Loss brings grief. Everyone hurts when they suffer loss and many losses are met with grief. The recent Florida school shooting brings the trauma out in the open for all to see. Yet, before and after that singular tragedy there have been and will continue to be countless experiences of deep grief that are not so public. For many of us bereavement acts like a disease. Its symptoms can be deep and debilitating, and its cycle is repetitive and exhausting. Grief stinks and yet is an important and even healthy part of our coping with our traumatic personal losses. So, how do we go about finding the healing part ? How do we know what to hang on to, what to let go of and when any of this should happen? Finally, what can those of us who are not presently experiencing a personal loss do to help those who are in such pain and anguish?
We are losing our grip. Really. There is a battle for our children raging before us and we are losing it miserably. Raising children does not at all look like it once did a few generations ago. Back then, parents were expected to control their households and children were expected to grow up within that control. You might argue that such an arrangement was a little rigid. Perhaps. Now children and their feelings have become the idols of their parents' lives and those parents dutifully bow before and serve the desires, hormones and natural immaturity their children display. You might say that such an arrangement is a little - a lot - permissive. Absolutely! So, what do we do about it? How do we think, act and respond to our present parenting crisis? How do we swim upstream against the current of pitiful parenting and grab hold of and apply principles of powerful parenting?
As time goes on, many of us will look back at 2017 and remember it as a year of storms. We have had storms of political division and unrest, storms of tragic events ranging from terrorism to the senseless taking of innocent lives, and we have had literal storms - specifically three major hurricanes that came back to back-to-back and left a wake of devastation, homelessness loss and death. It is the hurricanes, the natural disasters we will focus on today. Are these events a coded message from God? Is God punishing us for our blatant sin or is He telling us to mend our foolish ways? Now, if you don’t believe in God, could these natural disasters be a coded message from “Mother Earth” letting us know that we have messed with her precious and vital ecosystem for too long? Are there lessons here for us to learn?
Nobody likes failure. Even when we have been told that failure is good for us, that it is a stepping stone and that you don’t learn from success nearly as much as you learn from failure, we still don’t like it! For many of us, failure can be discouraging, debilitating and even depressing. So, what do we do with this? We learn from it. We look into the lives of those whom we consider successful and study their failures and their reactions to those failures to see how we can use their experiences to help us navigate our own experiences. The Bible is full of great examples of faithful ones who had many failures, and the Bible is also full of their success stories afterwards. What are we waiting for? Let’s get started with this whole making-failure-work-for-me thing!
We make choices every day. Some are easy choices that we don’t even need to think much about and there are others that require some on-the-fly time and attention. Then there are the choices that can be difficult and even agonizing. These are the choices that can make or break a life or shape a destiny, or at the very least, alter the near future. These are the biggest choices we face, but they may not necessarily be the most important ones. We probably don’t think about how often our really big decisions end up being a sum total of many small and seemingly irrelevant choices we have made without much thought. The point is that all of our choices carry a measure of importance! So, what guides us in the choices we make? Are we most often influenced by how we feel about things or by what our friends or family will think? What are the most important factors in successful Christian decision making?
When you think of compassion, what do you picture? Perhaps you see Jesus healing the multitudes or volunteers caring for victims of some natural disaster. Perhaps you see an individual patiently working with a disabled person or a soldier protecting children in a war torn region. Perhaps compassion makes you think of Doctors Without Borders or food drives for the hungry. Whatever it is, thinking about compassion probably makes you think about the best of humanity – it probably makes you think about that glimmer of hope that says we can get along. Now, when you think about compassion do you ever see yourself in the role of the compassionate? Wouldn’t you like to be in that role? Just what does it take to become a truly compassionate person and most importantly, what are the limits of compassion? Are there times when compassion is NOT appropriate?
How is it that life seems to go by so fast? How is it that we more often than not look back on our life - the things we did and what we became - with a measure of regret, knowing that we could have been more or contributed more? Have you ever stopped to think of what makes life happen? It is actually a pretty simple equation: TIME + EXPERIENCES = LIFE. Now I know that is an oversimplification, but stay with me. If we can accept that life is the combination of time and experiences, then wouldn’t solving the issue of making one’s life fuller and more meaningful be easier to understand? Time is measurable and predictable and we all have the same amount each and every day. Experiences, be they physical, observational or thoughts, are essentially the sum total of what we do with the time given to us each day. So, what can we do to make our time and experiences produce a rich, fruitful and contented life?
Sometimes we forget that life is precious and it is worth fighting for. When someone dies as a result of suicide, that fight has been lost. When we lose a loved one to suicide we might ask ourselves; have we become so entangled in the web of social standing and status that we somehow stepped over and ignore our loved one who was struggling with being able to hold onto the sacredness of life? Were we so absorbed in our own stress and schedule that we were blind to our loved one’s battle or did they do such a convincing job of hiding their pain that the whole thing was just a shocking tragedy? What happened to our loved one that they found themselves drawn downward into a vortex of torment and suffering so dark that they despaired of life itself? How do we better understand and cope with suicide? How does God treat those who take their own lives?
History does repeat itself. Sometimes in its repetition we can see the heartbreak of the transgressions of the past repeated in the present with an even deeper and more insidious result. Look around you and what do you see? Shootings, stabbings, bombings, race riots, gangs, rape, murder, genocide; Black lives matter, police lives matter, all lives matter but what does it matter? Politicians lie, people lie and so many lie unnecessarily in early graves. Save the whales, save the schools, save the planet, save the children, but save them for what future? Muslims against Christians, Christians against other Christians, and seemingly the world against Judaism while the Atheists say, "I told you so." Women's rights, animal rights, civil rights, gun rights, LGBT rights - so many rights, but everything still seems so wrong. The world has become dangerous and angry. Their clamoring for peace is drowned out by the ever increasing clamor of violence. Where. Is. God? Does He hear? Does He know? Does He care? Has God completely lost control of our world?
Life can get heavy sometimes. It can happen for all kinds of reasons – our own poor judgment or mistakes, circumstances beyond our control, accidents or a tragedy. Whatever the reason, the fact is that sometimes life just becomes a heavy burden. When life does get heavy we begin to doubt and to fear, which opens the door to begin down that ever-consuming road of discouragement and even depression. So, how do we fight this? How do we find a formula that will help us to stand up and walk under the weight, to fight through the fear and to persevere through the pain? How can we transform the heaviest experiences of our lives into the best growing experiences of our lives?