Good Grief!

by Charlotte Long, Youth Ministry Coordinator

I've been trying to meditate on grief, lately (YES, even during the Christmas season). Or, more specifically, on suffering. What with close friends and family members going through various hardships, not to mention the Connecticut school shooting earlier in December, I find myself putting my fist to my chest and saying, "Why, why" a lot. I'm sure you can relate. And I have this habit of going to the books whenever I run out of my own pithy philosophies - I was a literature major, after all, and I am convinced that God knows I'll believe anything in print, so he keeps slipping me these inked gems. Lately, I've been on an Anne Lamott binge, her crotchety, humbling faith shining through and forcing me to laugh at and accept my own rocky path to Jesus. And I've thrown in a little C.S. Lewis, St. Augustine and my favorite Sufi master, Hafiz.

There's a mild danger in looking for meaning in others' written work - you can get mixed signals that sometimes frustrate you more than anything else. At least if I get frustrated with a Bible passage, I know it's my own blindness and not the fault of the writer; our family friend, Pastor John Dally says, "Wrestle with the scripture until it gives you a blessing" (and who said this faith thing wasn't supposed to be frustrating, right? It sooths me that Augustine says, if you're searching for Him, you've found Him). But this time, for whatever reason, God has decided to make it easy for me. Because I seem to keep getting the same messages amongst all the paper, and it's essentially this idea: that suffering and pain can be, if we let God do his thing, the purest form of cleansing for our souls. And we may look at this in several ways: 1) that we must be emptied in order to be truly filled up by God. And/or 2) when God is about to do something wondrous, He uses something difficult; and when He's going to do something spectacular, He starts with something impossible. That is, out of our suffering we are given the potential for the greatest Joy of returning to God, usually born from some experience of His Grace - shuffling, sloppily bumping along, never-the-magic- wand-we-want-it-to-be, GRACE.

And is it surprising? Because when I am at my lowest, in my reflections of loser-dom and self-absorbed, Biblical breast-beating, that's when, as a last resource, I whimper quietly, "Are you there, God? It's me, finally." And, as Lewis reminds me, if God were proud, He would never take back the sniveling 23-year-old who waited until the LAST POSSIBLE SECOND to ask for help - who waited to give into God until she felt like she had no other choice (we're talking about me, again.) I am 1,000 times less likely to give myself over to God when I am content and pleased with my life - that is, when I think I have everything to lose.

But of course, God isn't proud like us. And He does take me back and bless me, every time. Because, just like I heard in Sunday school over and over as a child, He loves me. The love of God, or Grace, may not look or feel the way I wanted it to - no one, not even Jesus nailed to the cross, is going to dispute that pain is indeed, painful. But it makes sense to me that whatever pain I feel in my own life is magnified tremendously in God's own pain for me. Because He feels my sorrow AND the sorrows of the seven billion other people crowding each other out on this divine planet. And He wants me healed through Him, because the balm of God is the best He can give me. So the Grace I receive when I let myself be emptied by God is the real deal, people.

Lewis says that pain is God's way of shouting, like into a megaphone. I'm pleased then, to have Father Parkin's voice in my head from his sermon a few weeks ago; I can pray that my pain is actually God on the outskirts of the soccer field, shouting into his neon-orange megaphone, "COME BACK, YOU NINNY! I TOTALLY LOVE YOU!"

RITE 13 (Junior High) and J2A (Senior High):

Rite 13 (Junior High) Church Lock-In

Rite 13 (Junior High) Man/Womanhood Ceremony; 9AM Service