One of the most profound concepts I picked up in grad school is, 'our refusal to grieve brings many problems in living'.
Our refusal to grieve brings many problems in living. There is an assumption there that pain and loss are inevitable guests in our lives. Children are taught not to grieve in different ways. 'Don't cry or I'll give you something to cry about'. 'You're such a big baby'. 'Be strong, don't let it bother you'. There are more extreme examples when a child grows up in an addictive or abusive home.
One of my heroes, Eugene Peterson gave an example of this in his memoir, The Pastor. He didn't mean to do it. He told this story in a positive light. But all our heroes are fallible. He told a story of a young boy who was sexually abused by a janitor at his church. The boy went to see a local psychologist. The psychologist told the boy, "Use your forgetter on this one."
I was mortified. It was akin to an affair occurring in a marriage and then the statement is made, "We must never talk about this again." Our souls and bodies are closely tied and the truth of the abuse will still be in that boy as he ages. At some point he'll have to deal with it.
Imagine the future for this boy. He becomes a man and marries. He forgets to go pick up his daughter at school and she stays for an hour outside, as other parents come and go, until she is the only one left. She scrambles her own way home. Dad finally gets there and his wife reminds him of his broken promise. He goes to his daughter and says, "Dad spaced it hon. Just use your forgetter on it because Daddy still loves you." Ugh.
Lets shift gears a bit. Rainer Maria Rilke said, “Once the realization is accepted that even between the closest human beings infinite distance must continue to exist, a wonderful living side by side can grow up.”
I think he is saying that we tend to try to use people to fill holes in our soul that really can't be filled here. We live in a fallen world with fallen people. Most of the United States is scorched with drought right now and what isn't scorched is flooded in the southeast. Our creation is fallen. I'll let you bring examples from your own story or the news of the way people are fallen. And where people are fallen, another way of saying sinful, there is pain.
But we want heaven now. That is understandable because we were created for heaven. The reality is we don't have it now. We are left with this tension of being created for perfect bliss and contentment, but living in a place that delivers far less. We're left with a gap.
In our seminars when I talk about this I'll raise my hand up as high as it will go to signify that we were designed for heaven. I'll then lower my hand to the top of my head to signify that this is the reality that we live in highlighting the gap between what we were designed for compared to our present state of life.
I'll ask what we can fill the gap with? We get the do good and work harder responses of more bible study, helping the homeless, walking an elderly woman across the street. In fact people do try to fill the gap by being over busy doing good things. Sometimes it's a badge at church to be involved in umpteen different ministries even promoting this type of harmful gap filling.
We also try to fill it with relationships. As in my case my emotional affair was a way of seeking a human drug to do away with the uncomfortable feelings on this earth, to fill the gap. Ann wasn't making my life heaven, never will because she's just a woman, and we're not there we're here, so in my sin I sought relief from the gap.
We also try to fill it with substances. We get drunk, high, wasted to numb the gap momentarily. In our culture we slam down massive amounts of sugar and processed foods to numb it. I've battled this most of my life, starting with growing up on 15 cent vending machine cinnamon rolls and 10 cent cans of Mountain Dew.
Oh, we're ingenious in the ways we attempt to feel like we are in heaven now. There is much to be grateful for here but we are still here and not there.
So what can we put in the gap? Is there anything?
We can groan. We can repent of refusing to grieve and then grieve. We can look at this world, and experience this world, with both eyes open. We can take in the glorious and take in the terrible. We can sorrow. We can ache over the state of pain and loss on this planet. That doesn't mean we can't act to alleviate some of it in our place on this planet, but that is beneath the gap. So we can groan, grieve, sorrow. However you'd like to say it, we can own that we don't live in a perfect place.
And in the gap as we face it honestly, as we groan, grace is poured in. Groaning and grace exist in the gap.
It is an important point to make that grace doesn't eliminate the groaning. We hurt and we experience God's love. It's a mysterious place. When we allow the mystery to be, it is a place of incredible spiritual formation and transformation. We let God be God. Yahweh.
In his book, The Promise, Tony Evans talks about this,
Creation groans, the people of God groan, and the Holy Spirit groans. What's the connection? We groan because of sins effects upon us. The Spirit groans in prayer in order to identify with our groanings, deliver them to God, and deliver to us from God what we need to be sustained in a world that produces pain.
In other words, the Holy Spirit identifies with our pain, clarifies that pain, and communicates it to the Father in a way we could never do ourselves. Then the Spirit brings out of that pain the will of God for us, "because he intercedes for the Saints according to the will of God" (Romans 8:27b).
So the greater the groans, the closer we are to some kind of divine intervention and deliverance, either in time or eternity, or both. When we are experiencing the pains of life that produce groaning that cannot be uttered, that means God is sending something down the life canal. It's time to keep our eyes open for the new life and victory God is about to deliver.
When a couple dealing with an affair can grieve together, side by side, they will encounter God's grace together. It's a mystery. A beautiful, painful one.