Often the place we find ourselves is a place of desert, of wilderness, of valley. Indeed these are places of death. And they are real and they are part of the process of healing. But they are not the last word. Today we look at what happens when you linger in death. The thesis is that if we are faithful to enter death—to dip down to the bottom of Cathy Loerzel’s U-diagram—then resurrection and healing can begin to exist.
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Thesis: If we are faithful to enter death, to dip down to the bottom of the U, then resurrection and healing will begin to exist.
The promise of Jesus is in Isaiah 61, which Jesus quotes in Luke 4. And it’s simply this:
to comfort all who mourn,
3 and provide for those who grieve in Zion.
to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes,
the oil of joy instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.
that you enter stories of abuse
that you name yourself and others well in the stories (this almost always requires another person to help you)
that you experience the emotions and sensations linked to those stories—but without shooting way up to hyper-arousal or way down to hypo-arousal.
that you let the heartache of the story carry you into grief and sorrow,
that you receive the comfort of God, who knows your sorrow and grief.
The only way to come to know resurrection is through death.
Q: Do you believe in resurrection? Not “the resurrection.” Resurrection.
There is a world of difference between believing in the resurrection and believing in resurrection.
Many Xns believe in the resurrection without believing in resurrection.
You can’t believe in resurrection until you’ve experienced it.
And you can’t experience it if you won’t descend into death.
The essence of resurrection is the rescue of God.
Many of us want to know, “Where was God during this experience or that experience?”
We want to know where God was during our heartache.
And sometimes we will do a lot of reflecting and thinking to try to find God in our stories.
But here’s an alternative to that approach which I first heard from Dan Allender.
Dan says, “You don’t have to find God in your stories. God will show himself in your stories if you are faithful to enter death.” Repeat
Think back to the U Diagram. We want to jump from Friday to Sunday while skipping Saturday.
The hard part about Saturday is that Saturday is the reality that you don’t know you’re going to come out of the grief.
Saturday is precisely when you don’t know that you’re going to be okay.
We don’t want to enter Saturday because on Saturday we are out of control.
We are no longer in control of our healing process, God is.
Look, Saturday is terrifying.
As you consider letting your grief bubble up, you may have this sense of “I’m afraid that if I start crying, I’ll never stop.”
That is Saturday. What you’re saying is,
“How do I know that if I go there, it will be okay?”
That is precisely the Saturday experience—not knowing that God will come through.
In fact, every day that you enter death and experience no resurrection is another day of evidence that God won’t show up.
There is no way to follow Christ without experiencing what he experienced—namely, a Saturday season where God is completely silent and there is no resurrection on the horizon.
During the Saturday experience, the temptation is to try and conjure up hope.
You don’t have to do that. You don’t have to conjure up hope. You just have to have the courage to name your despair and to name your war with hope.
IOW, to name how terrifying hope can feel.
What is most required is your presence—staying in your body and being open to exploring how bad things really are.
Q: Why don’t you need to conjure up hope? Because hope is written into your very being.
We’re created in the image of God and there’s no way to get hope completely out of us.
If you’re even listening to this podcast, you have a fair bit of hope. It’s not that you lack hope, it’s that you hate the hope that you have.
For more on hope, check out podcast Episode 18.
The tendency is to feel like, “Hey, if I’m going to step into this grief, if I’m going to let myself go down the U and feel these feelings, then I better know that there is something solid down there to hold me up.”
You think you need to find something solid that you can walk on before you enter grief, something that you feel like will hold you up as you enter grief.
But the Saturday experience is about falling [pause] — it’s about not knowing it’s going to be okay.
Think of the women and the 12 disciples the day after Jesus is crucified—nothing is okay… and please hear the next phrase, nothing is going to be okay. Ever. Why? Because he’s dead.
The Saturday experience often feels utterly meaningless as well as hopeless.
And there is usually an absence of words… you lose the ability to find language to explain what you are experiencing.
Your heartache and despair must be spoken about, but it can be extremely hard to find words… and many Saturday experiences connect you to preverbal moments of your life (before you had the capacity for language) that were absolutely terrifying.
Grief is different than unraveling. Grief is neither hyper- nor hypo-arousal.
When you are grieving, you are very present. You are in your body—in the sweet spot of 4-7.
I want to press this point about how much we resist dipping down into the bottom of the U—dipping down into sorrow, despair, grief.
