitless, we saw the life ebb from his body as Dad passed from this life to the next.

Night before last as I sat with my Mom, holding her hand and watching her taking her last breaths, I thought about how different these scenarios were. Dad had passed so quickly, not making any effort to hang on to life but rather having life pass from him so rapidly that it could not be clung to. But here Mom was sucking in each breath as though it was an elixir. Her life did not pass away without a difficult struggle.

But in each case there came a time when there was just no life left in the human body. My parents exited this life and went on into the next. What their life looks like now, I’m not totally sure. I just know that the life they have now is much better than what they had here on earth.

A little while ago I wandered into the room where Mom spent her last moments. In my mind’s eye, I could still see her lying in the hospital bed and I felt again the hush that came with trying to keep the house quiet so she could rest in peace. Even though she is gone, I still feel her presence here with me.

Is it mystical to believe that somehow she and I are still connected? That Dad is somehow still a part of my life today?

I cannot grieve with deep, wrenching sorrow because I have such a comfort in knowing they aren’t gone forever but are still living, each held in Christ’s love for all eternity. Jesus, in taking on our humanity, has connected us all in himself, holding fast to each of us in himself in such a way that we do not fade back into nothingness when we die, but rather transition into a new life he created for us when he rose from the dead so many millenia ago.

So even though I feel the separation and miss the daily conversations, I have such peace in knowing they are so much better off now without the restraints of this temporary existence. There was so much about this life and this culture that grieved them—they longed for the day when Christ would come and deliver them from this evil world. And now they are free from it all. How can I wish they were back here with me?

Even though in those last moments it seemed as though all of heaven and earth paused and held its breath, time moved on and my parents are no longer with me. The sun still came up in the morning and went down at night as the earth rotated on its axis. The universe doesn’t cease to continue on its path when someone passes on.

I’d like to hold on to my loved ones, but I can’t stay here in this place forever. Now decisions need to be made—where do we go on from here? How do we move on? I know that my parents would not want us to stay stuck here in our grief, but to take instead the next meaningful steps in our lives. What’s that going to look like? I don’t know. But I face the future with some anticipation and with a hint of sorrow on the side.

I just know that after all we’ve been through in caring for Mom in her last days and in saying goodbye to her and Dad, I will never be the same again. Everything they ever said and did is somehow a part of who I am today. And as I go through life, it will continue to influence my choices and decisions as I participate in their humanity through my memories of them, and the genetics and personality that we have in common.

The apostle Paul wrote that we do not grieve as those who have no hope because we know that death is not the end. We will see our loved ones again.

And it is also true that we share in a real way through Christ in their life even now. We have been bound together with them in so many ways. Death cannot and does not separate us from one another.

For me, saying goodbye in this transition from life into death is more like saying, “I’ll see you in the morning.” There is a new morning where we will see each other again. So rather than there being an end to our relationship, there is an anticipation and expectancy of seeing each other and sharing life in a new way in a new place. And that is something to look forward to rather than looking backward with regret.

So in saying goodbye to my parents, I am sad, yes. I miss them both terribly. But I want to focus on the time when I will see them again. And I want to experience the comfort and real presence of having them with me now through Jesus and our connection in the Spirit. In this way by God’s grace I can find peace in the midst of great loss. And I thank God for making this possible in Jesus and by his Spirit.

Thank you, Heavenly Father, that in the midst of loss and grief we still have hope. Thank you for connecting us to one another and with you through your Son Jesus Christ and in the Spirit so that when we experience death we can know that there is still a day ahead of us when we can be with our loved ones again. You are so compassionate and understanding! We praise and thank you in Jesus. Amen.

“But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 4:13–14 NA

Justice and Grace—Strange Companions

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by Linda Rex

What do you do when everything that matters to you in your life shatters and falls into pieces at your feet?

Sometimes I think that until we have this experience in our lives, we are only playing at living. Because it is in these situations that we find out who we really are in the core of our beings and what it is we really believe about ourselves, God and each other. Marshall Shelley in his book writes:

“It’s doubtful that God can use any man greatly until he’s hurt him deeply,” said A. W. Tozer. In weakness, God’s strength can be revealed. Joseph was jailed, David driven into hiding, Paul imprisoned, and Christ crucified, but even in defeat, God’s servants are not destroyed. Part of the miracle of grace is that broken vessels can be made whole, with even more capacity than before.

