Purpose in the pain

The following is something I wrote a few short months after my son Jacob died. My hope is that it may help you better understand the purposes of God in the midst of pain.

Better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for that is the end of all men; and the living will take it to heart. Sorrow is better than laughter, for by a sad countenance the heart is made better. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth. (Ecclesiastes 7:2-4)

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Last October Stacey and I celebrated our 25th anniversary by going to Mexico. Our time there was memorable and filled with exciting, new, and fun things to enjoy. Six months passed by and we found ourselves in a funeral home preparing to say goodbye to our beloved son Jacob. Which experience would you say is better? Here the preacher says something contrary to human understanding saying it is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting. Why? Because the character of God is learned many times through hardship and less frequently through times of laughter. Therefore the house of mourning is found to be better because it is there that we discover who our God is.

The Christian life is full of growing pangs that we would never have chosen for ourselves, but God is working in us to mature us though various trials he has chosen. We experience the fruit of joy which the Holy Spirit produces as we suffer in the many hardships we endure. This joy is obviously not based in our circumstances but in the comforting fact that God is at work in our lives to sculpt his masterpiece. “My brethren count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. (James 1:2-4)

A test may be grieving you, the circumstances may be grim but our steadfast endurance in the pain produces the fruit that God desires in us. The desired goal of God is that we be perfectly matured and fully equipped for Christian living through the trial. Did you notice James says we need to let patience do the work which God desires to accomplish?Does this mean we can resist the work of God and stunt our spiritual growth? I believe it does. God wants us to stop being children (1 Peter 2:2) and to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 3:18)

There are three levels of Christian maturity. Children understand the basic truth that they have been forgiven. Children develop into strong young men by having the word of God dwelling in them and overcoming the wicked one. Young men grow into fathers by life experiences that reveal the character of God described on the pages of scripture. In all this maturing God uses trials along the way so in the end we can say with John, “I write unto you fathers, because you have known him who is from the beginning.” (1 John 2:12-14) We move from reading the book about God to knowing the God of the book though our pilgrimage of pain.

I can honestly say that there was very little I learned about God when I went to Mexico. I resided in the house of laughter and my spiritual growth was at best was in neutral. We came home to that long hard winter which ended in the worst day of our lives on March 26th; we entered into the better place of sorrow. How is it better? In all the sorrow, pain and grief we find God, he is the brightest in the darkest of times. He reveals himself in ways that the happy times could never have taught us.

What was the first lesson I learned in the house of mourning? What was the first lesson in the classroom of spiritual maturity for me? Lesson number one for me was a lesson on grace. Being in a helpless and seemingly hopeless place I learned though suffering that, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor. 12:9) In the weakest moment of my life Christ poured out his grace and showed himself strong. He is the God of all grace and he has plenty to in reserve for your many afflictions in life too. Allow God to refine you in your house of mourning, there is grace for you in your time of great need. (Heb. 4:16)

As sorrowful; yet always rejoicing (2 Cor. 6:10)

God bless, Mike.

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Change: Diminishing grief the hard way

Change. Life is always changing, so much has changed for us that sometimes I can’t believe this is now our life. Three years ago I was on cruise control on life’s highway without a care in the world. The top was down, the sun was shining, the road was smooth with no twists, no turns, no exits and rarely a lane change.

We didn’t see the detour sign and didn’t know that the bridge was out. We drove right off the mighty Mackinac bridge feeling the sudden impact, the continual cold waves, and the shock of all that happened to our family in such a short amount of time. Change. Death changed everything in life. Our life has changed so much in the last three years that Stacey and I have often found ourselves saying to each other, “I can’t believe that this is our life!” It was very surreal at first but reality has now set in and we have evolved and changed with all the changes death brought to us.

Change. Losing a child changes everything in life and I have found that the only handbook on how to navigate the new world we have entered into is the bible. When I say that death changes everything that is exactly what I mean; nothing is the same nor will it ever be the same. It changed my perspective on the world, I don’t think like I used to nor do I respond to life like I used to. Death changed my faith, my marriage, my family, my plans in life, it has altered every aspect of living.

