Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Why grief can be unresolvable, and why you don’t just ‘get over it’

This will be counterintuitive to a lot of people, I’m sure, but there is a broader narrative at play as the bedrock of all our maladies.
Whether we’re talking about trauma from known experiences (whether it’s one or many, trauma does not discriminate), trauma from unknown experiences (childhood, amnesia, unacknowledged angst, etc) or loss in all its myriad forms, we can be sure of one thing.
All of these equal grief, and there is a great degree of that which cannot be resolved, because it amounts to loss. Again, it might be counterintuitive to say this, but once we’ve experienced loss, how can it be that we’re ever found again? Life changes when we would never have chosen that change.
What ends up happening when we’re deep in grief, is we aspire to be elsewhere without the wherewithal to be there. We’re locked interminably out of that elsewhere place. We are in essence stuck in the in-between.
But what happens when we’re no longer deep in grief, is the emotional memory of that trauma encoded deeply inside us. What was lost cannot be found. But it can be reordered. It can be denied, which is not the healthiest of options. It can send us into conniptions of resentment; another far-from-healthy option. It can also be locked away and be irretrievable. Indeed, any of these places of spirit we can find ourselves locked in. But it can be reordered, and that’s our hope.
The new name to call trauma is grief, for contrary to popular and historical opinion, we don’t get “closure” from loss. By definition, again, loss is irrecoverable. We do find ourselves in a “new normal,” but very often this is a state we’re far from satisfied with.
Like trauma that sticks to us just like our experience has, because we cannot undo what is written in the body, loss that we also cannot undo changes us. We don’t so much reach acceptance as we accept what we cannot change BECAUSE we cannot change it. We learn to live with it even if that means we learn to live a kind of foreign experience of life.
Deep down inside us, we live estranged to an experience of life we would expect is possible. We can feel cut off from what life should be like. We might as well call this depression.
There is hope, but it’s not what we expect it to be. We must incorporate our experience if we hope to live beyond the pain of it. It must be faced. It must be discussed. It must be described. It must be delved into, at least to a point where its sting isn’t so noxious.
When we’ve found that within our trauma, our loss, our grief, we find we can discuss it as a normal part of our narrative—without the pain—we’ve reached a destination along our journey where we’ve learned something. We may not even know what that something we’ve learned is.
There may be no tangible benefit to enduring loss and trauma, and the unresolved grief of it all. The fact that we cannot prevent loss and we cannot go back to what was before the trauma took place indicates that the best we could do is accept the unacceptable.
That is such a harsh concept to swallow, and I for one don’t ask you to imbibe it.
What we can do, however, is learn to be a little gentler with ourselves as we learn what we can. Much grief is unresolvable, and you don’t just get over it. But it does teach us compassion, and strangely enough, these experiences do grow us up. These experiences teach us much about boundaries, the importance of safety, much wisdom and discernment.
Most of all, perhaps, and I owe this to a most recent conversation, we do best not to associate with people who just don’t understand us. They may or may not be toxic in and of themselves, but their perceptions and experiences are toxic to us, for they bear no compassion and no desire to understand, which is confounding.
Even the best scholars, therapists and doctors can barely understand suffering.

