Sunday, June 5, 2016

Grief: It's Who You Know

With Christ you do not walk alone whatever trials may come.

Up front, let me tell you I am no stranger to grief. At the age of four, my cousin who my Mom babysat regularly died suddenly of SIDS. It was my first encounter with death and the sadness that accompanies it. When I was a little older, my baby brother died due to a heart defect that he was born with. We kids brought German measles home and gave it to my Mom which caused Craig to be born with it. My 16 year old brother Donnie was shot through the chest with a 12 gauge shotgun at close range by a friend when I was 18. Fifteen years later, my stepmother shot my father through the chest with a 12 gauge shotgun and then waited to call 911 till she was sure he'd stopped breathing. I lost a business and home we had invested countless hours and dollars in. I had several jobs fold up under me. My family asked me not to visit my beloved grandmother anymore because it upset her, even though my grandmother had told us on our last visit with her that she'd never felt closer to God than she had while my wife had been staying with her. Her apparent stroke and mental confusion caused my aunt's ban on our visiting her. This effectively cut me off from my extended family on my Dad's side for years.

In struggling to do God's will with our lives we've run up against roadblocks and what I can only describe as attacks by Satan. We endured poverty and deprivation, our son developed a seizure disorder. Another son developed bipolar disorder. Our middle son died in his sleep in his senior year of college. I did CPR for 30 minutes before the ambulance arrrived. My wife developed bipolar and suffered a massive breakdown. My son's bipolar and the poor choices he made while not on his meds landed him in jail for we know not how long. We have passed through displacement, hunger and homelessness. We've witnessed God's deliverance and intervention many times when we thought we could not go on.

And then last month, the little dog that God had given us and who had brought us untold comfort and joy through the difficulties of the past 7 years died in my arms. It felt like losing a child. Then, my wife went back home to Louisiana for six weeks to help a cousin who's husband is suffering liver failure due to exposure to Agent Orange during his time in Vietnam. 
I found myself alone without even my doggy companion to keep me company.

It sounds like a tale of unrelenting woe when you put it like that. My life, however, is not a tale of woe. Viewed from the perspective of one who endeavors to serve God as best that he can, my life has been chiefly one of peace, joy, love and happiness, albeit interspersed with grief and trouble. I have done things that I thought God wanted doing and am pleased that many of them resulted in good things happening. I have friends who love us, children I am proud of and the hope of heaven. I am content. 

Grief can make you a kinder, more sympathetic person or it can turn you into a self-absorbed angry monster. It is living daily with Jesus that makes the difference. It is He who heals a broken heart and keeps it from hardening and turning in on itself. It is Christ who helps the broken-hearted to heal by opening those same hearts to even more opportunities to share his love with a world suffering at the hands of the Prince of Darkness.

Men grieve differently than women. Though we don't show it or talk about it as much, we still experience it. In many ways male grief is a more difficult process. Women talk about their grief and express their emotions openly with other women and with their supportive menfolk - fathers, brothers or spouses mostly. Men seldom show emotion with other men and often actively hide it in front of their womenfolk. Because we stuff our grief, we probably aren't terribly good at listening when our wives are grieving over the same thing we are. To listen and empathize would mean exposing ourselves to the danger of opening up our own emotional pain and that is something men don't like to do. 

Most of the time, if men shed tears over our grief, it is when we are alone, driving in our cars, sitting in a fishing boat or walking alone in the woods. In every case in my own life where I lost someone important to me, my tears have flowed mostly where no one but God could see them. I had to actively go to God about my grief, because, for some reason, the human mind processes grief in close proximity to where it generates anger. I've had to pray a lot during periods of grief in order to keep from being surly or short with my loved ones. Solitary prayer alone with God can help. Walking and weeping while praying seems to valve off some of that emotional pressure caused by the internal struggle we men have in trying to bury our sadness and sense of terrible loss.

We learn through grief that loving others, that offering ourselves to act as the instruments of our loving God is the only way through our pain. There is a bright and hopeful eternity beyond this sad little world, but we cannot go around life's dark valleys. We must, like David said in Psalm 23, "... walk through the valley of the shadow of death." David, in typical male fashion, however, follows up that statement with a ringing declaration. "I WILL FEAR NO EVIL!" One evening during a particularly difficult personal trial, I had just received another phone call with more bad news. I went out on the front porch and stood there looking out upon a darkening wood. I suddenly remembered David's declaration. Almost instinctively, I squared my shoulders, raised an arm and shook my fist at the darkness. Out loud I shouted, "Come on you old deceiver. Is that the best you've got?" Some people chide me for doing that, saying you should never tempt Satan that way. To me it felt like a battle cry in the midst of some war that was going on in my life. It gave me courage in a strange way and even though the devil didn't let up on us for a while, we did manage to overcome him anyway and came out with our faith stronger for it.

My neighbors probably wondered what the crazy man next door was yelling about, but it did give me a great sense of relief. The Apostle Paul said, "
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms." In any conflict, it is important to understand who your enemies are. It helps you to bear the losses that you inevitably have during any war and helps you stay out of the trap of blaming yourself or, worse, of blaming God.

A life which bears much grief can be viewed as either a tragedy or a triumph. Loss doesn't have to be defeat. Remember the Alamo. Remember the cross. Whether your life ends in defeat or victory, it's resolution does not depend on your won/loss record nor even on how well you fought. Whether you win or lose depends instead on who you know.

Me? I choose to know Jesus.

©  2016 by Tom King

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