You recall from English classes that a noun is a person, place, or thing…while a verb is an action word. It describes what the noun is doing.
It seems obvious, but somehow this escaped me:
“Grief” is a verb –
therefore, it is something we do!
Not only that, but grief is an emotion…created by God. It’s sort of a “pressure relief valve” for our minds. Ungrieved losses show up somewhere; if not in our behavior, then certainly in our health.
What is an “ungrieved” loss? It is pain that has gone unnoticed, was buried, denied, or covered up.
It happens when we experience loss, but are unable to grieve. We may say something like, “I’m not going there!”
“So what?” we might be tempted to ask. “Who cares if we grieve or don’t grieve? What’s the big deal?”
Well, to answer to our question, let’s visit Nevada…
In the 1840s, many pioneers set out for the West. Most used the same route – so many, in fact, that the trail became worn. Over time, deep ruts developed.
If we go there today, we can still see them.
The problem with getting into a rut is that of getting out again if a different destination is desired!
Someone once said that a rut is a grave with open ends.
Ungrieved losses create ruts.
We travel the same path we have many times before, doing the same things, and ending up in the same place. Then we wonder, “Now, how did I get here again?”
Often when we experience a loss of some sort, we remember when something similar happened before.
For instance, rejection by someone in our adult life may remind us of the time when we were a kid and… (fill in the blank) happened.
If we’re not alert, we will make rash decisions regarding the matter:
We may choose to isolate.
We may choose to spread gossip about the person.
We may choose to retaliate.
“I’m not taking this anymore!”
From the outside, our attitude and actions seem irrational – and often are!
Knee-jerk reactions are a sure sign of unresolved grief.
In the Obstacles to Intimacy with God class, this was explained as “emotional stacking.”
We experienced a loss somewhere in the past. If we were children at the time, we didn’t know what to do with the pain. The adults around us may have foolishly told us, “Quit crying” or told us, “Grow up.”
Or something really stupid like, “Big boys/girls don’t cry.”
Jesus Wept…and on more than one occasion.
Not knowing what to do, we buried the pain.
In the coming years, other losses occurred. Each one tapped into the original wound, and had a sense of familiarity about it. “I’ve been here before.”
If we didn’t learn what to do with that pain, we continue to “stuff” it.
Pain gets built upon pain until the heart overflows with pain and hurt.
Perhaps we’ve attempted to “plastic coat” our heart to prevent more pain from affecting us. This may work for a long time, but sooner or later, it all comes boiling out.
One horrible side effect of buried pain is that we can’t feel or sense love. We trust no one, and are constantly on guard – waiting for “the other foot to fall.”
Sadly, it does.
There’s a dynamic to this that is hard to explain, but it’s evident in the “underdogs” around us. It’s like they emotionally carry a sign that says, “Kick Me!”
Expectations of being mistreated and abused rarely go unmet.
Consider curtains that open and close with a pull-chord. When they are opened, both sides move to the outer edges of the window, allowing in light (or in this case, love).
When one side is closed, the other side closes as well, giving symmetry to the display.
In the same way, when we experience pain and attempt to shut the “curtain” on the “pain side” of our heart (“I’m not going to deal with that”), it is also drawn in on the “delight side.”
These partially closed curtains define our “new normal.” We feel less pain…but also feel less delight.
If we do this often enough, we will come to a place where depression sets in.
We “flatline” – and feel nothing at all.
Not from man…
…and not from God.
John Eldredge has several fantastic books that address this issue. If you’re not familiar with his work, I recommend them. (My personal favorite is “Waking the Dead.”)
Here’s an excerpt from another book he wrote with his friend, Brett Curtis:
“Instead of dealing with the Arrows, we silence the longing. That seems to be our only hope. And so we lose heart.
“How many losses can a heart take? If we deny the wounds or try to minimize them, we deny a part of our heart and end up living with a shallow optimism that frequently becomes a demand that the world be better than it is.
“On the other hand, if we embrace the Arrows as the final word on life, we despair, which is another way to lose heart.
“To lose hope has the same effect on our heart as it would be to stop breathing.
“If only there were someone to help us reconcile our deepest longings with our greatest fears.”
The Sacred Romance
There is great news for those of us who struggle with loss and pain:
There IS Someone to help us reconcile our deepest longings with our greatest fears.
Tune in tomorrow!
You’ve dropped in on the series Intimacy with God. It begins here: C’mon In…
This section is about loss and grief as obstacles to intimacy. It begins with Plastic Hearts