Photo by Whoisbenjamin on Unsplash

Monday, December 9, 2019

Grief that transforms anger to song to tears to peace

God can take our anger as much as our tears, but wait, there’s more; much, much more.
God just doesn’t accept our anger, even when it is aimed directly the Lord’s way. Indeed, God has a plan for that anger, and the Bible reveals it. The very first verses of Psalms 10 and 13 indicate what we hesitate to admit. We blame God for all sorts of things we don’t like. There is no need for anyone to say, “No, you cannot shake your fist at God!” If the Bible allows it, we can know that God not only understands, God endorses it.
Yet, God’s got much more in store for our anger when life’s going wrong than we even realise. Anger is an inevitable ingredient in the grief process. No genuine grief process is without it.
Now, God could leave us in our anger, to be thwarted in our frustration, without help in our exasperation. That’s where anger leads if we stay angry. Anger alone won’t fix a thing.
Having been angry, the Bible provides a way for our anger to morph into something more productive. And let’s not think of anger as simply spitting chips and cussing. Anger is any response of refusal to submit to God’s good way; it is the epitome of stubbornness, and yet we often do not progress through our grief until we’ve tantrumed ourselves to the point of recognising outbursts solve nothing.
The biblical pattern of lament—whether alone or in community—is to enter into song. Somehow when we speak our sorrows into existence such that we hear ourselves, we feel God hears somehow, and somehow such language of prayer ascending to the genre of song causes us to weep.
Weeping is one way to put paid to anger. Sorrow that forms into saline droplets that run down the cheeks, or that run into our ears when we’re lying on our back, speaks of a grief process that has progressed beyond anger. 
In anger, we’re still able to deny our sorrow, even as we refuse to acknowledge how hopeless we feel. But in sorrow, we’ve concluded that we’re out of control. In anger, we loath being out of control that much that we insist our anger is a form of control. Whether it works or not is irrelevant when we’re sticking to our digs. But in sorrow, we come face to face with a truth that when we accept simply depresses us. Yet, in tears are the transport of healing.
Tears are the vehicle to peace, even if that peace is short and temporary. Tears are a process to heal the untenable moment. Tears are the language of truth for the sorrow we find unacceptable. Yet, tears take us more directly to peace than any other thing.
We soon realise that there’s no shortcut through grief, such as it is that we loved so greatly. Why would we wonder that the gravity of grief is so heavy? We loved what we lost THAT much!
But at least through song, we have a way of overcoming our anger, so we can feel our sorrow through our tears, which gives us more direct access to peace.

Image: from The Lovely Bones soundtrack. Brian Eno.

Friday, December 6, 2019

Using the number one weapon against spiritual attack

It looms as the ever-present enemy of those who have chosen to be faithful to God. It’s a dart flung at the most unexpected of times. It’s the prowling lion looking to devour when we’re down. For some it appears as the deepest discouragement. For others it’s a crippling fear. And it can even come through the “ecstasy” of pride.
Spiritual attack doesn’t just happen as an inside job. It also becomes apparent in our relationships. Whenever we’re in a vigorous argument with our partner or one of our children or a parent, there’s a good chance that the enemy of God is absolutely delighted. The moment we stop our harsh words and just look at each other with eyes that say, “Do you see what’s happening here?” is the moment we SEE the enemy and rise above that wily scheme that’s a trap of deceit.
The moment two people see what’s REALLY happening amid their conflict they can embrace knowing the issue isn’t about the issue.
There is a deeper, hidden, insidious force attempting to derail what would otherwise work beautifully. Just how often do we argue over insignificant issues?
But what this article is about is the massive intrapersonal attack that climbs inside our spirit and wreaks havoc.
The number one weapon against a spiritual attack propagated by discouragement or fear is a gratitude targeted with passionate precision on a seemingly finite object.
Spiritual attack targets the heart through confusion of mind. The enemy works via confusion. God works via peace.
Bring the mind to centre on a point that is indelibly good, bring in action that speaks gratitude into a behaviour, and before we know it, we find we’ve activated purpose that manifests in joy.
Spiritual attack is the battle of the mind through a heart that feels crushed.
If we focus our mind on ONE THING that is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable—anything that is excellent or praiseworthy—and we “think on these things”—the God of PEACE will be with us. (Philippians 4:8-9)
The flailing heart is rescued the moment the mind is made safe and secure again.
A case on point. On a recent sojourn into dejection I simply heard my wife reading to my son. It was her voice I centred on for some reason. Instead of lazing about, I got to work on the dishes as she read the story, and, as I worked away focusing on her sweet, loving voice, within ten minutes the inbound spiritual attack had been transformed into a victory of praise.
I had overcome the attack through gratitude.
So profoundly simple!

Photo by Greg Rakozy on Unsplash

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

When life is unmanageable and that’s GOOD news!

