Monday, September 14, 2015

The Loneliness of Grief: How We Should Respond to God

            In last week’s post, we learned about how God responds to our crying out, our loneliness, our pain, and our grief. We learned that, although it might not always feel like He is there, he assures us that He is, and that He hears us. So the next question should naturally be: How should we respond to God for all that we have endured? For His comfort to us through our pain? Because we are usually so obsessed with, and focused on, getting well, and overcoming whatever is ailing us, we rarely think of asking it. And while I hesitate to state emphatically how we should respond, there are clues given us in life, and in Scripture, as to how it is best for us to respond.

            So often we feel or think that we have managed to persevere and power through on our own power, but an honest assessment of reality will quickly tell us that’s not true. God works to heal us through our families and friends. He uses medical personnel to provide medicine and counseling—gifts He has blessed these caregivers with. And He gently repairs our hearts so they can live and love again. If we just look around, we will see God’s amazing hand guiding or carrying us through our suffering. Sometimes it takes getting to the other side of it, to a place where we can look back with wiser eyes and hearts, and less burdened spirits, to see how He has worked to see us through it all.

            It’s a question I finally learned to ask myself after ending up in the hospital yet one more time, about ten years ago, with some mysterious illness that was draining my life from me. Only I arrived at that question by asking another one first: “What do You want me to learn from this, Lord?”
            Because I knew nothing God does or allows to happen is pointless, I also knew that God had to have a reason for allowing my illness, and I wanted to learn it in the middle of the process. I wanted to be an attentive student, an active participant, even if I was having difficulty being a willing one. And that question led me to ask: “How do I respond to You while I’m slugging through it?”

            To get an idea of what the answers are, let’s return to Psalm 116 (NKJV).
            I love the LORD, because He has heard
            My voice and my supplications.
            Because He has inclined His ear to me,
            Therefore I will call upon Him as long as I live.
            The pains of death surrounded me,
            And the pangs of Sheol laid hold of me:
            I found trouble and sorrow.
            Then I called upon the name of the LORD:
            “O LORD, I implore You, deliver my soul!”
            Gracious is the LORD, and righteous;
            Yes, our God is merciful,
            The LORD preserves the simple;
            I was brought low, and He saved me.
            Return to your rest, O my soul,
            for the LORD has dealt bountifully with you.
            For you have delivered my soul from death,
            My eyes from tears,
            And my feet from falling.
            I will walk before the LORD
            In the land of the living.
            I believed, therefore I spoke,
            “I am greatly afflicted.”
            I said in my haste,
            “All men are liars.”
            What shall I render to the LORD
            For all His benefits toward me?
            I will take up the cup of salvation,
            And call upon the name of the LORD.
            I will pay my vows to the LORD
            Now in the presence of His people.
            Precious in the sight of the LORD
            Is the death of His saints.
            O LORD, truly I am Your servant;
            I am Your servant, the son of Your maidservant;
            You have loosed my bonds.
            I will offer to You the sacrifice of thanksgiving,
            And will call upon the name of the LORD.
            I will pay my vows to the LORD
            Now in the presence of all His people,
            In the courts of the LORD’s house,
            In the midst of you, O Jerusalem.
            Praise the LORD!

            Right off the bat, in the first verse of this passage, we see that David’s first thought toward God is one of love for Him, for hearing his crying out, his prayers. For bending down to listen. David’s response to that knowledge is to worship God for the rest of his life and continue to call upon Him.
            Then David embarks upon a brief retelling of how he felt at that time and how, in the midst of being brought low, God saved him. It is then that David gives guidance to his own soul: To shed the turmoil it harbors and return to a state of being at rest. Imagine how much easier our suffering might be if we continually counseled our souls to be at rest when we are in the midst of the turmoil, knowing that God hears and is listening and working on our behalf, even if it isn’t evident to our tear-clouded eyes and hearts?
            Then David talks about being delivered from those tears, and being able to return to walking and functioning in the land of the living. That knowledge also quiets our souls.
            Then David gets down to the basics when he asks himself: “What shall I render to the LORD for all of His benefits toward me?” In other words, how can I possibly acknowledge God for his kindness toward me?
            And David arrives at several conclusions:
            First, he says he will take up the cup of salvation. This salvation is something that has already occurred. Salvation that has occurred from his illness or pain, as well as the salvation of his soul. He will take up the celebration cup and call out to God in thankful recognition of God’s redemptive     work. He will joyfully accept the blessings God has handed him and continually rejoice. We can remind ourselves that we owe our very lives—here on Earth and    in Heaven—to God.
            Second, David promises to pay his vows in the temple, in the midst of the congregation, for all to see.
            Third, he then proclaims openly that he is God’s servant.
            Fourth, David once again acknowledges his joy when he promises to offer the temple sacrifices of thanksgiving, and reiterates that he will call upon, preach and proclaim God.
            Fifth, David again promises to publicly demonstrate his thankfulness by paying his vows in the temple, among the congregation, for every person there to see. So there is no question as to whom David credits his recovery. He’s going to make it very clear to everyone watching and listening that God alone is the reason David has recovered, and David will continue to invoke his name, give Him credit, and place his trust in Him.
            Finally, he takes it even further by saying he will do this in the viewing of the entire country, so there is no question where he stands on this matter.
            He finishes by offering another verbal praise to God.

            Through it all, David proclaims that he loves God and will continue to love and praise Him, even though things may not be going well now, or when they aren’t going so well in the future. He makes a visual and verbal commitment, aloud, for all to hear. A kind of proclamation. And an exuberant sounding one. And he does it so no one misses it!
            It is so much easier to love, proclaim and trust God when life is humming along nicely, without snags, boulders or viper pits in our path to obstruct our journey. David made a deliberate choice to be thankful to God. We can do the same.
            In his book, Overcoming Loneliness, Dr. David Jeremiah tells this story: “I heard about a little girl who had to go through a painful operation. The doctor told her, ‘This will hurt, but you have my permission to cry or scream.” Instead the girl said, ‘If it’s all right with you, I’d rather sing.’ And sing she did.”
            Even though it’s contrary to our hurt and contrary to our normal reactions, it is so much better for our hearts and our souls to sing.
            So, if you’re up for praising the Lord in the midst of your heartache, (or at least trying to), listen to this Casting Crowns song, “Praise You in the Storm”. There have been some comments left on this video from parents and grandparents who have lost children and who suffered in illness and tragedy.

Next week: What we can learn from pain and grief.

So, until the 21st,

Thanks for joining me!

Blessings for a week full of thoughts of God,


(Photo Credits: © Andrea Arthur Owan, 2015)