In my life I went through a personal experience where someone I believed in and trusted completely betrayed me and rejected me. It was shattering. Here is a poem I wrote that expresses the reality of how I felt as a result of this experience:

Shattered,Rex,Linda,Jan11,2003Web

Aftermath
The bloody aftermath of choices–
Broken hearts and broken dreams,
Pain
Cascading through the pages of our lives

You wander on,
Oblivious to the bodies of the crushed

How can you be so cold,
So calloused,
So blind?
Oh, for the light!

Spit in the face
Of the grace that was given!
Ravage the hearts
Of those left behind!
One day you will pay
The cost of the pain.
Grace or no grace,
Truth will descend
And justice, justice will stand!

© Linda A. Rex, 2002
Published in “The Best Poems & Poets of 2002”, Watermark Press

Is it possible that God’s grace and justice are one and the same? When we are wounded in this way, we want God to make things right. We want justice. We want the one who has hurt us to pay in some way. We want everything to be fixed and put back together again. Or at least have the pain taken away and be able to live a normal life. It’s not fair, we think, that we have to go through this—whether or not we deserve it.

I have come to see that our perception of our loss and suffering can drive how we respond to it. Since the beginning of time, we as humans have focused on trying to resolve the problem of discerning between what is good and what is evil rather than simply eating the fruit of God’s life. We did and still do this by creating rules and laws, and by punishing misbehavior and exacting penance for sin. But the one thing we’ve never been able to swallow it seems is the bitter pill of God’s sovereignty.

We don’t seem to realize that what we really need in every circumstance is what God has offered us from the beginning—his grace. God’s love is the basis for all of his dealings with us. If we are honest with ourselves, we’ll have to admit that God has dished out a whole lot more grace or undeserved pardon, generosity and goodness than any of us deserve.

And we as humans handed God in Jesus everything but grace—we poured out on him every consequence, deserved or undeserved, in his crucifixion. We exacted full “justice” on Jesus. Yet God took it on the chin and responded by using or shall we say, intended from the beginning to use, Jesus’ life, suffering, crucifixion, death, resurrection and ascension as the means of our salvation and transformation. And through Jesus God connected all of humanity with himself forever.

In reflection, I can now say that as painful and devastating as my experience was, and in spite of the years and effort—blood, sweat and tears—it took to recover, I am deeply grateful for the experience. For God used it to transform me and to change my life. He began to do something incredible and new in my life—some things I never could have ever imagined even happening. But only because I did not run away from him, but rather ran towards him in the midst of my pain and struggle.

Even though at the time, my desire may have been that justice be done, now I see that God’s way of handling it was much better. His grace was exactly what was needed in the situation. In Jesus, justice is and will be done—God’s going to make everything right in the end. In the meantime, though, it is his grace that has carried me through and used these circumstances, the pain and suffering, to accomplish something beautiful and life-giving. And my efforts to express and participate in God’s grace in the midst of it all have been rewarded as well.

So, strange as it may seem, justice and grace are odd companions, but they are well suited for one another when they meet in the person and work of God in Jesus Christ. And via the Holy Spirit, they can and do meet together in us as we surrender to the sovereignty of God in the midst of difficult and painful circumstances. And they produce beautiful, life-giving fruit—spiritual fruit that will last for all eternity. And that’s what really matters in the end.

Holy God, it is in difficult and painful times that we have a hard time understanding why things are so unjust. We don’t understand why you allow what you allow and why you do the things you do. Thank you for your grace and love—grant that we may have the grace to trust you and to surrender to your sovereign will in everything. We can only do this through Jesus our Lord and by your Holy Spirit. Amen.

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body.” 2 Co 4:7–11

Mourning in a ‘Pain-Free’ Society

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By Linda Rex

I love reading. I have a stack of books that I gathered while doing my thesis that I wanted to read but didn’t have the time to enjoy. Now that my schoolwork doesn’t take up all my down time, I’ve begun reading some of these, a few chapters each day.

This morning I was reading a chapter in the book “Authentic Faith” by Gary L. Thomas. This book is an interesting overview of certain spiritual disciplines that we as the Christian church in America sometimes overlook. I feel that learning and practicing spiritual disciplines as a means of putting ourselves in the presence of God and opening ourselves up to the Holy Spirit to work is an essential part of our spiritual formation or growing up in Christ.