The first step in the 12-step recovery process is when we come to an understanding that our life as it now stands is unmanageable. I say it is an understanding, because, until we reach that point, we continue to meander in our own strength, and it is heartbreaking for others as they watch on.
We can go years upon years in the unmanageable mode. It’s the addict’s life, and I’m not just talking about the more commonly known forms of addiction. Sometimes we can be addicted to a toxic way of life that simply doesn’t work. For instance, a hard-hearted way of life.
Life wears us down, and I was going to say, “if we’re not careful,” but the truth is, life wears us down even when we are careful. It’s the nature of life that we cop a loss here, a trauma there, a betrayal someplace else, along with a bundle of stresses continually. Truth be told, many of our lives are just plain depressing if we spend too long analysing the litany of grief we carry. The only encouragement (and it is a great encouragement) is we’re not alone!
We may have become addicted to complaint, to negative outlook, to a glass half empty.
Before we know it, we’re carrying a gunnysack of hurt and it gets buried so deep inside us that hardness-of-heart is the only sign of it. This is not a hardness of heart because we’re not empathic; it’s actually a hardness of heart BECAUSE we’re empathic. Life has hurt us too much.
Where life becomes unmanageable in this is when we live a life committed to Christian gratitude, but that sense for thankfulness ran aground long ago—when we’re honest.
It is seriously GOOD NEWS when God utters a word of admonishment as we find ourselves spiritually dry and we see ourselves behaving in dispassionate, and even critical ways. When God does this, we come to say of ourselves, “How could it have gotten this bad; my heart is hard!”
The deeper we dig, the more likely we are to find that it is a mountain of buried hurt that sits just below the surface.
I have come to that place where I recognised that the combination of losses, disappointments, betrayals, a pile of stresses, and a good measure of grief—hurts as a sum—have taken their toll. The moment I saw my heart I knew it was a four-year revelation, bang on time. In the one same moment I was both distraught and relieved—I knew what was wrong and I could do something about it, but I have a lot of recovery work (reflection and restitution) to do. Was it my fault that I had developed a shitty heart? It doesn’t matter. It’s my opportunity to resolve it. Repentance is empowerment; I can do something about it to be grateful again.
There is nothing quite like seeing work for yourself to do as a way of not feeling hard done by. Suddenly there is action needed, and that is neither depressing nor is it shaming.
When we finally decide that our lives have become unmanageable it is SUCH good news! We stand in a valley where the fog has been cleared away. It’s a long way to ascend the hill to triumph, but at least we can see the wood for the trees.
The first step we must take in our hardness of heart is to recognise that life is unmanageable if we’re ungrateful all the time. If we’re Christians and, worse, ministers, we make first class hypocrites when gratitude has become a mirage.
For a Christian to lose their grip on gratitude it is a crisis. It leads to a life that’s unmanageable as far as the commitment to follow Christ is concerned. And this is good news, for when God does knock at the hard door of our heart, we hear that knock and we’re shocked as to how bad things have come to be.
But such a knock only comes when life has become unmanageable. God makes us aware of a crisis in order for us to put a desperate plan of restoration together. That’s GOOD news!

Photo by Nadine Shaabana on Unsplash

Saturday, November 30, 2019

When your mind is stuck in the dark night in-between time

“How long, LORD?” cried the psalmist. “Will you forget me forever?”
“How long will you hide your face from me?”
In the Bible? These words? Yes. Psalm 13 to be exact.
It’s a crazy, quick 6-verse psalm that finishes in praise.
There’s only one problem. Many of us are stuck in that long period of the dark night where all cognisance of God’s goodness seems missing, even if we know we’ve got so much to be thankful for.
I really don’t care for people who will say, “That guy/gal has so much to be thankful for yet look at them whinge… so ungrateful!”
I care for the one, who, though they seem estranged to a constancy of joy, is honest, and they live the fact that Christians face depression, anxiety, grief, trauma, burnout and the like.
Many of the most ardent Christians are defined by the strength of their doubting. By the fact that they’ve been in their dark night in-between time so long is testament of their resolve for the Lord.
There is a trouble, however, in being in this waystation far from home for too long. We can forget what home looks and feels like, and we can fail to recognise the signs that we’re actually AT home; it’s just a new home that we haven’t yet recognised as good. This is scary in that, if we don’t feel at home now, we can become concerned, “will I ever feel at home again?”
I’m here to tell you, I hear you.
Trauma certainly takes us on a track where we find it hard to trust we’re safe.
As we travel through this in-between time that appears as the dark night that St John of the Cross described to us as a time where God’s Presence feels missing, we’d be forgiven for pondering giving up. Yet, such is God’s goodness faithful, we find we’re given just enough strength not to give up.
It is this kind of faith that pleases God most—that which keeps stepping despite doubt enough to seriously consider giving up very often.
Think of the final words of Habakkuk (chapter 3, verses 17-18):
“Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.”
The reality is this: only as we continue to step out our weary journey, sustained by as little as keeps us going, somehow with an assurance of God’s goodness, but without even feeling it, are we being primed for something infinitely better. Stay the course my friend.

