Is Disappointment a Hidden Grief?

I spend a lot of time these days looking for things. Just yesterday, I finally found my half-full coffee cup in the bedroom closet. (Doesn’t everyone sit in the closet and drink their coffee? Actually, it makes me wonder where I hung my blouse. I’ll probably find it in the refrigerator.) I misplace my cellphone quite often, too. It’s pretty sad that I’ve entered myself on speed-dial from my landline, but hey, it works. Whatever. These items could definitely be found more quickly if I just knew where to look. I know they’re somewhere, but I don’t know where somewhere is!

Likewise, when we find ourselves searching, not for coffee cups and cellphones, but for comfort when we feel melancholy, sad, disappointed and unhappy, we don’t always know where to look. As believers, we surely look to Christ as our eternal hope, but often we don’t realize what kind of practical, everyday resources God has provided to meet our need for a settled soul.. We just know that something feels “off”, or life just feels unfair at times, or our soul can’t seem to find the believer’s promised joy. It’s my opinion that much of the time when we feel unsettled and sad, we’re really struggling with an issue that may not be so obvious to us at first. We have to look…..

Are you grieving and don’t know it? Most of the time we associate grief with death. It’s a natural reaction to the loss of a loved one, a pet, or a friend. We Google about the five stages of grief, and use those stages as a filter to assess where we may be in the process of the loss, and wonder if we’re moving through them in a healthy manner. However, have you thought about the process you go through when you’ve experienced any kind of important loss, other than death? Losses that come to my mind are loss of a job and the accompanying loss of income, loss of health, loss of reputation, loss of a relationship, loss of a marriage, or loss of an expected hope, dream, or idea. We don’t usually think of these kinds of losses as “grief issues”, and can go about our days wondering how to combat the anger, frustration, and disappointment. We try and cover up our sadness through creating diversions and substitutions, i.e. staying busy, using drugs and alcohol to feel better, making jokes, working excessively, immersing ourselves in hobbies, spending hours in online activity, etc.

Can you identify with feeling disappointed in something that didn’t turn out the way you had hoped? A relationship, a dream, an event, or even the way your life has turned out? As I’ve written in a previous post, at some point we realize that life is not heaven on earth. Even though we may feel as though the Lord has left us hanging hopelessly, He has graciously provided to us the means to deal with losses. This blog post isn’t meant to walk you through the stages of grief. There have been whole books dedicated to that topic. My goal here is to acquaint you with the fact that you will mourn ANY loss in your life, and it will impact you in some way, depending on how deeply you’ve attached yourself to what’s now missing. Obviously, the loss of a loved one will have a greater impact on you, but if you’ve envisioned or experienced something in your life that you were counting on, or hoping to happen which didn’t materialize, then you’re going to grieve the loss of it, no matter how minor it may seem.

I believe everyone has, at some point, imagined what they’d hoped their life would look like. For years, I had wanted to have a large family. I love children, and I had imagined myself being joyfully surrounded by little curtain-climbing, crumb-snatchers who would keep me over-worked and under-paid. The Lord had other plans, however, and He saw fit to give us one child (whom we love dearly), and two miscarriages. It has taken the realization on my part, over the years, to recognize that the picture I had in mind for my life not only looks different than I had imagined, but that I had been grieving the loss of my dream or idea of having a large family (as well as the loss of the two miscarried babies).

I have shared this disappointment with you to perhaps cause you to think differently about grief. I encourage you to ponder any personal sadness, or if you wrestle with the pangs of a disquieted soul in some way. Your Creator has promised you rest in Him, but there are times you may feel abandoned and unprotected by the very One who made you. There are times when we may wonder if God truly has our best interest at heart.

