No one has died, but I’m grieving. Well, at least I was this morning. Characteristic of grief, the waves of sadness and tears snuck up without warning. I was a mile into my powerwalk up a hill when I wondered about how my behavior as a mom may have impacted my daughter’s curiosity as she grew up. (I know this is random, but this is how God works in my life. One minute I’m thinking about this post, and the next minute, He’s drawing me back to last night’s dinner conversation.) The “randomness” of God is, of course, never random. He was inviting me to consider how the past and present experiences in my life impacted me and my family. And like all good stories, there are twists and turns with heartbreak along the way. For better or worse, this morning’s experience led to heartbreak. Of course, I had a choice to bypass what God was showing me by allowing my attention to go elsewhere. Instead, I leaned into the pain, hurt, and regret God’s whisper brought to the surface. I grieved for myself. I wept for my daughter. Do you ever allow yourself to do the same?
Perhaps you wonder if there is any benefit in grieving the harm or pain you have suffered (or caused) in your life. (I mean, who really wants to grieve?) Well, there is! Until you acknowledge and allow yourself to feel the pain of all the ways you have not been known by the people who raised you (more on that next week), you risk going through life wearing masks and carrying baggage that God never intended. Masks and baggage keep us from being fully known by others and ourselves. Just ask me. I have a Ph.D. in that subject. For years, I was so preoccupied with hiding behind my masks and lugging around suitcases of insecurity and pain that I didn’t think I had any option but to carry on as I was. As I started to pursue healing for myself—dropping the masks and laying down baggage—it never occurred to me to grieve how I got there in the first place. However, as I began to explore what happened to the little girl who was perfectly known and loved by God yet lived for years in fear and shame, I experienced the grief that comes with loss. It’s for that little girl that I grieve.
There is a strong Biblical precedence to grieve. Two-thirds of the Book of Psalms—a collection of songs and prayers written by people who were well familiar with suffering— are laments. Yet, despite this precedence, many of us are reluctant to open our hearts to the pain and suffering that we have experienced; this is not a good thing. Cathy Loerzel, the co-author of Redeeming Heartache, teaches that we can’t go from the devastation of Good Friday to the joy of Resurrection Sunday without dealing with the pain and despair of Holy Saturday. Yet, this is not the experience of many followers of Jesus. We might think we can be resurrected with Christ without dealing with the agony of loss, but this only keeps us stuck in our pain. I believe this is why many Christians who claim the victory of the cross in their lives still deal with the same hang-ups, habits, and sinful behaviors that they had pre-Jesus. The psalms of lament teach us that there is value in giving voice to our complaints and pain and doing it before God.
“Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted. The troubles of my heart have multiplied; free me from my anguish.” (Psalm 25:16-17)
But what does this have to do with being known? Neuroscientist Curt Thompson says that when each one of us comes into the world, we enter it looking for someone looking for us. Our deepest desire is that there will be someone looking for us, and they will pursue our hearts with a desire to truly know us. Sadly, this is not the experience of many people for various reasons. More than 50% of people grow up insecurely attached to their primary caregivers. (More on that next week.) However, God—as the perfect attachment figure—invites us into a relationship where we can be seen and pursued. By allowing our pain to surface and sharing it with God, we step into the process of becoming fully known. Biblical scholar N.T. Wright would agree. In writing about psalms of lament, he concludes: “By laying every emotion and every experience before YHWH, their covenant God, the psalmist was reinforcing a bond of intimacy, affirming an attachment. Just as God made covenant with Abraham by the breaking apart of animals, so Israel embodied the bond of the covenant by breaking open their hearts before God.”
So what do you do from here? Well, you have options! The first option is to do nothing. You can write off the idea of grieving the pain of your childhood because “the past is the past, and there’s nothing you can do about it anyway.” Although I agree that there’s nothing you can do about what happened to you (and in you), by recognizing and naming the harm caused (even believing your parents did the best they could), you begin the process of dealing with the pain of Holy Saturday. I dedicated myself to being the best mom I could (even teaching parenting classes to others), but I still caused my children harm. As a result, I have encouraged my grown kids to come to terms with that and grieve the pain of the harm I caused them.
The other option you have is to be open and curious about what this process would look like in your life. Even if you had awesome parents and a great childhood, pain happens. We live in a broken and sinful world, and no one comes through life unharmed. Consider where the pain in your life may have been covered over with masks, habits, or addictions to help you cope. Next week we will dive a bit deeper, and give you an opportunity to explore your particular story. In the meantime, I encourage you to take time this week to be quiet before God and just ask Him: “Is there any pain in my life that I have not allowed myself to grieve?” Journal about what you hear.
I’m curious what feelings/thoughts are stirring in you right now? Would you be willing to share?