Photo by Allef Vinicius on Unsplash

Friday, November 29, 2019

If you never feel lonelier than at Thanksgiving

Anyone who’s ever been there knows the serendipitous sorrow of a time like Thanksgiving for millions of people whether they choose to acknowledge it or not.
Those who hate the concept of Thanksgiving, because it’s either not a personally felt phenomenon at all, or there remains so much still to be reconciled, have nowhere to run, when society lashes all to the mast of gratitude and joy.
There’s the day itself, of course, but then there’s also the season beforehand and all the hype, and then there is the steady trickle of stories of “what I did this Thanksgiving.”
It’s all too much for all too many people. And though we can all celebrate the IDEA of giving thanks, because we most of us already know that that’s the way to truly live life, for far too many there is loneliness upon isolation upon frustration upon lament upon even the triggering of horrendous trauma.
Let’s just say it here. It happens, it’s normal (even if it feels abhorrently abnormal to feel this way on a “day of celebration”), and it’s valid. There’s nothing more valid I would say than a situation where we CANNOT celebrate what makes us nauseated.
There are those for which Thanksgiving and all it stands for is hard. And it may always be hard. For the concept of harvest and of provision, still so many have not reaped what they have sown. Perhaps it’s a case of no matter what we sow we will never reap what we have lost. That’s just sad! Let’s just be honest.
If we’ve not reaped what we’ve sown, it is faith and faith alone that keeps us sowing in the hope of an eventual reaping. And that reaping may simply be a true and real acceptance of a new normal.
So, may we hear the gentle voice of the Saviour: “Well done, good and faithful servant, for continuing to sow especially when you’re weary… PLEASE do not grow weary in sowing in faith, for at the proper time you WILL reap a harvest of what you need if you do not give up.”
And even where you have sown and you’ve grown tired of sowing, seek rest and replenishment, because you know how long the journey is, and there is but one option left when we’re tired. God allows us to “give up” for a day. Perhaps Thanksgiving is that day.
As the Autumn leaves fall, it’s a reminder that growth is always a changing context.
Even though God must feel so silent when we’re at the depths of the abyss, God does know intimately what we’re dealing with, and God does care. How do I know? God is closer to those who need him most. It’s not until we look back that we recognise this. Afterwards we will know.
Here is to your “afterwards.”

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Reassurance in a moment of spiritual crisis

It happens to me once or twice a month; an intense hit I take, and it leaves me flat, sad, beyond hope, essentially despairing. Everything within my mind and body seems at war. I can hold it together, if I want, but I hate being fake these days.
Deeper into the journey of turmoil I sit there and admit it’s a spiritual crisis—a crisis of spirit. I don’t know what to do to fix it. I can’t be bothered fixing it. Yet, I hate it that I’m not feeling together.
I know what I need most of all in these tormenting hours. It is connection I need. To talk all the nonsense out. To expel the anger through a safe channel that attenuates harm. To experience the acceptance of, say, my wife as she just listens. To try and find words that might reconcile what is impossible to express. To jettison energy in the attempt to engage. To come to the very end of myself and then be situated in a stillness that has no answers yet accepts.
The reassurance we need when we feel estranged from ourselves can seem distant.
The comfort we strive for when we’re disillusioned and alienated is the connectedness that reminds us what we feel when we’re as far as possible from loneliness. When all our needs feel met. There’s an intrinsic satisfaction in feeling connected to ourselves. These times we either want to connect others, get creative, or sink into a soothing meditation.
Moments of spiritual crisis occur when we’re deep in estrangement, when all about us feels itchy within, and when we just cannot put our finger on what’s wrong. We may feel frustrated and annoyed, but the real issue is sorrow for what feels horrible and fear that we’ve truly lost our way.
Reassurance is found in resting in the truth that through connection we will find our way again. Not through dissociation though. The last thing we need is to depart into a dangerous temptation—a drink, a drug, a bet, a fancy or a fantasy, and any other escape.
Escape promises a counterfeit sense of connection that is opposite to connection and only exacerbates our problems. It takes us further than ever from a meeting with ourselves. Escape is a hideous betrayal of connection when connection could change everything.
Reassurance is received through reconnection to ourselves through facing our lonely reality. Through honesty, no matter how painful it is, we are reconnected with ourselves.