In Psalm 22, David was living through this kind of experience. God had promised David the throne to serve as king of Judah, and eventually all of Israel, yet he found himself often running and hiding from his enemies who wanted to kill him. This surely didn’t feel to David like God had been faithful to His promises. David was certainly not living the life he had imagined, nor was he particularly experiencing any kumbaya moments in his assessment of where God had left him. In fact, Psalm 22, starts off with David’s address to God crying, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Sound familiar?) So, as much as David had faithfully demonstrated his devotion to God in the past, he poured out his troubled soul in this psalm. He dared to state what was real, not necessarily what sounded right. He was lamenting. This is the gracious means the Lord has also given us to respectfully express our doubts, fears, disappointments, complaints, and sorrows. A lament is a way we can mourn our losses and cry out truthfully to God as to how we feel. However, it isn’t a vehicle to simply get in touch with our real thoughts and feelings. It’s also a process to remind us that God can be trusted. A lament usually (but not always) has a pattern or structure consisting of distinct parts, but not necessarily in any particular order. The following components are most always included in a lament, and I’d encourage you to think about writing your own:

First, an address to God is present. In other words, who is the lament directed toward? David was crying out to God as indicated in verse 1, where he says, “O, God.” Sometimes, in other laments, he uses the address, “O, Lord.”

Second, there is a complaint. Simply put, David states what he feels is wrong. He says to God, in verse 2, “O my God, I cry out to you by day, but you do not answer, by night, and am not silent.” In the case of your personal lament, as an example, you might say, “Lord, I’ve asked you again and again, but I don’t feel like you’ve heard me. “

Third, there is a petition. “Lord, I ask for your help. Do not be far from me.” What are you asking God to do for you? In David’s case, be was asking God to deliver him and rescue him from danger. You might say, “Deliver me from sadness. Help me to see your faithfulness. “

Fourth, there is usually a confession of trust, words of assurance, and/or a vow of praise spoken. David ends Psalm twenty-two with an emphatic profession of trust as he remembers who God is, even through his wrestling. Who is God to you? A tower of deliverance, your refuge and strength, your fortress and shield? You might say, “Because I know you care for me, I will trust you.”

These lament components don’t predictably appear in any certain order. What’s interesting to note is that David switches back and forth from complaining to trusting, and then complaining again to petitioning, with words of assurance sprinkled all through, as though be couldn’t settle his mind. He was being human as he moved through different thoughts and feelings. However, he ALWAYS landed on who God was, and through that lens he issued his complaints and petitions, even though the circumstances hadn’t changed and may not in the future.

There are a surprising number of laments in the Psalms. Even though we often think of the Book of Psalms as expressions of prayer, praise and worship, forty-five forms of laments can be found throughout! Even though the laments always contain the complaint over the current situation, the writer remembers that the Lord’s ultimate purposes can be trusted, because of His enduring faithfulness to sustain. Notice, there is a big difference between having a whine-fest and lamenting. The former says, “I don’t like this, please change my circumstances.” The latter says, “I don’t like this, please change my circumstances, however, remind me that you are my God and I can trust you, even if the situation doesn’t change.”

Why is understanding a lament important for us to know? Because a lament is what God has given us as a good place to land in a situation of loss. God knows what you’re sad about, He knows why you’re possibly angry with Him, He knows that you feel you’ve been let down. When you’re willing to be honest with Him through a lament, it gives you a more real relationship, and it demonstrates to you that He can lovingly deal with respectful honesty. As you lament, you’re reminded that He listens, He loves, and He redeems.

I again encourage you to pen your own lament about those instances where your soul isn’t settled. You have been given personal access to the only One who can heal your brokenness because of what Christ has done for you. Take full advantage of the opportunity to have an honest conversation with the great Healer. I have done this many times over, as I’ve faced disappointments, and it’s the surest way too release what the Enemy would love to nurture. Believer, Turn Around and look. The Lord knows your thoughts, and He hears your heart. They aren’t lost on Him. If you identify with grief in order to explain your feelings of loss or various disappointments…no matter how minor…you’ll find that a lament to Him will be your settling comfort. Just as David struggled, your lament will be a reminder that the Lord hasn’t abandoned you in your pain and sadness, despite your possibly unchanged circumstances. Cry out to Him….ask the Holy Spirit to guide you as you write it down. He is faithful.