I guess if there is any counsel I could give to a parent who has just lost a child it would be to buckle up and brace yourself for change. I would also encourage them to not be afraid of making choices for change that will help with the grieving process. I have discovered by experience that grief can be diminished by doing the difficult things.

Change. We can only play the cards we are dealt and I will confess there are times I have wanted to fold and quit the game. In the beginning of the game it felt like I would never get a good hand dealt to me but cards always change and good fortune did come.

Though death did change everything without our consent there are choices for changes we have made to make our journey somewhat smoother again. They haven’t always been easy choices  but I have found healing in the difficult decisions. Death changed everything but we made difficult choices to change and adjust our lives to our new paradigm.

Grief can bring you to a standstill in life. Change has come and we have found that we must change to avoid getting stuck in our grief. The difficult thing with change and moving forward is that it hurts most of the time. Grief therapy and physical therapy are somewhat similar. We must make the choice to go to our appointments, make a choice to do the tough stuff and expect that after the uncomfortable pain has passed there will be healing in the end.

Change. We didn’t choose this pathway but we can choose the path to better places. I have learned that making changes are difficult and downright painful at times but the benefits are worth it. Somebody once said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. I have chosen to change with all the changes that have come my way and expect a different outcome. It hasn’t always been easy, it hasn’t been always comfortable. I have learned that changes hurt sometimes, (heck, most of the time) but found that in grief the old wrestling adage applies very well. “No pain, no gain!”

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During my years of wrestling with Jacob I have been confronted by huge life changes that I didn’t sign up for. In that time I have made small and large changes to move forward in the healing process. Life is always in flux but for me there is a great comfort that I hold to that never changes. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8) With all the changes in life he is the rock I stand on that never moves and in that I take great comfort.

Though He causes grief, Yet He will show compassion. According to the multitude of His mercies. (Lamentations 3:32) 

 

 

Man up?

What does it mean to be strong? I have been told and have heard people say, “You need to be strong for your kids.” or, “I need to be strong for my spouse.” These statements are often uttered by well meaning people after somebody dies. Is strength, courage and manliness the ability to endure pain without emotional response?

American culture sadly defines strength and manhood for men. Is manliness to paint our faces in blue war paint like William Wallace in Braveheart? Or do fictitious actors like Maximus who fight to their death in the coliseum define strength? Watch the following clip and tell me that we don’t teach our boys from youth that crying is for sissies and true manliness hides emotion.

Little Boy Takes Doctor’s shot like a boss – IM A MAN!

Pain is real. Fear is real. As a believer in Jesus Christ am I just to man up and put on my big boy pants and “Be a man!” I suppose the most difficult admission for a man is that we are weak and needy, that we have fears and lack courage. When we were small boys and the school bully instilled fear in us because of his threats we sought out friends with muscle. We looked for our big brother when the punk was threatening to bring the pain. We knew we were weak and needed someone stronger than ourself to strong-arm our enemy.

God is calling Christian men to realize their weakness and to depend on the strength of God. God was sending Joshua into the teeth of his enemies where fear and pain could surly paralyze his progress. He promises to prosper him if he does not turn to the right or the left of his commandments. God said, “This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. (Joshua 1:7-8) 

General Joshua was going to face his enemies and God calls him to man up. Success in the Christian life demands dedication to meditation on the word of God and obedience to its every command. This is the first challenge of being a manly man in a culture that defines manliness wrong. God commands Joshua to have courage but his confidence will not to found in his flesh. Strength and courage and manliness are only experienced by a spirit of obedience to God’s word. God said to him, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9) 

 We have the same promise men. Jesus said that we would never leave or forsake us and to not be afraid of making a stand for truth. Its going to take courage but remember that fear is never a factor when the strongest warrior is next to your side. Be strong in the Lord brothers because our big brother is always at hand to defend.