what we miss about redepmtion

While we all know in our heads death is terrible. I struggle to think of any instance where we truly rejoice. But we approach it from a strange place in church.

It’s our vehicle the ultimate prize. It’s the goal line. We’ve run the race and are ready for our reward.

So despite its purely destructive nature, we take a strange approach to death. We see the redemption that Jesus has brought to and through death and it’s now just not so bad.

This redemptive nature of Jesus is so powerful it must be acknowledged and celebrated. It must be trumped and exclaimed for everyone to hear. It’s the power of the gospel. Jesus has come to redeem everything.

But that redemption is a process. It’s not a static action. It’s not that everything that has occurred and will occur has been redeemed. It can be, but may not be yet.

And it’s this temporal nature of redemption that I think leads to a lot of pain.

Pain when we say “don’t worry its God’s plan”

Pain when we say “God’s in control”

Pain when we see the possibility for redemption and speak as though it’s already happened.

The pain is real.

The loss is real.

The devastation is real.

When we speak as though redemption has happened we speak as though the pain, loss or devastation isn’t real. We speak as though we should no longer feel the pain, loss or devastation. We speak as though life will continue in the same way it always had.

These aren’t scars of a past memory but open wounds that need tending and caring.

I think we miss this as a church body. We miss this by a long shot.

Tending to those wounds requires proximity. We have to be in the mess with them. We have to see the damage. We can’t skip over it. We have to call it what it is and address the reality of it. We have to see the fullness of the damage to have a prayer of mending it.

We take part in the long, sometimes agonizing healing process. We are part of the search and journey of redemption, which is often only seen when we reflect back.

Even if we’re told its coming we don’t often see redemption as it’s happening. We can’t understand it until we’re in it look at back at it.

We dream and hope and desire for it.

I have experienced few things as hurtful and damaging as someone talking like my pain and struggle has already been redeemed. Few things as painful as someone taking from me the option to grieve and process. Doing everything they can to support but in reality doing everything possible to invalidate and minimize the depth and impact of the experience I was living.

And none of it was experienced as love.

the worst thing that ever happened…as told by a teenager

I volunteered with teens for over 9 years and worked professionally with them in some capacity for 6.

I’ve spent a lot of time around teens.

And they bugged me some times.

One of the most annoying scenarios I would run into was around relationships. Specifically a break up.

“HE WAS THE LOVE OF MY LIFE!!!!! HOW DO I GO ON?!?!?!”

“You’ve known him for 2 weeks.”

“ITS TIME SPENT TOGETHER!! NOT JUST HOW LONG I’VE KNOWN THEM!!! THIS IS THE WORST THING THAT HAS EVER HAPPENED TO ME!!”

“You’ll get over it”

“NO I WON’T!!! I LOVED HIM!!! I FEEL LIKE I’M GOING TO DIE!!!”

My initial reaction would be to roll my eyes and talk about how this isn’t really a big deal (I got better over the 9 years, I swear I didn’t always suck). Life will get so much harder and this won’t even register in a few years (like I got a loooooot better).

What I failed to realize at the start was that this break up was in most cases the actual worst thing that had ever happened to them. Their teens. For the most part their lives had been good and they hadn’t been involved in a lot of pain and suffering. Sure it would come with time like it does for everyone but they had yet to experience most of it.

So they reacted like anyone would to the worst thing that has ever happened, they had a meltdown.

From my perspective I couldn’t get my head around it to start. Why was this such a big deal? Didn’t they see how hard life is and how much ‘real’ pain is coming. Such a sunny disposition for someone working with youth.

Part of that was my experience. My life got complicated when my dad was diagnosed with cancer. I was 12. I didn’t have a teenage experience without the reality of life and death hanging over it. So break ups were hard but my dad could die at any moment. Break ups were in a different perspective for me.

And this is so easy for us to do and it doesn’t just apply to teens. To see a situation through our experience not the experiencer. To, like I did as a young youth worker not see that while in my context this experience may not be the worst for the person experiencing it, it’s the literal worst thing that has ever happened and they need the space and freedom to have the experience.

They can’t place their experience in a context they’ve never had.

It’s their experience not ours. We just love.

depth, darkness and all

This is going to be short.

More often than not I’ll recommend just listening but when you do speak consider these few thoughts on what to say. You can also check out this, this and this for some more ideas on supporting people in crisis.