Umbrellas in a Tent?

Imagine yourself at an evening, outdoor wedding reception. You know… the ginormous white tent, crisp table linens, fragrant flower centerpieces, little white lights strung across the ceiling, and a DJ who is fully eager to assault your eardrums with any song that has ever been recorded. (Definitely, The Isley Brothers singing ‘Shout’ is in the queue.) Now, imagine sometime during the evening, it begins to rain. Strangely, even though everyone knows the tent will keep them perfectly dry, they each (including you), pull out an umbrella and raise it, knowing full well that the tent is solid and not leaky. You never know…. maybe the tent won’t be adequate. I’ll raise my umbrella anyway… just to be safe.

Not only would this scenario look hilariously ridiculous, but it would be totally unnecessary, right? Maybe not….if people believe that the tent won’t hold and therefore, won’t fully protect them. Then, and only then, would they be convinced that an umbrella would serve to give them additional protection, just to be extra-sure.

We all may think the umbrella scenario sounds totally silly because we’d certainly never be so obsessive. Think again. We do behave and think like this, as we live under God’s sufficient tent of saving grace for those who believe. We create unnecessary safeguards for insurance to protect ourselves from God’s displeasure. We jockey for assurance of our acceptance by Him, just in case His saving grace isn’t enough. Just like the umbrellas did in the tent…we attempt to make good use of our Umbrella Policy against soul-condemning liability.

A little history….Do you remember in John 19:30, as Jesus was hanging on the cross before his impending death, that he uttered the familiar last words, “It is finished?” He knew His death was imminent. However, his words weren’t casually referring to the fact that He was going to stop breathing. His statement was declaring the fact that His death would be the means of God’s sufficient grace (as a tent) to cover our sin, and that a right relationship with God would be established for us by His sacrifice. As a result, no longer would we be judged by our Maker according to how far we’ve fallen from keeping the perfect requirements of the Law. Jesus is the One who accomplished all of that for us…. it was finished by the perfect sacrifice of Himself. We would no longer need to offer all the required sacrifices to appease God’s wrath. We would no longer need to worry about our acceptability to God…. nothing more would be needed for cover. We can now rest in the sufficient accomplishment of the Cross, which no longer requires any attempts at “extra credit” or “brownie points” to please God. Christ knew God’s tent of grace would cover all who are in Him, and our relationship would be secure forever. Because of this, we no longer would need to worry about our position before God.

Nevertheless, we may think, “I need to do this so that God will be happier with me,” or “I need to do this so that I can make sure I’m safe with God,” or “I need to do this in order to make up for the wrong that I did last week.” In other words, adding anything to the freeing grace of the Cross, is raising an umbrella up for extra protection, just in case Jesus’ death wasn’t enough. Not only is this biblically untrue, but it minimizes what Christ accomplished through His sacrifice. It diminishes the full impact of what He suffered for our sake. When we add something to grace, it says, “I need to complete what Jesus didn’t.” It says, “I believe Jesus needs to be re-crucified in order to correct what failed the first time.” It says, “Jesus needs me to complete my acceptability because my position before God is shaky and uncertain.” How sad. We keep ourselves hopelessly enslaved to the requirements of the Law, and don’t experience the release of being set free.

Jesus eternally satisfied the requirements of God’s law by his death. He was the perfect sacrifice; the Lamb of God. Our attempts to establish a more acceptable position before God, as our judge, are in vain. We have been cleared of our guilt of rebellion against God, and no longer need to be fearful that our Maker will require more. The debt has been paid, and our attempts at “insurance” add nothing.

