Life, Faith & Running
". . . let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us."
(Hebrews 12:1, NIV)
(Hebrews 12:1, NIV)
The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. (1 King 19:11-12 )
Loss comes in all sorts of packaging. Experiencing loss is typically accompanied by a host of emotions that signal that grieving is progress.Denial, anger, depression, bargaining, and acceptance are emotions that signal this process occurring in a person’s life (grief.com).
These emotions often aren’t linear, moving the grieving person on step at a time in certain direction, but rather cyclical. When we know someone has experienced loss, it is often reasonable and expected that that person be treated with compassion, patience and care. Often too, a person who is grieving is given permission to be sad, and encouraged to find ways to let go and start new.
But do we do this for ourselves or one another when the loss isn’t of life. What of all those other times when death seems to be engulfing the soul because of a dream, a relationship, a goal, a project, an address, a mission, or an expectation become a the source of loss? How do we frame these types of loss? How do we walk through these types of loss? How do we let ourselves and others grieve?
By learning to recognize loss, pause and grieve it, and then moving forward from a changed perspective.
I believe it is first by identifying what we are experiencing as loss in the first place. If we can identify the loss, we can begin from a different perspective. We can begin with giving ourselves permission to be let our hearts and souls anguish, our minds walk through sadness, and our strength be used to sit still and pray for peace, perspective and His presence to come in and invade who we are (more so than invading and changing the circumstances).
The great theologian, A.W. Tozer once said, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” To this same understanding, I would add that what comes to our minds as we navigate loss in light of who God is and who we are is the most important thing about the grieving process. Our perspectives are shifted by our beliefs. In other words what we think is controlled by what we choose to believe. And our growth-through-experiences is rooted in standing firm on carving out space to look for and believe in a perspective that both brings healing and is inline with the truths of the Bible.
Wading through the darkness of emotions that follows loss, whether it be expected or unexpected, is hard and often very slow and a painful. The pace at which one moves through the process of loss toward understanding and healing, largely depends on the person, the type of loss, and the work God has in mind for the heart of the one in sorrow. Some of us are quick to understand, label our emotions, and then work from there to navigate forward. Others of us (yours truly being one of them), struggle immensely just to name emotions, not to mention then tying those emotions to reasoning or coherent thoughts or understanding.
But I am getting quicker and better at this. And believe it or not I have loss to thank for growth in this area life. We don’t often think to thank loss for growing us, birthing us into who we have become. We don’t often think of the darkness of loss as a friend to be invited in and cherished. Because, honestly, I don’t wish loss on anyone. I don’t wish pain or hurt on anyone. That isn’t the way of compassion. And yet true compassion is only found in the waters of loss. So too empathy, mercy, sympathy, and the most selfless versions of kindness. In addition, while we are on this side of heaven, loss and troubles will not be escaped.
Ann Voskamp in her book, One Thousand Gifts, also suggests that even though we don’t often see God’s hand or his glory in the midst of walking through the experiences and emotions of loss, that a consideration of Moses in Exodus 33:22-23 can help us to embrace loss--believing that in the “rearview mirror” we will see his faithful and sovereign hand.
It is in the darkness that God is passing by. Our lives shake not because God has abandoned, but the exact opposite: God is passing by. God is in the tremors. Dark is the holiest ground, the glory passing by. In the blackest, God is closest, at work, forging His perfect and right will. Though it is black and we can’t see and our world seems to be free-falling and we feel utterly alone, Christ is most present to us, I-beam supporting in earthquake. Then He will remove His hand. Then we will look. Then we look back and see His back.
Have you known this darkness behind the cleft of the rock? This space in your life brought on by loss. Loss is a reality that no one gets through life without experiencing. We can try hard to run from it, avoid it or set up security measures to keep it out, and they will all be futile attempts against the circumstances of this fallen world. And rather than face this reality with despair or dread, as followers of Christ we have the power to face loss from a different point of view--a holy, redeemed, redefined, redemptive and uncommon perspective.
The days of greatest darkness in my life (so far), were born out of the loss of a place. Which brought along with it a loss of a defined ministry, a loss vocation, a loss of friends, and a loss of understanding my purpose. All of these losses were wrapped up in one big move from a country that had become “home” back to my “home” country. The 6,000 miles that spanned the distance between these two places makes for a good metaphor for the depth of darkness in heart and soul that became the hallmark of my transition. This move did not happen to us. Rather it was our choice. Which should’ve probably made these heart of darkness days easier to bear, but in the way that darkness can, it simply just added a layer of lies that kept me wrestling through self-doubt, anger and resentment.
I wore anger to hide my sadness. I chose retreat instead of to the fight. I assumed my control rather than submitting to God’s sovereignty over our decisions. I was a mess and I had no learned vocabulary or strategies for this lowly and hurting place I found myself in. I didn’t want to run from God. Nor did I have the strength to run to God. I felt hidden and unseen. Unimportant and out of place. But those were just feelings. Not truth. Not reality. Yet, that is where my soul had landed in the midst of my losses.
