Nothing can prepare you for tragedy. When tragedy comes, it’s going to mess you up. That’s why they call it a tragedy. It’s tragic. Something has gone horribly wrong. You can either be wrecked by it or you can be numb and seek false comforts that will disconnect you from the reality going on around you.
My mom died suddenly and unexpectedly at the age of 46 this week. The reaching out of friends and family during this time has been incredible – few times have I felt more loved than this. And yet in so many of the messages I’ve received, there’s been this very well-intentioned theme of minimizing the sorrow, trying to explain why its all ok and why we’ll be able to move on. Again I know the intention is good, people are caring for me the best way they know how, but I’m learning that to look tragedy in the eye and be able to “hold yourself together” is one of the least genuine and most dangerous places for your heart to be.
When tragedy comes, it’s going to mess you up.
Two people whose love and care I will be forever most grateful for during this time are that of my wife and my friend/pastor, Justin Buzzard. Justin was the only non-family member whose call I took on Tuesday while I was still in shock. Justin told me 3 things I will be eternally grateful for:
- Death is an intruder into God’s creation and its ok to be sad about this. This is not the way it was meant to be.
- My job description right now is just to cry and mourn and process what I’m feeling with God.
- Be in the Psalms – this will give me language for what I’m feeling and keep me talking to God about it.
By the time my family gathered the next day to view my mom’s body one last time, I had apparently taken this counsel very seriously, because I was a mess the whole time. I couldn’t stop crying and at one point couldn’t even hold my own head up and had to lie in my wife’s lap weeping. I don’t know that I would say I wanted to show so much emotion to my entire family/the strangers at the funeral home, in fact I used to believe being so emotionally venerable would make me look weak so I’m sure I did not want to show so much emotion, but I didn’t have a choice. God in His grace wouldn’t let me check out, wouldn’t let me stop feeling the reality happening around me; I couldn’t stop the tears.
Moving on too quickly is dangerous to our hearts.
Before everyone left, I spoke some of my first words of the day and asked if I could pray with my family. When I opened my mouth to pray, my heart was overcome with sorrow and all I could think of was Psalm 31:9. So I began to pray “God, be gracious to us, for we are in distress..” and with more whimpering words and through many tears I found myself asking that God would not let us seek false comforts, but that He would allow us to really feel the weight of what’s happened, not moving on too quickly, but that He would let us be sad and in our sadness draw us to Himself.
And the reason I prayed this prayer with my family is I know our culture teaches us to seek false comforts.
Moving on too quickly—seeking false comforts—is dangerous to our hearts. It disconnects us from reality; it displaces God from the center of our life. This is as true in the big tragedies of life as it is in the day-to-day disappointments. When broken things happen, we can either feel the sorrow of it or we can choose not to feel – to be numb. What are common ways we numb ourselves? Though a myriad of things. For me its generally getting completely wrapped up in a TV show, for others its getting overly committed to a sports team, parenting, studying, etc. Anything we can over-focus on to distract us from what’s really going on in our lives. When we choose to distract ourselves from reality instead of taking our sadness over our hard reality to Jesus, we’re in affect saying He can’t be good enough in the midst of this and we need other things to help us be ok (the Bible calls these things idols). And our hearts grow cold toward Jesus as we cling to our idols more and more as life gets harder and harder.
On the flip side, letting ourselves really feel what’s happened leads us closer to God. The commonly held belief that the Bible is a neat religious book, filled with good people getting good things because they are good at following God’s rules is a wild misconception. The Bible doesn’t paint the story of a God who gives you good things if you obey Him and bad things if you don’t, the Bible tells a far greater story! The story of a good and gracious King who loves to chase down runaways and give them new life with His amazing love. The Bible tells us that the love of God that’s completely one-way, totally set on us in spite of us is the good we all long for, not circumstance, or careers, or relationships, etc. A commonly used phrase around our church is “Before grace can be amazing, it must be devastating (it devastates your pride).” To this end, grief is one of the most “real” moments in life because in it we see we’re a mess and can’t keep up trying to prove ourselves to God. Our world is broken and so are we. We just need grace. Undeserved love. It’s our only hope. And when we dare to let ourselves feel the weight of this, we can truly cry out to God and ask for grace alone (Ps 31:9) and its then that His grace becomes all the more real, all the more sweet, because its so clearly in spite of us.
There’s no fear in feeling, because our feelings will drive us to Jesus. Always.
When hard things happen, you can either let yourself feel the weight of it and in your helplessness let this drive you to God or you can numb yourself and seek false comforts in other things. Numbing yourself is easy but there’s a real danger in it. The big truth I’m learning through this is Jesus doesn’t ask us to disengage from the reality going on around us but come to Him with our hardships. There’s no fear in feeling, because our feelings (when really felt) will drive us to Jesus. Always.
[Note: This is the first in a series of posts I will be doing about my mom this week – if you came here looking to read more about my mom’s life and all the things that we loved about her, stay tuned in, there will be more posts focusing on this.]