Offer honest and real support. Don’t just say let me know If you need anything but tell them what you can and want to do. Say “I want to love you, here’s what I came up with. I want to do this with you.” Make it easy for them to be supported and loved.

Give them space to feel their feelings. People often don’t feel free to honestly explore and express how they actually feel. They think there is a way they are supposed to feel or a response they are supposed to have. Let them know that you’re ok with them being honest. Say “it’s ok to be honest with me. If you feel angry, hurt, flat, numb, happy, whatever. You don’t have to feel a certain way. If you want to talk about how you feel I’d love to listen. I just want to love you.” Let them feel what they feel and don’t try to direct it. Some people feel numb. They don’t really feel at all. They are told they are supposed to be sad but they just feel nothing. And then they feel guilt that they aren’t responding ‘the right way.’ Give space for the real expression of their feelings whatever they may be. Don’t look for one feeling or another but accept whatever it is they express.

Just keep affirming that you want to love them and be there with them.

The only advice I’d share with someone experiencing grief is “be gracious with yourself. Grief is a long tiring process. There is no time table.” Help them feel free to experience the process and not be too hard on themselves.

Love them. No expectations, just a journey you’re happy to go on with them, depth, darkness and all.

what not to say around death

Yesterday we talked about getting in the same space related to death. Briefly we talked about:

How as a society and church we don’t tend to do well with death.

Death is not something that can be fixed.

Death is not purposeful.

And then we ended with the question of what don’t we say?

I have a few thoughts. My list isn’t exhaustive but it covers a lot.

What not to say:

  • Everything will be ok
  • It’s for the best
  • God needed another angel
  • There’s some good in this
  • Don’t worry Gods in control. He’s got a plan.

You may disagree with some of these but overall here’s why I think we need to avoid this lines of conversation.

This is an emotional experience not one to be conquer with logic or reason. It’s a deeply person, visceral experience that force us to face and engage with parts of ourselves we don’t often have to. Death causes questions and confusion. The problem with these statements isn’t necessarily their factual truth, though some are not true, but rather how little help and possibly how much damage they can do to someone experiencing loss. It’s not the time for ideas and theory, it’s time for love.

Think of all the ways these kinds of statements can be interpreted, especially considering that the person doing the interpretation is in pain. Consider these statements from the position of someone morning loss. They could very easily see it like this.

Everything will be ok –It’s not that big a deal. In a little while this person and their loss won’t be as meaningful or painful to you. It minimizes what’s happening in that moment. “Just buck up you’ll be fine soon. Now isn’t that important.” But that person is trapped in the now, in the full experience of the now. We need to speak to their now not some possible whole future.

It’s for the best – someone how your pain and anguish are for the best. God’s best plan and the best plan for you and your loved one is for that loved one to no longer be in your life. That’s harsh. May dad was in pain for 13 years but even when he passed I’ve never seen it as ‘for the best’. The best would be a healthy dad who met my sons and saw the man I’m becoming. Not one who left years before his time. That’s not the best. Why can’t God just health the person, why is them dying for the best?

God needed another angel – this is so often said when a child dies. It paints God as some kind of selfish malevolent being. He made and gave you a child then changed His mind because He needed it more. He can speak things into existence but needed YOUR child. You don’t need them as much as God does. But make sure you go and ask God for healing a support after He took your child.

There’s some good in this – while I understand the goal, there isn’t. Death wasn’t part of God’s plan. There is no good. Do we think so little of God that He can’t fulfill His purpose unless someone is taken? He’s so constrained that He can’t do good without first horrible trauma. What possible good is here that requires my loss?

Don’t worry God’s in control. He’s got a plan – again, an omnipotent God that can’t do good without causing tram and harm. A God who WANTS bad things to happen to you. It’s part of His plan. Not how I would describe a loving God. Not how I would describe a God of infinite power and grace. God can use pain but when we talk about how God is in control and has a plan we imply that God wanted the bad to happen to fulfill His plan. Like an abusive partner that uses pain and coercion to keep someone under their control.

I talked about God in all of these but they all still apply if the person isn’t a person of faith. In that case there is nothing more. There is this life and that’s it. Saying it’s for the best that someone loss the only life they will ever have or any of the other statements is just a damaging.