Photo by frank mckenna on Unsplash

Monday, November 25, 2019

Acknowledging the presence of unknown spiritual attack

There is a feeling that is familiar that is also disconcerting. It’s an anxious feeling. It’s the sense that there is something not quite right, or even a preparation for something quite untoward.
The presence of an unknown source of mild bewilderment, of not being able to put our finger on it, of feeling flat (or what I call, ‘blah’), and especially of noting with that the slightest sense of fear (that often builds slowly into full blown anxiety), is often an insidious form of spiritual attack.
Spiritual attack is often inbound when we’re on the cusp of a vitalising change, at the end of a crucial period of transformation, or any other time when the enemy wants to slide on in with deft subtlety that we don’t figure. At the least likely time (as we figure) God’s ever prowling enemy threatens to devour.
This is why it is so important ever to realise the simple truths of God’s Word in James 4:7-8. As we draw near to God, even in a flatness that cannot be explained, God draws near to us. God is ever close, but we can only get the succour we need when we actually desire it; such is the love of God, he will not coerce us with the heavenly aid of the Spirit against our will.
There are some matters that, in terms of spiritual attack, beg to be mentioned, namely grief and trauma, for which we’re all susceptible.
The often-hidden impact of grief and trauma
Grief is a subtle force weaving its way from within our unconscious mind right up to make an impression at the surface of our conscious thought. We may discern it as a reticence to engage with life.
Levels below the consciousness of everyday thought lurk griefs that have been put off (denied) and traumas that we haven’t yet been able to interrogate.
Not all unknown spiritual attacks form because of griefs or traumas that haven’t been processed, but, in the spirit of the prayer of Psalm 139:23-24, it’s always a good place to start. We could wonder if God is asking, “Could it be that there is something within the last few years, or even something much earlier in life, that is still as yet to be reconciled?”
If we take God seriously, we take this enquiry into our prayers and meditate, a la Psalm 1:2, on the possibility of our unconscious mind having something to say.
The process of venturing deeper into the possibilities of grief and trauma is a search upon a learning journey this is as much about deconstruction as it is about reconstruction. Inevitably it’s all part of the spiritual journey. If only we will trust the journey to God.
The enemy’s hatred of the advancement of the Kingdom of God
Of course, much spiritual attack is propagated simply because the enemy hates us succeeding for the Kingdom of God. Such success isn’t something the world necessarily calls success, however.
Success in the upside-down Kingdom is an economy that wins nothing in this world but is full of favour and power in the Spirit.
Where we’re able to simply trust in an in-between season, or where patience and peace are ours in a way that transcends our understanding, or where there is an embracing of powerful community, the enemy is under threat, because we’re being shown things in the Spirit that we can neither deny nor can we backslide from.
The enemy knows that once we see the riches of God’s Kingdom we can never unsee them. The moment we taste and see that God is wholly good, we do not and cannot look back.
If we can acknowledge the presence of an unknown spiritual attack is inbound, we have discerned something that we may well be blessed to take seriously.
Seeing what we ordinarily would not see takes humility only found in a servant of God.
One thing for sure. If you’re targeted by an unknown oppression it is as much as anything a sign that your desire to please God has upset God’s enemy. That’s a sign if anything to keep going.