I mean, we don’t only do this with our own pain and our own stories, we do this with others’ pain as well.
When someone is telling you about their pain or their discouragement or their despair or how hopeless they feel, don’t you feel the pull to try to say something to get them out of those feelings?
What is that? That’s you conspiring with them to pop them back up out of the death of Saturday.
Q: Have you felt your own discomfort when someone gets close to their terror, their despair, their sorrow, their shame?
Q: When a friend is feeling hopeless about something, what gets stirred in you?
Q: Don’t you search your soul for something to say that will get them out of that horrible feeling?
Q: Do you try to say something that will give them reason to hope? We’ve all done this.
Q: Why do we do this?
In our attempt to get a friend out of pain we often rush from Friday to Sunday while skipping Saturday. We refuse to linger in death.
All too often we do an “end-run around” death because we are uncomfortable with the other person’s overwhelming emotions.
Many potentially transformative moments are missed because of our discomfort with the emotions that surface as the other person “comes close to” a scene of trauma.
Here’s why: As the storyteller experiences the terror and sorrow of their stories of death, we become limbically connected their experience of death which connects immediately to our own places of death.
If we have not lingered in our own despair, terror and sorrow and found the rebirth of hope, our discomfort will prompt us to pull the storyteller out of the precise place where profound transformation and healing can occur.
There is no easy solution to popping up out of the U.
But once you are aware that you have popped up, the next question is, “how would you like to re-enter the story and return to the sorrow or grief or despair that you were feeling a moment ago?”
Q: Will you have a posture of kind curiosity toward yourself in that moment?
Simply to ask, “What emotion or bodily sensation did you just experience that felt too much to bear?”
This is how you make movement toward sliding back down the U.
Now, last section.
I will never forget when Dan Allender said the following 2 sentences which broke something wide open for me.
He said, “The hard work of life is not dealing with your pain. The hard work of life is allowing yourself to experience comfort—namely, receiving another’s kindness and being kind to yourself.” Repeat
The invitation to grief is not an invitation merely to grieve alone but far more to grieve with another who has the strength and the tenderness to hold space for the grief and point you to comfort, kindness, and care.
Indeed, most of us would rather grieve alone for a week than grieve for 10 minutes with someone else.
Q: Why is this? Well, there are a lot of reasons, but here is one of the biggest.
For many people with a history of trauma, the person who offered you kindness, care, and comfort was often the same person who abused you. [pause]
I want to let that sink in. This is often a nauseating truth the first time you realize it.
For many people with a history of trauma, the person who offered you kindness, care, and comfort was often the same person who abused you.
Therefore, receiving another’s comfort will feel way too close to how you were groomed by your abuser.
Grooming simply refers to the ways that your abuser cared for you in such a way that you became connected to them. This is what set you up for abuse.
So, for many of you, your brain has paired comfort, care, and kindness with “something bad is about to happen.”
When someone is kind to you, you know in your gut that there has to be a catch. What does this person want from me? What is going to be asked of me?
You see the dilemma—what the human heart most needs is kindness, care, comfort—but evil has woven into your story a pairing of kindness with violation.
So now you are suspicious of kindness and care and comfort—even if you don’t want to be.
Your body is suspicious of these things.
Another Allender sentence that disrupted me in a good way. He says,
“Comfort is often mis-defined as what takes away anxiety. Comfort, however, is not an absence of anxiety—it is receiving kindness from another and being kind to yourself in the midst of your anxiety.” Repeat
Whenever you are overwhelmed, anxious, in despair, etc the most important question is “Is there kindness here—from yourself or from another?”
When you are having a particularly painful day, that is precisely the time to receive God’s comfort. Because your body is suffering. Will you let him comfort your suffering body?
You don’t have to respond to your story by striving. Striving through your days. Grinding it out.
You don’t have to respond to your story by turning against yourself with all manner of accusations. All accusations are a form of self-violence.
You don’t have to respond to your story by joining in violence against yourself.
You can respond to your story the way God does—with kindness, with kindness toward your frailty.
Here’s a maxim you can count on: If you don’t choose kindness, you can’t enter sorrow and you will therefore miss the comfort of God.
The essence of comfort is the word “with.” It’s about having someone with you.
The word “Comfort” comes from the Latin prefix com meaning “with” + fortis “strong.” As in a strong fort. Thus, comfort means “to be with someone to strengthen them.”