The point here is that what you mean and what you say aren’t always the same thing. You can have all the best intentions and still be hurtful. Where you mean to bring healing you can bring greater pain. Be aware of the implications of what you say.

Often it’s better to say nothing. It’s better just to love in presence and in deed.

But if you must say something I’ve got a few ideas for you tomorrow.

death and loss

For something as universal and experience as death you might think we’d talk about it more. You might think we would understand the experience better. You might think we’d be better prepared to love those experiencing a death in their life.

But you know as much as I do that for all we might think when we look at death objectively, rarely is that the lived experience.

For worse, death will touch everyone. It will irrevocably impact your life at some point while you are still alive. Talking with a good friend has brought the topic back to mind.

We’re going to explore death a little.

We’re going to do that because society is terrible at supporting people and sadly the church isn’t often much better.

But we should be.

And we can be.

We will be.

Today we’ll touch on some fundamentals, staring points so we are all in the same space.

Death cannot be fixed.

While I understand how redundant a statement that is we still try. We try to make people feel better. To fix or change what cannot be fixed. Death is permanent. It’s dark and traumatic and often our best attempts to fix the experience end up minimizing it.

So we won’t try. We won’t fix this experience. We’ll be with people in the darkness not tell them the darkness isn’t there.

Death is not purposeful.

We won’t try to render meaning where they is none. This is so important I don’t want you to miss it. Death wasn’t part of the plan. So when we talk about death we have to be careful how we speak. We need to understand the implications of the words we choose.

God can bring good from evil but it’s never His plan. He doesn’t cause evil to happen so He can do good. Evil is a part of our world and death is wholly evil. God can bring redemption out of death but it’s not the purpose of death. It’s not why it happened and God’s ability to bring good from evil doesn’t detract from how evil something is.

It happens because we live in a dark fallen world and people need to be allowed to experience that darkness without it being minimized or overly spiritualized. It’s complicated enough experience loss we don’t need to complicate it with some theological controversy over God’s involvement in death.

God doesn’t want death.

God doesn’t cause death.

God is 100% with us during the darkness, but that darkness and pain are very real.

With that as our start we’ll look at how we respond to death tomorrow. If death cannot be fixed and death isn’t part of some bigger purpose what do we say?

Or rather to start what don’t we say?

giving blood or prayer?

Prayer is good, giving blood is better – The Basketball Jones

I was listening to a podcast the other day about basketball. At the start of every episode they drop an often silly little quote. But this day I was struck by the quote above. I don’t know who said it first or what their original intent was but it got me thinking about prayer.

I worry about the way people pray. I worry about why we pray.

A few months ago a friend texted my wife and I. She was pregnant and was rushing to the hospital fearing that her child wasn’t well. She asked that we would pray, so we did.

Later that night we heard from her again. All was well, “God is good” she texted back.

A prayer was answered and God is good.

But what if it wasn’t all well?

I struggle with prayer a LOT. I struggle with the idea that we ask God to just step in and fix things for us. I struggle with the way we pray because it seems to treat God, as my father would say, as some kind of spiritual vending machine. Put in the right words, add tears and bingo God fixes. This gets to my struggle with why we pray.

I worry that we pray so that we don’t have to do anything. I worry that most of us pray so that we can be absolved of our responsibility and our role. I worry that prayer for so many of us has become the copout to real and messy relationships.

I sat at home and said “God please be with my friend. Support her and her husband. Bless and protect their child” and then just moved on. My part was done.

Sometimes I really suck.

What if it didn’t end up ok? What if there was a problem? Good thing I prayed. Maybe it was all ok because I prayed, I don’t know. What I do know is there are LOADS of times I’ve prayed for good things to happen and they didn’t.

What if she lost the baby? Her and her husband alone in a hospital room. I bet that’s how God planed for us to live and how community and love are suppose to work. I’m sure they would have felt better sitting there knowing that I prayed.

But hey, I was done, I prayed.

That’s why I worry about prayer.

I think prayer is so immensely important. But if your prayer leads you to feel done after you’ve prayed I think something is missing. If a friend in turmoil causes you to pray and then move on, you’re missing it. If you connect with God in prayer and aren’t moved to action, what are you praying about?

Is giving blood really better than prayer? No, but if you’re prayer doesn’t lead you to also ‘giving blood’ then I think you need to take a real deep look at your prayer.