Good Friday…in One Verse

On a Dark Friday
photo © 2006 Jackie | more info (via: Wylio)


God made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

2 Corinthians 5:21

Pain is Not Un-Christian

C. S.Image via Wikipedia

One of my favourite authors is C.S. Lewis. I love his Narnia series, and I have read them out loud about five times now: once to my cousins when they were young; once as a camp counsellor; and three times to my children.

I also challenged myself a few summers ago to read through his non-fiction works, and I did. I loved Surprised by Joy (you can read my comments on it here), but I was really touched by A Grief Observed. As someone who has also gone through grief, I found it real, refreshing, and melancholy. And perhaps it was the melancholy that I liked. This wasn’t one of these “Just look to God and all will be joyful again!” type of books. This was one of those “sometimes life is just awful”. And isn’t that closer to the truth?

Today, for Good Friday, I thought it might be good to return to this question about how the dark moments fit into our lives as Christians. I think that it’s a misnomer that Christians are always supposed to be happy and nothing is supposed to get to us. God, after all, is a God who cries. Perhaps the times that we are closest to Him, Lewis once said, are not in times of ecstasy but instead in times of grief. That is when we touch God’s heart the most, and understand the tears that He shed.

I don’t think we should be ashamed of our tears, or think that it means we haven’t healed, haven’t surrendered, haven’t advanced. This world is fallen, and life is pain. God understands that. To be a Christian is not to feel no pain; it is to have God carry you when that pain comes.

I have written books about emotional healing, and I’m working on another right now. Again and again I hit a brick wall when I really dig deeply into the way the church often handles pain. We think that it is something that we need to get over, that the pain itself is somehow an aberration of life, a betrayal of faith, and something from which we must emerge.

I’m not so sure. I think joy and pain can coexist; and to think that pain must be banished is also, I believe, to banish love. Pain is simply what we feel when the object of love is taken from us. It is a loss. In that loss, we often feel God’s love much more acutely, and hence that is why pain and joy often are experienced together. But to say that a grieving parent must somehow get over their grief, or that a betrayed wife must heal from her loneliness, I find harsh. I don’t think God asks us to heal; I think God asks us to turn to Him in these times, and it is then that we are given strength, and mercy, and peace.

My mother does not pine over my father, who left her over 35 years ago. She has a full and rich life, though it did not turn out the way she would have hoped. But every year, at Christmas, when we sing a certain hymn at church, it all comes flooding back: the desperation she felt, realizing she would be a single mother at 29; the loneliness; the grief; the betrayal. Because she sang that song to me in the midst of her grief, it has the power to take her back, and she feels briefly sad again. It does not mean that God has not ministered to her; it is just a reminder that this life is hard, and that we do still bear the marks of a fallen world while we walk upon this world.

If you are bearing those marks more acutely today, I do understand. I have been betrayed by a father. I have lost a son. And I can tell you, too, that I also experience great joy. There were days, though, when I couldn’t feel God, and when it was all I could do to breathe.

I wrote a little book about it called How Big Is Your Umbrella: Weathering the Storms of Life. If you’re sick of Christian books that tell you that you should be happy, you’ll appreciate this. And if you have a friend walking through sorrow, and you don’t know what to say, it can help.

And today of all days, I hope that, if you are walking through sorrow, grief, or even just a funk, that you will still be able to turn to God, even in that pain. He is there, and often He feels closest when we feel the most vulnerable. May you feel God carry you.

Why Do You Look for the Living Among the Dead?

Good morning, everyone!

I had quite the Easter weekend. First, a group of 15 kids from the Mulli Children’s Family in Kenya are in town for two weeks while they prepare for their choir tour in the fall. I’m helping them put together their program, so almost everything else has been on hold.

In the middle of all that, I threw a surprise 40th birthday party for my husband on Saturday night. Seventy people showed up and we had a great game, including throwing a pie in his face (I’ve always wanted to do that), and a big SQUARE DANCE! That is not as geeky as it sounds, and even the most die-hard “you’ll never get me up there dancing” people had a great time.

Then, of course, there were all the Easter services. Exhausting.

So now we begin a new week, and I thought I would post some Easter thoughts I had.

I was focusing on the verse in Luke 24:5, that says,

In their fright, the women bowed down with their faces to the ground. But the men said to them, “why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here. He has risen!”.

All weekend I couldn’t get that thought out of my head: “why do you look for the living among the dead?”.