Comfort carries with it two parts: “to be with” (com) and “to strengthen” (fort).
And anytime someone is truly with you, you are strengthened. It’s axiomatic. When someone is truly with you, you can’t help but be strengthened.
God is Emmanuel—which means “God with us.”
When someone is truly “with” you, it does not mean that they understand you completely.
It means that they have the courage to enter your hurt because they have a desire to hear you and to understand you.
And it means that they have the kindness to be with you in a way that is both strong and tender.
If you are in an hour of need and you are with someone who is nice, nothing can feel more alone.
Niceness does not strengthen us; it just makes us feel alone. Kindness strengthens.
Q: When do you tend to turn against your heart? When are you tempted to join evil in accusations against you?
It’s not primarily when you are “hurting.”
Rather, it is when you are hurting and there is the possibility of comfort—comfort that you don’t know what to do with b/c it reminds you too much of something nauseating in your story.
Q: How does healing happen? Truth is required, but in the end it is not truth that changes people; it is kindness.
Kindness, in and of itself, begins to disrupt the power of Evil and when evil is disrupted, the body naturally heals.
The more we engage our story with kindness, the more our brain seems to change.
The more we are open to the possibility of comfort, the more our brain seems to change.
Now, last. I want to talk a bit about the surprise of resurrection. What does it look like to ascend up the other side of the U into the Sunday experience of healing, joy, and peace?
We can say four things about the ascent up the other side.
Number 1, it is not a return to the old status quo.
Again, the Psalms are our guide. If you immerse yourself in the Psalms you will see a pattern repeating over and over—it’s the movement from what Paul Ricouer called orientation to disorientation to reorientation.
Orientation is when your life made sense. Before the crisis—whatever it is for you. Before your addiction got out of control, before your marriage fell apart, before you became so deeply disappointed with God.
Disorientation is when life as you understand it gets upended and blown to pieces. Disorientation is the slide down from Friday into the confusion and grief of Saturday.
Reorientation is what we are talking about right now… it’s the movement up into resurrection.
The first point I want to make about the resurrection of Sunday is that it is NOT a return to the old status quo. Jesus’ resurrected body looked different. It was not a return to what had been before… it was something new.
Here’s how Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggeman puts it. Reorientation (that is, resurrection) is (speak slowly) not a return to normalcy as though nothing had happened. It is rather “all things new.”
Which brings us to point number 2: the movement up into joy and vitality and resurrection is always a surprise.
Always, always. I don’t care how many times God has already come through for you. It’s still a surprise when God does it this time. In this situation. With this mess.
Again, here’s how Brueggeman explains it:
The reorientation has both continuities with and discontinuities from what has been. But the accent is on the new.
It is a surprise. In our resistance, we do not expect to be surprised. The new situation is not an achievement or a working out of the crisis, but it is a newness that comes to us.
Which leads to point Number 3—the experience of healing is always a gift.
You can’t strive your way up into resurrection. It’s always a gift. It is something to be received, not something to be attained. REPEAT
One of the hardest things to grapple with is the simple question, “What if the world is ordered by gifts rather than achievements?”
Resurrection is always a place you find yourself in [pause]…
it’s not a destination that you arrived at through strenuous effort… though grief requires strenuous—sometimes exhausting—effort.
The Place We Find Ourselves is, at times, a place of resurrection and genuine newness. And when it happens, it is always a gift.
Again, I can’t move on to the last point without quoting Brueggeman. Here’s how he puts it:
Reorientation (i.e. resurrection) is always a surprise and a gift. It always comes to us just when we thought it not possible, when we could not see how it could be wrought in the present circumstance. The reorientation is not an achievement coming from us. It is not an automatic “next stage,” but it is something we receive when we did not expect it at all. Life falls into patterns of wholeness where we did not think it could happen precisely and only because God is at work.
Number 4, healing is always unique to you.
Another way of saying this is that the experience of healing always bears a certain mystery to it. It’s mysterious. It’s hard to put into words the experience of moving from grief to vitality and joy.
In part this is because it looks different for each person. It has to look differently because God is relentlessly committed to fathering each of us in the unique way that fits our hearts best.
Therefore, the way he rescues and restores your heart will be different than the manner in which he rescues and restores my heart.
I find this incredibly annoying, but it’s also kind of beautiful when you think about it.
So, summary: The experience of healing is
Never a return to the old status quo.
Always a surprise.
Always a gift.
Always unique to you.