So, as I started to say, I came across the spiritual discipline of mourning. Now I would have to assume that mourning is not something we as human beings would naturally choose to do. If anything, I’m thinking that most of us do everything we can to avoid feeling pain or having to deal with difficult situations, horror or suffering. Taking painkillers for pain is considered normal behavior in our society. So much so that they are often abused. And many people use other forms of dealing with pain that are not always healthy—alcohol and drug abuse for example.

Unfortunately, the reality is that pain, suffering and grief are a part of our natural human condition. I believe one of the reasons such suffering, evil and pain are a part of our world today is because we as human beings do not practice the spiritual discipline of mourning. When an evil is perpetrated against another human being—we may make that a big news story in the media or on the Web, but how does it affect us personally? Do we feel the pain that goes along with the evil? Do we weep at the injustice and groan inwardly at the carnage? Are we then motivated by our sorrow to right the injustice or to heal the hurt? Rarely.

I don’t know about you, but too often I find my own self turning away from the story because I can’t bear the pain. I turn away and miss God’s invitation to mourn with him over the suffering in his world. I fail to participate in Christ’s suffering by refusing the opportunity to weep and sorrow over the injustice and depravity I witness. I too often am blind to the grief of others or am insensitive and thoughtless in responding to their suffering.

This week many Christians the world over participated in the observance of Ash Wednesday. The observance of this day marks the beginning of the season of Lent, which precedes the Easter celebrations marking the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Lent is typically the season in which Christians practice penitence, fasting from certain foods or items in acknowledgement of their need for and appreciation of God’s grace.

One of the things I think we can overlook as we consider the concept of mourning evil, grieving losses, and practicing penitence, is that these things are not something we as Christians have to do all on our own as though they are something we owe God, ourselves or each other. Rather, we practice penitence, repentance, grief, and mourning as a participation in Christ’s grief, penitence, repentance and mourning. It’s never something we do on our own—we are joined with God in Christ by the Spirit, and we share in his grief, his suffering, his mourning over loss, sin, evil, pain and injustice.

Just as Jesus obeyed God’s call through John the Baptizer by being baptized on behalf of all humanity for the remission of sins, so also did he obey the will of the Spirit who led, or drove, him out into the wilderness where he fasted for 40 days. In the midst of Jesus’ penitence on our behalf, he came face to face with evil. And he did not look away.

He did not give up his penitence to stifle the hunger in his stomach. The devil was right that Jesus could have made the stones into bread, but Jesus never used his divinity to serve himself. He only used it to serve others and to serve us.

Jesus did not give up his penitence, his identifying himself with us in our humanity and sinfulness, even to prove his identity as the Son of God. Nor did he pursue his own shortcut to glory by submitting to evil and turning his back on humanity. He chose the path of humility and humanity, of being the Servant Messiah even when it meant he would be treated like a common criminal, rejected, crucified and murdered by those he came to rescue.

Jesus went all the way with us and for us. And as the perfect reflection of God, he demonstrated to the core of his being that God is for us and against evil in any shape and form. If God in Jesus was willing to choose to do this so that we could be and would be free from the clutches of evil, how can we do any less ourselves?

Significantly, after Jesus’ triumphant entrance into Jerusalem to the adoring cries of “Hosanna”, one of the first things he did was to weep over the city who refused to repent and receive the Messiah God had sent them. He grieved over the pain, the suffering, and the evil. He mourned.

Even though we can have great joy that God in Christ has once and for all triumphed over evil, we also are privileged to suffer and grieve with God over, and in the midst of, the pain, injustice and evil of this broken world. God has given us eternal hope in Jesus and we can, in the midst of all that breaks our heart, point suffering and grieving people to the One who suffers and grieves with them and for them. We can, in Christ, participate in God’s work to relieve the suffering and right the injustices in the world. In the perichoretic life and love of Father, Son and Spirit, there is room for the depths of grief and suffering, the struggle against evil and injustice, just as there is room for the fullness of joy everlasting. For this we live in gratitude.

Lord, we are grateful for your grace, for the reality that we are never alone in our grief and sorrow. You grant us the privilege of participating in your suffering just as you, Jesus, took on our humanity with all its weakness, suffering and brokenness. Grant us the grace to cease our efforts to kill the pain, and to begin to just walk in the midst of it with you, allowing you to redeem all that is evil, hurtful and unjust, and to cause it to serve your purposes rather than the purposes of the evil one. For you, God, will and do have the last word in all these things, and we trust you to love us and do what is best for us no matter what. Gratefully, in your precious name, Jesus, we pray. Amen.

“For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering. Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later.” Romans 8:16–18 NLT