Friday, November 22, 2019

For those about to be traumatised… for the first time

We don’t get it until we get it. It’s the same deal in every arena in life.
Someone asked me recently, “How can those around the narcissist not see what the victims see?” It’s a really simple answer.
Because, on the one hand, those around the narcissist are unconsciously enmeshed in loyalty to them, whilst on the other, they haven’t experienced ‘the switch’. In a highly conditional relationship, loyalty keeps them safe. People usually have absolutely no idea—and cannot see—the subtle nuances that are unparalleled in their wrongness. Until. There is a crossing. As soon as there is a challenge to that loyalty—it could be as simple as a disagreement—the switch occurs. Conditions become apparent. Ultimatums are not unusual. In other words, they’re saying, “get back in line… or face the consequences.” (Now, there are many roles in life where getting back in line is necessary. It’s all in the way it’s done, what the relationship is, and the presence or absence of virtues like patience, respect, courtesy and kindness.)
What we’re delving into is common through life. Until we experience certain things it’s as if they don’t happen. This is one reason why when bad things happen to us, they can be seen as educative. That doesn’t mean we appreciate what’s happened.
Before we’ve been traumatised by an incident, by assault, by loss, or by abuse, we really cannot conceive what it entails, the suddenness of it, the brutality of the impact, the instant barrenness of soul that’s felt, the levels and depths of betrayal in some cases—all of which are truly fathomless.
Before we’ve been traumatised, we can see those who are traumatised as something of a problem. Or, if they’re loved ones or friends we can be in a situation where we watch on and empathise as best we can, without truly understanding.
Before we suffer traumatising events ourselves, when we’re not close to those who have suffered trauma, we can tend to doubt them, or think they’re lying, that it’s a fabrication, or that it’s only weak people who are ‘damaged’.
We might wonder why they can’t let go of it and their responses may even significantly frustrate us. We may wonder why they don’t listen to us. Before we’re afflicted by assault or loss or abuse and are affected by trauma, we can have some pretty strange concepts of this phenomenon of grief, and only afterwards—after we’ve experienced this kind of affliction—do we see the blindness of this. Suddenly the light flickers on within us; “Ah, I get it now!”
We just don’t get it until our world is rocked. Quickly we grow expansively in empathy and understanding. Grief matures us.
For those about to be traumatised, your world is about to change, and you will have no way back to the way life was. I am so sorry.
For those about to be traumatised, you are about to learn new things that will demand the unlearning of old things. You may be forced into a ‘new normal’ which you would never choose if you didn’t need to. This will feel brutal. Really—I am so sorry.
You will question very many parts about yourself in this process. This is grief; one of the worst kinds—the losing or deconstruction of self. This kind of grief is so hard to reconcile. 
Add to the complicated nature of grief that undoes oneself, bring in the sticky nature of trauma. Trauma’s impacts stick. It does your head in. Our first instances of trauma change us irrevocably.
We must cling to the hope that a palatable new normal is possible, even probable.
The new normal will involve a bigger version of ourselves that learns to 1) accept what we cannot change, 2) change what we can (because we will not leave it as it is), and 3) discern one from two and two from one.
Postscript: I for one think that so many people are traumatised early in childhood in one way or other through adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). It is therefore one thing to discuss the issue of “first traumatic experience” in the adult context, but we must consider that even a “first experience” probably isn’t truly a first experience. There may be experiences we had as children that we weren’t equipped to suffer at the time—i.e. they overwhelmed our capacity to suffer them.

Photo by Johannes Plenio on Unsplash

Thursday, November 21, 2019

The depths of God you can only find through loss

As a fruit of the losses we go through, I want to share with you the one I was given. It was borne out of a revenant experience—and what experience of shattering loss that we cannot escape isn’t a revenant experience?
Loss is the antecedent to a revenant experience.
That is to say, to truly live we must first die. This metaphor is best illustrated in Jesus of Nazareth who went to the cross just days before he was raised in what is indisputably the greatest miracle of all time. Jesus’ death and resurrection is a model for what we’re to follow by metaphor. We follow him by his example.
There is always a compensation for the suffering we go through. To live as that is the truth is faith. We just have to find it. That itself is a faith quest. Yet, even as we do this—head held high in heartbreaking sorrow—which itself is mind-bending paradox—do we stay in the game, so to speak.
The longer—the more frustrating, the more we come to the end of ourselves—the experience of living in that liminal space of pain, learning to bear it honestly in sorrow amid the gamut of emotions before God, the deeper God takes us into his own heart. But this is always juxtaposed by equivalencies of support and encouragement—hence the importance of community!
Only as we hold steadfastly to the ideal that there will be—and therefore IS—a compensation for what we’re suffering do we reject overtures to give up and hold out for something entirely better. We can only do this one day at a time, even as time just about grinds to a halt.
Good does come at the end of the road of a faith that insists that good is coming. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy. But dying to ourselves will always feel like hell. We must not forget that Jesus has overcome hell.
It starts as a revenant experience, for in dying to ourselves—which, check and see, is a biblical imperative—we come to live out of a power that is not our own.
Imagine that it is impossible to attain to living as a revenant without bearing loss. Can you see, therefore, that even in the event and circumstance of loss, we are being promoted to a heavenly glory even as we live and breathe in this life? Even as we suffer in the pit of grief we are given access to a living death that precedes a glorious resurrection.
These words were ushered into me several years after I endured my revenant experience: I am cosmically alone with God. I believe they were God’s words for me.
I would recite it in Greek:          έγω  έιμι  κοσμικον  μονου  μετα  θεον
Sound weird? Sound kind of lonely and sad?
The reality for me was (and is) everything that means everything to me. Suddenly, out of loss, what was discovered is, if loss cannot kill us, nothing can. Having experienced and survived that taste of revenant death, nothing of this world truly brings us close to that kind of ‘death’. Sure, we can still slip into our humanity and lose our way. It happens still so often. BUT, there is an opposite image in the Spirit that is, in a flash, returned to.
Once the Spirit is given to us, we cannot return, indefinitely, to what was.
It is not the end of our life to experience something very close and akin to the end of our life. Indeed, it is actually the beginning. In alignment with what Paul said, “When I am weak, I am strong,” we learn that enduring death to ourselves bestows an inextinguishable hope, and this hope cannot be learned without traversing the journey of grief.
See how good grief is?