Let’s look at some of the umbrellas we still attempt to raise all during the week (for extra insurance). Do you think your relationship with God in Christ is more secure when you: go to church, read your Bible, have devotions, volunteer or are employed in a ministry, increase your tithe, go to a Bible Study, or pray more often? These things are spiritual in nature and are God-honoring, but have absolutely nothing to do with your acceptability before Him. Did you know that He loves you no more, and no less, whether you do them or not? Actually, the motivation to do these things should come from the heart, as a response to His saving grace, not as a means to an end. They are attitudes and behaviors that are indicative of our thankfulness and need for Him.

I recently attempted to “raise an umbrella” for extra credit that will hopefully serve to illustrate my point. I had to go to traffic court a few months ago. I had received a ticket for an expired registration sticker on my car. (I nicely pled with the police officer for mercy. Sadly, my tears did nothing but make my mascara run.) Anyway, I appeared in court nicely dressed, thinking the judge would be more lenient if I didn’t show up in flip flops and shorts. Much to my surprise, several people who had committed the same kind of traffic violation as I, were there in clothing which caused me to think, Yikes! Does your mother know what you’re wearing!!? Eventually, my fellow drivers-in-crime and I were called up front to the bench. Okay, Janice, stand up straight, and look contrite. The judge proceeded to go through the list of us offenders one by one, routinely questioning each, “Have you now registered your vehicle? If so, your court cost will be $63.50.” What?? I thought, “Your Honor, surely, you don’t understand… I wore these stinkin’ panty hose just so I’d look more acceptable to you. Do you have ANY idea what a sacrifice that is? Are you saying that even though that other group looks like they’ve been on an all-night drinking binge, they’re just as acceptable to you? They obviously didn’t make any effort to impress you!” I was incredibly shocked and irritated by the fact that it seemed to make no difference to the judge whether or not I had made any attempt, by my attire, for extra insurance. I was no more acceptable to the judge than they, and they hadn’t done anything! The judge had made it crystal clear that the only thing which satisfied the requirements of the law was to have a current registration and to pay a court fee. Period. No attempt on my part to establish a better position before the judge was necessary. It possibly may have been more respectful of me to appear before the judge by dressing up, but only because it was his courtroom, thereby, making a statement of my respect for his position. Likewise, do you think your position before God will be strengthened by your healthy respect, or clean living, or choices that are pleasing to Him? It’s interesting that we often think of God as a courtroom judge whose verdict of grace or no grace is affected by our violations of behavior or misdeeds.

Interestingly, of the twenty-seven books in the New Testament, almost two-thirds of the greetings by the writers include the words “grace” and “peace” in the same sentence. This isn’t a literary accident. The writers consistently joined those words at the same time because one word cannot exist without the other. In every case, this kind of peace has nothing to do with our feelings. The intent wasn’t meant to confer a wish for the recipients to have a nice day. The Greek word used here for “peace” has everything to do with an event in history where believers were now joined into a new relationship with God. We were set at one again with Him through Christ. The grace of the Cross accomplished peace with Him, and we can’t make it more or less effective by our deeds or misdeeds. Grace and peace don’t ebb and flow just because we may not feel at peace with God. (That’s a subject for another day.) Jesus didn’t die for our feelings… He died to make peace with God for our souls.

One last thing…. it sort of begs the question, “Then, why try to do anything mentioned in the Ten Commandments? If our position is eternally secure, and if we can’t keep the perfect Law anyway, why bother?” The answer to that one comes from our heart. We don’t do good deeds and ministry because it will get us something…we do them as a response to the love of God, in Christ. Good deeds come from a heart that is over-flowing with thankfulness. I challenge you to think of why you do or don’t do things which please God. If you’re spiritually lazy, or too busy, or simply have presumed that God’s grace has you covered, then ask the Holy Spirit to awaken your heart to the grace and mercy of the Cross.

Turn Around. Put your umbrellas in the closet. In Galatians 2:21, Paul says, “I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through (keeping) the law, Christ died for nothing!” God doesn’t need any help to keep us dry….His grace poured out, and He supplied the tent that will keep us eternally safe. Fellow believer, grace and peace to you!