Don’t we do that? Don’t we look for something to satisfy our longing among things that never can? Don’t we look for fulfillment among things that will never fulfill?

Don’t we spend so much time watching television in order to “have fun” or “relax”, and then feel this vague uneasiness afterwards, because we’ve wasted a night and it wasn’t edifying? And we didn’t spend time talking with our families instead?

Or take sex for a minute. Don’t we look for the next sexual high in similar ways to how our culture does–focusing on the body or the next, best sex trick–instead of realizing the potential that making love has for building a deep spiritual bond between a husband and a wife?

We spend our lives looking for something that gives life among things that don’t. And I’m not talking about people who don’t believe in God. I’m talking about people who do. We go to church, we love God, but how often do we squander our time and energy and even dreams on things that aren’t the point of our lives?

He is risen. He is alive. And He can give us power to live a big, amazing life. But that will only happen when we start to realize that He is the point of our lives, not entertainment, or leisure, or fun. It will only happen when we realize that true joy is so much more than fleeting entertainment. Only when we lay down our dreams of material success and focus on being purposeful will we feel that we are moving forward in this life.

Do not look for the living among the dead. Don’t base your life in things that don’t satisfy. Those are my Easter thoughts, and they have inspired me to spend more time with my kids again, and focus on relationships, rather than jobs and entertainment. What about you?

The End of the Story

Every Friday my syndicated column appears in a variety of papers, and today is no exception. What’s different is that it’s Good Friday today, and my current column doesn’t touch on that. So I’m going to reprint a Good Friday column from a few years ago, since it more reflects my mood today. Today’s column I’ll post tomorrow!

As parents, we try to impress on our children important lessons about life. If you’re nice, people will tend to be nice to you. Eat well and you’ll be healthy. Listen to your teacher and you’ll learn. But there’s one lesson we learn all by ourselves. Sometimes life just isn’t fair.

I was reminded of this anew last week by a long-dreaded email. It was the invitation to a funeral for a woman I had known years ago. We were never close, though I do know her family. But her story makes me cry nonetheless. When a 31-year-old woman dies, leaving a husband and two children who are too young to even remember her, what is there to do but cry?

I know what it is to bury someone you love. I am still haunted by the memory of my husband picking up my son’s tiny casket, and carrying it to his grave. Such things are the very blackest parts of life.

When we are in mourning like this we face a crossroads. The most inviting route is often the grimmest, for in our darkness, despair is almost welcome. I believe, though, that there is another choice. As difficult as it is, we must not let death steal our life.

I will never be the same since my son died. I only had him for 29 days, but they were the most precious of my life, and I will cherish them forever. My friend Kerry only had two years to smile upon her children, but her mark is still there, for it is the mark of an undying love. And that’s what love is—undying. Death does not end a relationship. It only changes it.

My grandfather was married three times to three wonderful women. He had each wife for almost the same number of years before cancer stole all of them, until, at the age of 88, he decided maybe it was time to remain single until he was called home. In these later years his house was adorned by pictures of all the women he had loved—the grandmother I never knew, the one I had called “Nana”, and the one who had stood so proudly at my wedding. He had such sorrow in his life, but his life was also bigger for allowing room both for love and for grief. We cannot, and should not, block out our tears. They are just as much a part of love as the hugs and kisses were. But let us not shut out the smiles, too. Smiles and tears can coexist. And that is the challenge that, I think, faces all of us at that bleak crossroads.

Perhaps it is appropriate to be thinking such thoughts as Easter is upon us. After all, on Good Friday life seemed extremely unfair. The Teacher was dead. And yet, the story did not end on Good Friday. For Sunday was just around the corner, and on that day we were shown, once and for all, that the bad is not the end of the story.
I do not know if you believe the Good Friday story; I do, and it’s one reason I can smile through the tears. Yet all of us, at some point, will need to decide how to deal with the grave. Dylan Thomas once wrote “Do not go gently into that good night; rage, rage against the dying of the light”. It’s poetic, it’s passionate, and I think it’s wrong. Death is not the dying of the light.

Changes come, even those that aren’t welcome. But with those changes often comes a greater ability to love and cherish both those we can hug, and those who are now beyond our reach. The bad is not the end of the story; the sorrow is not all that is being told. Life may not be fair, but it is still good, and there is so much more to be written. That’s a lesson no one can teach us. We must learn it ourselves as we stand at the crossroads, reject despair, and choose the road bathed in tears, but cloaked in love.