Monday, November 18, 2019

A conversation with God about self-destructive thinking

Why does my heart feel so bad? 
I do know, Lord. Well, at least I have an idea. But why is this anger that is turned on within me, against me? Like most of my prayers, God, this will have the shape of incoherence about it, but at least I know you’re listening, even if it feels like I’m speaking to myself.
Oh, you do seek an honest prayer… thank you that I can be “me” before you.
Why is it that anger turns to destruction of another or self-destruction? I cannot bear to intentionally harm another person, so I turn all that torrent of self-recrimination on myself. I hate the very idea that I could cause another person harm, and yet that hatred zeroes back in upon me like a heat-seeking missile.
I understand it’s the trauma speaking, God. I hear the Spirit’s gently soothing truth: “Go gently now.” It just doesn’t help instantly, when I’m clamouring for help.
Help me receive the grace that I would feel healed amid this tyranny right now. Cause me and anyone else who is in this state to feel the gentle breeze of your shalom waft in, through and over, to a cellular level. Cool the heat of this inner corrosion in us.
Even in the throes of this inward attack, would you come in and like you do, give calm to the angst our souls bear. Give us the bearings of love that our loved ones feel for us, not least yourself, the God of our creation, who loves us like no other one can.
You get me because you get everyone you made. You know how things shake our entire world and being. In the desperation of the one who feels tormented by a triggering they couldn’t foresee let alone control, give the semblance of control that prevents the spiral into self-destruction.
Feeling triggered for trauma or being anxious to the point of being self-destructive, whether it’s what we’re thinking or acting out or both, is a scary place to be. Nothing scarier. We know we’re not alone, but it feels like we’re the only ones on the face of the earth driven to the end of ourselves.
You are not alone. You are not alone.
Being beautifully sensitive and empathic, courageous enough to be vulnerable to trust without doubt, we take opportunities to live our faith—but that leaves us susceptible to provocations and events that shake us down. Then we feel we cannot trust when we know we ought to. Feelings of confusion swarm.
We’re susceptible because of the scope and range of our hearts that were built to love and be loved. Open-hearted, our hearts were pierced. Open handed, our hands were slapped. 
What hurts, hurts. Whatever hurts, if we won’t counterattack, takes us to a place of absorption. We absorb the hurt in the power of God, but inevitably in God’s goodness we cannot contain that which is nasty within. God insists that what’s toxic is bad for us, and that IT must go!
So, in bearing a hurt that cannot be contained, in refusing to attack others, when attacking others helps nobody, we have to find another way to process what will poison us in self-destruction if we’re not careful.
We process that by talking.
We must talk.
We must speak these toxins out into space and time.
Speaking the toxins out saves us and heals us.
Speaking the toxins out saves us hurting others.
Speaking the toxins out takes courage.
Speaking the toxins out honours the Lord.
We talk with God in cries, yelps and screams. Long nights of sobbing. Days waiting for night to come. Waiting for time when we can be alone with God.
We may also talk with a beautifully empathic pastoral carer, too. Someone who big-hearted enough to allow the manifestation of the toxins to pungently flow. We tell our stories in sadness and in repetition as we need to. These are long stories and they’re said more than we thought they would need to be said.
And by that, in the seconds of engagement, God heals us again.
God’s heart is desperate that we would reach up in the wisdom of faith that’s birthed in a poverty of hope.