On Worry and Anxiety

As a counselor, I’ve noticed a distinct increase in the use of anti- anxiety medications over the last 5-10 years. I’d estimate that 75% of my former clients were using these meds on a daily basis, or felt the need to use them occasionally. It prompts me to ask, why? Have people changed? Or, has something outside of them changed? I believe it’s a combination of both. Although the heart of man hasn’t changed, the world has given us new things to worry about…. bullying, sex-trafficking, drugs, terrorism, strangers, new diseases, hackers, etc. It’s enough to make me break out in a cold sweat! So, how are we to filter all these uncontrolled things through Scripture?

First, let’s take a look at some basics. Man has always had the capacity to fear. It’s a God-given emotion that warns us to pay attention. Adam and Eve would have needed to have a healthy reaction to fear if an elephant stampede had threatened their paths. It would have been a necessary, reasonable, non-sinful reaction to a real threat if they had needed to step out of the way in order to avoid disaster. However, they also had an irresponsible sinful reaction to a perceived fear as they ate the forbidden fruit from the tree of knowledge. They believed that they had to know what God knew, because they feared He had withheld necessary knowledge from them. They felt that God had thrown them under the bus, so they tried to take control by disobeying God, and taking matters into their own hands. So, as you can see, fear motivated the first couple to respond in a self-protective way via the Enemy (and their flesh) that deceived them…..and we’re no different. We get anxious and obsess about things over which we have no control. We even convince ourselves that if we try hard enough, we can control the uncontrollable…. namely the future.

As living, breathing human beings, we only have the past, present, and future. If we live in the past, we will often make excuses to remain angry by blameshifting and holding grudges against others. If we live in the future, we fear what may happen, and life feels out of control. So, the only option that brings real peace is to focus on the present….today. But, today, Mary is worried whether or not her high-schooler will get into college. Bill fears he may lose his job. Cindy is never free from worry about her weight. Tom fears his cash flow won’t pay the bills. Emily worries that her sick child won’t recover. These kinds of fears have been around forever. What’s new, is that this present world’s culture has created new kinds of fears. We live in an information overload, brain-taxing, stress-producing, global sphere, thanks to technology. Google, Facebook, U-Tube, Twitter, and the rest of the I-Need-To-Know-It apps have elevated a new level to life’s concerns. Plus, the 24-7 news channels give us on the spot, breaking news about everything and nothing. As a result, we see anxiety-overload, like Nancy worrying that her babies will get snatched. Dan, wondering if his search on WebMD will tell him whether or not he may have cancer. Bill watches the moment by moment downward movement of his stock portfolio. Janice (me) Googling what her surgical procedure last Thursday would look like. Jenny’s fear of her medical or financial data being hacked. We know too much about things out of our control, which we’re deceived into thinking, that if we just do something to get ahead of it, the outcome will be good or at least be tolerable. That’s not living in the present, because worry is ALWAYS about the future. It lives in fear about what may happen. It wants total control, but can’t have it. Think about the people/things you’ve stressed about today. The amount of time you’ve spent worrying about people/things that have taken up space in your day. The people/ things that have consumed your mental energy.

I’m a worrier. I spend far too much time thinking about the “what-ifs”, than I do about the present joy in a day I’m living. What if that happens? What if they don’t do such and such? What if I can’t get this done? What if I see someone at the mailbox and I have on no makeup? (Yes, sadly, this is a vain concern, but then you’d be the one in danger of fright.) I’ve recently had the occasion to fret over my latest medical issues which I shared in my “Suffering” post of a few weeks ago. I underwent surgery 2 days ago, and won’t know the results for 4-5 business days. As much as I don’t relish the experience, it’s yet another occasion where I’m pushed out of my comfort zone to see where I land. It’s an opportunity for me to experience how trust can overlay fear, when an uncertain future causes anxiety about things I can’t control. I really do want to know if my faith is genuine, and what better way to discover that, than through a fearful time. So…. you would think that if worry is my companion these days, it would have been over my health, but the Holy Spirit has graciously given me peace about that particular outcome.

