Have you ever thought about how love feels so much like grief?
I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately because the symptoms are so similar … emotions careening outside the fabulous yellow lines and leading swiftly toward the guard rails. The truth is the two ends of the spectrum demand a lot from us emotionally, and we feel. We’re not permitted to leave the moment without admitting that we feel something.
And feeling something is a poignant part of life.
Different people have different impacts on us. When we find ourselves attracted to a man or a woman, it completely jams our sensors. Bright lights go off and bells sound. Of course it triggers, silly. But its more than that…
I remember ten years ago or so, I was attracted to one of the pastors of our church. A worship leader. Just a guy with a lot of charisma, and charm. Everybody adored Van. There was something about him, perhaps it was his transparency or wonderful personality but it caused the women to drop their guard and FEEL. They felt loved. They felt cared for. They learned about themselves and were drawn into a deeper relationship with the Lord. I didn’t know a single woman who, at one point wasn’t positive she was going to marry Van.
As women we often tether ourselves to one man because he has caused us to feel. When a woman doesn’t know herself very well, or if she has some past wounds that she’s not dealt with, she suddenly feels safe as she discovers who she is, and her own inner beauty. She finds the courage to deal with her past pain and makes tremendous progress in her personal journey. But somehow that deep well of thanksgiving translates romantically to the man who helped her along that journey.
It’s wholesome and yet a tiny bit fractured.
Feeling is not optional. A full life demands that let people into our lives, to thaw, and forgive. True freedom comes when we set those men free, when we release them and move into our own emotional freedom, whether love, grief or something in between.
Be truly free to feel.
It is right now, here in the midst of this chaotic world where we need to be able to convey Heaven to a friend or a stranger, our beloved or a foe. I’ve an example of one of those serendipitous moments where I simply knew that I was carrying Heaven for a near-stranger.
Years ago a conversation struck me as most poignant for, without prelude we began talking about exquisite beauty and that elusive emotion, joy. We both knew with certainty that the two are not the same. One so often thinks that with great beauty comes joy. And yet I could see violent pain in her eyes, and I said so.
Sometimes the greatest gift that we can give to someone is to identify with the moment they’re in; simply acknowledging the pain they’re stuffing deep inside can bring such permission. And permission is so empowering isn’t it?
I think what was surprising was not the seeing the pain but it was the surety in my words to her, “You need to go through the veil. You need to walk through your valley. This grief keeps bubbling up and you keep shoving it further down inside anytime it grabs you. The thing is, when a person refuses to feel the pain they also lose access to joy.”
It’s true that I’ve paid the price to be able to offer those words. I know from experience that pain and sorrow can catch you blindsided. Oh, without apology they’ll knock the wind out of you, and leave you motionless for years. The faraway look never leaves the woman in the mirror until she takes their hands and permits Sorrow and Sadness to teach her how to live.
We are incapable of loving deeply, of laughing stupidly loud, of rolling in the depths of undignified belly laughter until we follow the footsteps of pain … who has hurt you? What have you lost? What, oh what has slipped through your fingers like so many grains of sand?
Sometimes the greatest mistake we can make is trying too hard, going too fast with grief. Just say “Yes” to Father. He’s a gentleman about this sort of thing. You’ll know His voice when He asks again if you and He can look at this thing together. Sign up for the multi-year plan. In the end a few years that are set aside for grief-work are so much fewer than the decade you spent trying to avoid it. I might know about that first-hand. I’ll say this … the fruit of working through grief is being able to feel. Period.
Psalm 31 says, “Thou hast set my feet in a broad place.” The journey of unresolved pain and grief is constricted, and narrow. It’s like walking a tightrope. But that broad place that Father leads us into when we decide to look pain square in the eye, ah it reminds me of the nature of God Himself. It’s all upside down, you remember. We think pain and losses are His doing. They’re not but He’ll use them to lead us into a new space in life, a new vista that is more reflective of who He is.
The Kingdom of Heaven is about a wild range of emotions, and colors, and sounds. The Kingdom of Heaven is about people, and relationships and being able to scale the cliffs of pain, and releasing and embracing. A vibrant way to live. But it’s here on Earth that we learn how to live in the Distant Kingdom. Say yes.
Carry Heaven. Now.
You could see it in their eyes, mainly, a look of endurance. It was the toll that poverty, drought and sheer exhaustion had taken on a nation. I was on a mission trip to Mozambique in 2002, and in that moment I rocked a baby boy named Tivo. Tivo was part of the forming generation of boys and girls, many born to HIV and AIDS-infected parents. Stricken by war, overcome by poverty and grief at their losses, women turned to desperate measures in order to feed their children. At 18 months Tivo bore all the signs of malnutrition and starvation. Abandoned by his mother, he refused to be held close. So angry at the pain and hunger that would not subside, he held himself away from me rigidly for hours until he collapsed, exhausted into a fitful sleep.
In 2002 the country of Mozambique had not yet recovered from the numerous assaults against its infrastructure: civil war, floods, drought, all amid unbelievable poverty. Nearly 15 years of fighting had temporarily displaced nearly five million people, and one million people lost their lives.
Statistically this appears as sterile numbers on a page. As I walked the streets and visited the families, I was completely undone.
Endless mountains of burning tires and garbage created a haze of smoke that made it feel as if the city itself was on fire. So many homeless. So many with HIV and AIDS. The gaunt, aimless look in their eyes tore at my soul. Since the war had claimed an entire generation or two of men, most of the families were comprised of widowed women. With a disease so rampant and destructive as AIDS, many women lost hope and dropped their children off at an orphanage, then returned to their hovel to die. The young boy that I carried on my back and rocked in my arms for hours on end would never know that I cared. At least, not this side of Heaven.