November 13, 2020
By Bette Dickinson
Does your soul feel a little like this image above? You’re not alone.
We have all encountered a long desert season of loss and disappointment in the last 6 months.
Coronavirus made sure of that. Some experienced more, others less.
Let me name some of the losses. Feel free to name your own.
First, our schedules were upended.
Then our routines.
Then our jobs.
Then – the news began to trickle in of losses. We started to hear about people dying. Fear crept in.
We lost the normalcy of going to the grocery store.
We lost schools and childcare.
We lost worshipping together in a church body.
We lost physical community.
We lost loved ones perhaps.
We lost celebrations like normal weddings and graduations.
We lost a sense of certainty and security.
We lost our sanity.
Maybe we are still losing it.
Then, new losses began to arise. We lost Ahmaud Arbery. George Floyd. Breonna Taylor.
Many of us lost hope in reconciliation, or at least awakened to the fact that things aren’t as post-racial as we thought.
And let’s not get started on the election. Or virtual schooling. Or the fact that our country is literally on fire.
This is a lot to take in. Take a deep breath. Really. Right now – BEATHE.
If you’re experiencing anxiety reading the lists above, you likely have unresolved grief and stress. I’m here to help.
Like me, you may be still needing to process the losses that began in March, or maybe encountering fresh losses today. If you need a little help getting started with that, I made something for you.
My guess is that most of us have not slowed down long enough to process and grieve all we have lost. Maybe we haven’t had the time and were too overwhelmed by just trying to stay afloat to grieve. Or maybe we had the time, but were just too afraid to go there. And perhaps some of us just skipped right over grief to go back to business as usual (well – sort of usual).
That’s why I wrote this series. To give you the words for what you’re experiencing and help you through it.
Even if we did take some time to grieve what was lost – there is likely more to uncover. And grief is not linear. It doesn’t have a timeline. It may just come right back around when we least expect it. That’s how grief works.
Making Space for Grief
But what if we took some time to intentionally go there? To grieve, to lament, to process what has happened? What if God is just waiting for us to stop, to listen to our own cries and the cries of the world, and to bring them to Him?
This series is designed to help you to do just that. To name the pain, sit in it and invite God into it. As I have poured over these words, I have been praying that they will serve you in the journey to mourn what was lost. Because I believe that when we invite God into our loss, He may surprise us by what He does. I sincerely believe God never wastes our pain, but what if He could grow something through it?
It’s counterintuitive to our Western worldview to invite suffering and pain as a gift of transformation. In our culture, when we think about growth, we often think of things like “5 successful strategies to grow your business.” Or in the self-help world, “12 steps to becoming your best self.”
In education, we think about growth in certificates and degrees that prove to the world that we know something. We often focus on growth that has external measurements – numerical, mechanical, and visible.
We do the same thing in ministry when we talk about the spiritual life. We tend to use terms like the harvest and fruitfulness to measure ministry growth. What we often mean by this is what we see on the outside. The numbers of people coming to faith. The size of an audience. The number of leaders. And there is some Biblical basis for this. Jesus often talked about the harvest being plentiful, and that we are to reap faithfully. In Acts, multiple times the authors record the number of people who came to faith.
But – have you ever considered the process that leads up to that harvest? How does a plant, a ministry, a person, get to a place of fruitfulness and harvest? Where does that journey begin?
According to Jesus, this process begins at the Cross.
Jesus was saying – do you want to produce many seeds and be fruitful? Do you want to make an impact on the world? Look at the process of how life works all around you – in the things that grow.
Jesus models for us a willingness to surrender to God in the midst of suffering through the Cross. Rather than running from suffering (hello the disciples that fled the scene) or trying to fight it (hello Peter, hello me), Jesus entered right in.
In this series, we are going to uncover what happened when he sat in that darkness and in the tomb of the grave and waiting. Suffering affords us the opportunity to follow Jesus to the Cross so that he can transform us through it. But this growth is often very hidden. We don’t often see the results right away.
Any gardener will tell you that the journey of growth in the soil is a journey downwards to hiddenness, darkness, and death. A harvest begins with a single seed. And that seed was planted in the ground and had to die.
If the sower was able to peek into the darkness where a seed is buried, she could glimpse it unfolding from death to life. We would see something happening. But often as sowers, we don’t get to witness this miracle. Instead, our vantage point is above the ground where we don’t see anything happening for a long time.
It is in the long in-between months that we have to wait with hope that one day what we have sown will pop above the soil again with the resurrection of all life.
But it is in the darkness of the earth that the seed begins to grow. This is where the journey begins and where God meets us – in the hidden growth of darkness, death, and pain.
In some mysterious way, God promises that when we surrender to Him in the midst of loss and disappointment, He produces a resurrection on the other side. And that resurrection produces an eternal harvest.
Every. Single. Time.
When I read this passage in John 12, my heart sank.
“Oh,” I thought, “That’s how you grow. That’s how you produce a harvest – when you die and are buried in the grave with Jesus.”
It is not from death that Jesus saves. It is through death.
“Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be.”
— John 12:25
You can’t go under it.
You can’t go over it.
You’ve gotta go through it.
No matter how much we are told through the Gospel that death precedes resurrection, we resist pain. We hate it. We look for some other way. How could this kind of pain produce fruit? But the mystery and the beauty of the Gospel is this: it is in these very places of pain that God’s living water and living breath are allowed in, allowed to heal us, and cause us to grow. When we encounter God in these places, he cracks our shell and we expand and transform.
I love this quote from Jerry Sittser’s book A Grace Disguised: How the Soul Grows Through Loss. Sittser experienced catastrophic loss of his wife, mother, and daughter all in one car accident. He describes the process of growth through loss this way,
“Catastrophic loss…will transform us or destroy us, but it will never leave us the same…the soul is elastic, like a balloon. It can grow larger through suffering.”
— Jerry Sittser
Pain. Loss. Grief. Failure. Disappointments. It is through these things that God transforms us into the people we were made to be.
Through the Cross,
the soil of transformation.
In this blog series, we are going to take a deep dive into ways God transforms us through our pain points.
“Measure your life not by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds you plant.”
— Robert Louis Stevenson
Are you ready to take a step to surrender to God in the soil? Do you want someone to walk with you through that process?
If so, go ahead and sign up for the Seeds of Hope 4 Day Meditation Guide, and not only will you get a 4 day boost, but I’ll send some more resources to help you dive into this very challenging, but spiritual work. I can’t wait to start this journey with you!
Are you ready to take a baby step in the journey? Let’s get started right now.
Take inventory of your life. Where have you personally encountered hardship in the last year? Where have you experienced disappointment, frustration, or loss? Name it. We’ll come back to this later, but consider the idea that you pain is the very place God wants to work in your life.
Take inventory of your world. Where is there suffering and unrest? It’s not hard to find it on the news or social media. Who are the people in your life who are going through something really difficult? Who has experienced loss recently? What might it look like to enter their experience and grieve with them? How can you wait with them in hope for God to do something new?
Lord, I hate the way of suffering. I look at the world and in my own life and see so much pain. While suffering is hard to endure, I thank you that you didn’t shy away from darkness, but you stepped into it through your life and death. Help me to do the same in trust that You will bring resurrection on the other side. Help me to take the next steps on the journey with you towards growth by setting my face towards the Cross.