Unfortunately, however, I laid awake last night for hours thinking of the fact that I hadn’t posted in over a week, and I was stressing over what I was going to write about stress! I was worried about what people would think, since I hadn’t posted in a week. I was anxious about coming up with a topic that would be of interest. I tossed and turned over what to say. I started praying, and the Lord quickly reminded my soul that my anxiety was coming from worry; that worry comes from fear; and fear comes from believing that a real or perceived danger is imminent, thereby not trusting that God will see me through it. So, the question I asked myself was, What do I believe the danger to be just because I haven’t posted in a timely fashion? Is it a real or perceived danger? How do I believe it can it hurt me if I let people down?

There is certainly real danger at times in situations which require us to be responsible, wise people; circumstances which necessitate us to take action. However, the large majority of the time, fear is based on a perceived danger. A belief that the situation poses danger to us, and we have to do something to circumvent it. My example of staying awake during the night is a case in point. I was thinking to myself, What is my anxiety really about? If I’m honest with myself, I’d have to admit it was about what other people would be thinking of me. My reputation. Is there really a danger in that? The answer is yes, if I live to believe that what others think of me will give me life. However, if I live to believe that Jesus is the only One who gives me life, then there’s no real danger. Possibly, a disappointment, but nothing that will kill me.

Stress, worry, and anxiety are not caused by what’s going on outside of us, even though circumstances may be uncertain, confusing, and painful. Our struggle with anxiety comes from what’s going on inside of us. You see, it’s a faith issue…. spoken by the very mouth of Christ. Matthew 6:19-34 is a familiar passage on Worry, where Jesus says in verse 27, “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?”… and in verse 30, goes on to describe those who worry as, “O’ you of little faith.” This passage is sandwiched squarely between Jesus talking about the treasures (of our heart) that we store up on earth, and by contrast, seeking God’s kingdom as the treasure of our heart. In other words, what we worry about and what we find rest in, reveal the true treasures of our heart. Worry rips our soul apart. It tears at the very fabric of our faith. Paul David Tripp wrote an article on “Worry” that says it best. He said, “You will rest the most when what you treasure the most is secure, and you will worry the most when what you treasure the most is at risk. What does your world of worry reveal about the true treasures of your heart?” Friends, even when we understandably fear real danger, if it turns into obsessing, it means our misplaced treasure is safety. We value that over seeking the eternal treasure of seeking God’s Kingdom purposes as our master.

When I consider my anxiety that I experienced last night about what others think of me, it convicts me to repent. My head and heart were wrapped around my kingdom, and I was assigning value to my own self-centered “need” to be liked. The Holy Spirit graciously enabled me to remember that only Jesus and His Kingdom is my highest and deepest treasure. When I spend countless moments in worry, it robs me of living for a purpose that is so much higher. When I treasure my earthly desires and perceived needs above what Jesus has for me, it steals my rest.

Friend, what do you stress about? How high is your anxiety? Please understand that this is a war for your heart. Who will win? If your brain spends a good part of the day worrying about what may happen in the future, then I challenge you to consider what you’re treasuring more than Christ’s Kingdom purposes. If you could “fix” and control the future, how much of it would be about your comfort, your peace of mind, and your world. How much of it would include trusting His provision for you? Faith and trust in the Lord’s plan, and not your own, pushes out worry because it believes the promise, “Fear not, for I am with you. . . . I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10)….regardless as to how it may look and feel to you. (Italics mine)

There is no need to be anxious. Anxiety is a product of your perception that God can’t be trusted with your future, or the futures of those you love. It is an unvarnished faith issue. Turn Around. Don’t be like Adam and Eve and attempt to take matters into your own hands when the outcome is up to the Lord. You can believe that God’s timing and purposes are always trustworthy because He doesn’t lie. Ask the Holy Spirit to remind you of what is true and real. He will enable you to repent and have a renewed perspective. Then….enjoy the rest.