Here’s a big, terrifying question that I’ve been asking myself lately: What is grief? What is mourning supposed to look like?
I’ve been wrestling with these huge ideas, struggling with colossal theological questions, and fighting to keep my footing in life while I figure out what grieving looks like. Man, this stuff is hard. The Lord’s been super active in this process, but I still feel like there’s part of the process I’m not getting. So, welcome in, let me walk you through what I’ve been dealing with these past few months.
A few months before my Dad passed, a good friend of mine introduced me to this crazy thing called the Enneagram test. As she described it, it was “more than a personality test,” and it “revealed your deepest flaws and darkest pain.” Sounds like a lighthearted conversation-starter to me. The deeper I looked into this thing, though, the more I started to like it. If you don’t know already, the Enneagram is actually a personality typing test with 9 main character types, each one containing specific positive character traits and the deeply-rooted issues that go along with those. With character tests like these, it can sometimes be difficult to not find your identity in what the test says your identity is. Above all, our identity is in Christ, and we’re ever-shifting, ever-learning creatures who gain wisdom and change our ways as we grow older. But with that in mind, the Enneagram’s been teaching me a ton about myself lately.
I’m a Seven on the test, also known as The Enthusiast. Makes sense. There’s some rad good things about Sevens, but I care a lot more about the crappy stuff and how I can get better. A Seven is typically someone who fills up their schedule, who does a lot of different activities to keep themselves busy. The test would say that they do this so they purposefully don’t ever get a chance to slow down and feel hard emotions. This is very true of me. Sevens, even if they talk about deep thoughts and emotions, struggle to feel them deeply when they’re on their own. I had never really realized this before. Armed with this new insight into my character, I set out with a thrilling new goal for myself: take time to be sad! Yes! Everything about that seems counterintuitive to me, but here’s the thing: if I never deal with the hard-hitting emotions of losing my Dad, they’re going to come back up later on. I’ve got to face these head on, but it all just seems so terrifying and messy.
I’ve been going through Job in the past few weeks. Job gets everything torn away from him, and most of the 40-something chapter book is about him complaining to the Lord, and rightfully so. Job has some incredible friends, who walk with him through all of his pain, and I’m grateful to be able to say I have the same types of friends in my life. What I’ve realized about Job, though, is that (no offense buddy,) he’s kind of an idiot. That’s a harsh word, but he is completely blinded by his pain and in the first part of the book, believes that God is infinitely angry with him, and although Job says he’s never sinned, God still crushes him. In Chapter 10, verses 16-18, Job says:
16 If I hold my head high, you stalk me like a lion
and again display your awesome power against me.
17 You bring new witnesses against me
and increase your anger toward me;
your forces come against me wave upon wave.
18 “Why then did you bring me out of the womb?
I wish I had died before any eye saw me.
Job, understandably, is extremely frustrated with the Lord because Job did nothing to deserve the vast amounts of destruction that have been dealt his way. I relate to Job here in some sense: I find myself frustrated with the Lord, but instead of becoming angry, I normally rationalize my sadness or try to distract myself. Typical behavior of a Seven. I’ve realized some crucial things from Job. Righteous anger is not only okay, but important in the grieving process. I’ve heard some people say that questioning God is wrong, but I don’t really think that’s true. Wrestling with what God’s doing helps us to understand His character more and grow closer to Him. When Jesus was in the garden of Gethsemane, He questioned God, He asked if there was another way. Wrestling with the things God does is an okay thing, but it’s not okay when you start to believe He doesn’t know best, or start to believe He enjoys pain, or worse, start to believe God can’t be real at all because of our pain. Those are lies. We can wrestle with the why of God’s actions, but we have to retain the understanding that he is absolutely sovereign.
Job’s friends give him some advice that give him real perspective on the issue, but he struggles a lot to see their point. I think that’s where Job struggles so much, he can’t keep his frustrations in perspective and starts to question whether God is good at all. In Chapter 11, verses 7-9, Job’s friend Zophar says:
7 “Can you fathom the mysteries of God?
Can you probe the limits of the Almighty?
8 They are higher than the heavens above—what can you do?
They are deeper than the depths below—what can you know?
9 Their measure is longer than the earth
and wider than the sea.
And later, in Chapter 15, another friend says:
11 Are God’s consolations not enough for you,
words spoken gently to you?
12 Why has your heart carried you away,
and why do your eyes flash,
13 so that you vent your rage against God
and pour out such words from your mouth?
These are pieces of deep wisdom that I’ve taken to heart recently. As a Seven, I’ve been trying to spend intentional time going to be by myself, letting myself slow down, playing my guitar, and talking to the Lord. I’ve been dwelling in truths like this, but also wrestling with what the Lord’s doing, and my place and job in that. And that’s been really good time. I’ve learned to enjoy feeling hard emotions, and I’ve become more comfortable just talking with the Lord and trying to figure out His character more and more.
There’s a crippling truth that I’ve been trying to come to grips with throughout this process. Here’s the dilemma: I believe that God is capable of doing anything and everything that is possible, and that He alone is in charge of the Universe. I also believe that God is good, and that He delights in pure good and never in evil. Furthermore, I believe God uses everything for His and our good. So, I’m forced to come to this conclusion: God could have let my Dad live, and he could have been glorified an equal amount a different way. That’s the fact of the matter: God could’ve done things differently. And I don’t know why He didn’t, and I wish I did. Thinking about God in this sense and questioning Him in these ways sometimes makes me feel like He’s more abstract than He really is, and that doesn’t help anything either.
I relate to Job in another way: Job just wants to be frustrated with the Lord sometimes, and when his friends try to point him to God, he’s super annoyed. In Chapter 16, Job says to a friend:
2 “I have heard many things like these;
you are miserable comforters, all of you!
3 Will your long-winded speeches never end?
When I talk to someone who’s going through a difficult situation, and they are talking about how lost they feel, confused, etc, I want to instantly help them by just saying something easy and cliche, like “Yeah, but God is good.” True. God is good, for sure. But, the person who I’m talking to surely knows this fact the whole time, and I haven’t healed their hearts by telling them some platitude about our Creator. Job’s friends sat with him in pain and anguish for 7 days straight before saying a word. I always love talking about the Lord, but maybe sometimes it’s just as effective to sit with one another in pain, and just soak in each other’s difficulties.
So, grief. I think grief is a messy, muddy process. Grief, I think, is something that you need to feel alone, but that you also need to involve close friends in. This process includes solitude and reflection, and lots of time wrestling with the Lord. Sometimes, that means asking big questions, and a lot of times that means being purely frustrated with God. That’s okay, but it doesn’t mean losing sight of who we’re worshipping day in and day out. I’m absolutely certain God is willing to sit with us in silence and feel our pain in unison with us. After all, we have a Creator who wept when a friend of his died. Jesus went through everything we go through in this wild human experience, and that is eternally comforting.
In other news in my life, I leave for Stuttgart, Germany in 18 days. That is wild, and I’m so excited to be joining my friends in planting a new campus of Trinity Church out there! Also, this Summer I’ve committed to work at a surf camp in the Outer Banks, Surf Hatters, as a film/video guy. Plenty of rad, joyful things coming up fast in life, but right now I’m taking time to just rest. I am terrible at rest; most Sevens are. Figures.
More updates will come as I head to Germany, so keep an eye out for that! Hope this post encourages you. To the King!