But you know what, there came a point when the darkness began to fade, when understanding began to penetrate, and I was able to look up and see it all differently. It took nearly two years! You read that right. It was a long journey, as most paths toward wholeness and healing are.
The catalyst was a friend speaking truth over my lies. Which prompted me to start asking questions of my thought and beliefs. Which later led to me recognize that what I was experiencing was grief. I was grieving the loss of all that life used to be--in the darkness I couldn’t see my sadness and grief. My perspective on grief and loss were limited to dying a physical death. Yet, when I started examining my emotions I began to see that at the root of all my doubt, anger, denial, and inability to feel or know love, was a deep, deep sadness.
The recognition of the sadness brought on by the loss of place, relationships, defined vocation, and clarity of purpose changed my perspective because it gave me permission to grieve. To admit that the loss made me feel lost and lonely. That the loss made me angry. That the loss had me bargaining with God to change my circumstances. That the loss was creating a form of depression that could be masked outside my home, but wreaked havoc within.
I wish I could say this recognition came with just one truth from the Bible. Or from a good book that I could recommend to you. I wish I could say, here is how you navigate grief and loss and see that the darkness may just be God hiding you in a cleft of a rock. But for me it was a journey that was painfully slow and gradual. In fact, I didn’t see any of it clearly until I started looking back.
In my looking back I believe these are the ways God took my loss and used it to teach me that His sovereignty is greater than my choices, His eyes are always on me, and He too knows sadness, and He can be trusted to work all things out for His glory.
Components of this process included:
"If there is any element of the universe that is outside of his authority, then he no longer is God over all. In other words, sovereignty belongs to deity. Sovereignty is a natural attribute of the Creator. God owns what he makes, and he rules what he owns." – R.C. Sproul
I am certain that you have experienced loss of some kind. I am also certain that experiencing that loss brought on a storm of feelings and a cloudiness that altered your perspective for a period of time. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance are just as much a part of experiencing the loss of a dream, a goal or a relationship as they are the death of someone you love. When I was able to recognize this, I was able to see myself and my circumstances differently. I was able to give myself permission to sit and be sad. I was able to give myself permission to ask God some questions I needed to get off my chest. I was able to frame my circumstances and experiences in a way that gave me a perspective that turned my soul back to truth: God is sovereign. He sees me. He is good. I am not in control. I can set my burdens down and trust he is always near, always at work, and always guiding me closer to believing He is who He says he is.
The Apostle John writes to us, "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world" (John 16:33, NIV). Loss and troubles come in all kinds of packages. But I think, if you are like me, we struggle to identify loss as loss. And in so doing, we bypass giving ourselves permission to grieve that which was lost. Instead, we might choose any of the fear responses: fight, flight or freeze. In so doing, we may then fail to recognize our emotions or behaviors (denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance) or mask our sadness with anger, numbing-out, or to-do lists. (Have no fear, God is pursuing you regardless of your appropriate or inappropriate response to loss--I know because His grace came after me.)
My challenge to you today is to stop and consider if there are troubles or hardships in your life that you have not recognized as loss and thus not taken the time to grieve. Are there circumstances that have you reeling in anger, depressed in doubt, numbed in denial, or bargaining with God for a solution? If so, perhaps what your heart is really feeling is loss and sadness. Perhaps what is happening around you isn’t the absence of God, but His passing by and protection. Perhaps soon you will process this and see through the rearview mirror His back and His glory. Perspectives are born out of what we choose to believe as truth. Do you believe that God is able to deepen your beliefs in His truths by shifting your perspective on what you are experiencing or feeling?
Believing in God isn’t easy. Ironically, it is no easier in times of abundance because we are quick to forget we need Him. Truth is static. Not doubt about it. God is the author of Truth and His Truth is never-changing, always constant. However, our beliefs are dynamic. They are always growing deeper and closer to alignment with Truth: For now, we know only in part, but then we will know in full (1 Corinthians 13:12). Our nearness to Christ in our times of loss may very likely have the greatest impact on our ability to keep growing in believing God is who he says He is.
In Psalm 34:18 we find support for this, “The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (NIV). I am not sure about you, but when I pray for God to be near, I am not imagining that I might also be asking for a broken heart or a crushed spirit. And yet, when I look back to my grief encounters, I see that there have been very few other times in my life where I have come out on the other side of a circumstance believing so strongly that God is near to me. And he is near to you too in your grief encounters. His voice is most often a whisper that is heard from behind the cleft of a rock, after the wind, fire, and storm have passed by.
Her family and friends know her as, Jaci. She is the wife of a pastor, a mom of four, writing and communications education instructor, a visionary and an avid runner. As a firm believer in the power and effectiveness of the body of Christ united together to live out the Great Commission, she holds fast to this verse, "Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations" (Matthew 28:19). Of equal importance to her are these words, "...let us run with endurance the race that is set before us" (Hebrews 12:1).
Posts in the Run for Your Life, series: