Grief: Big Boys do cry

Mrs. Panda was busily baking one day, making bamboo-shoot pies and stewing leaves on the stovetop. As she was cooking, she discovered a trail of ants walking across her kitchen floor. Of course, nobody wants ants in their kitchen, save insectivores, so she sprayed the entire line with bug spray. Having done this, she had to clean up all the dead ants. As she did, she left the windows closed because she did not want the neighbors to smell the insecticide and find out about the ants. She was so busy sweeping up ants that she did not realize her leaves had boiled dry until the kitchen began to fill with smoke. When she realized this, she hashed the pot to the sink and ran water over it. Stinking steam rose from the ruined pot and the terrible stench of burnt leaves filled the house. She tried to cover the smell up with perfumes and scented candles, but it was no use, and while she was doing this, her pies burnt to a crisp and added to the disgusting smoke. During all of this, she did not open the windows, for fear that the neighbors might think her a bad homemaker. When Mr. Panda came home from gathering bamboo, he found his wife extremely ill. Immediately, he threw open the windows. The toxic miasma of insecticide, smoke, perfumes and candle fumes was blown away as a refreshing wind came in, bringing with it only the smell of a light spring rain. Mrs. Panda immediately began to feel better. Soon, the kitchen was cleaned, the ruined pot replaced, and all evidence of the choking horror had been forgotten.

Someone once said that there are no positive or negative emotions. That is absolutely not true. The average human has approximately 65 distinct emotional states. Some emotions are pleasant. Happiness, hope, affection, romance, elation, contentment, anticipation, delight, these are all positive. Sadness, anger, frustration, fear, despair, disgust, these are all negative. What we should say is that emotions are neither good nor evil. It is not wrong to be angry, provided one is not led into sin. Sometimes, just a little negative emotion can even be good. It gives life character, like the bitterness of coffee or the spice of hot sauce. A dash of anger,fear or sorrow can make life interesting. I think perhaps that is the end purpose of these emotions. In this life, however, where sin and harm still exist, such negative emotions can rise to toxic levels very quickly indeed.

Unfortunately, we in the western world have been brought up in a culture where we have been led to believe that excessive display of emotion is bad. In my grandparents' day, husbands and wives did not kiss in public. If something good happened to you, a smile was considered the maximum amount of celebration to show. But most of all, men were not allowed to cry. My father was raised on this philosophy. He tried to teach it to me, but fortunately, I am the type who questions everything. As I could see no reason for such stoicism, I never practiced it. In later years, he came to realized that this was a mistake and apologized for it.

We need to understand that pain is real. Just like happiness, it is not the result of conscious choice. Nobody CHOOSES pain. We may choose to do things that create pain, but not to experience it. It doesn't matter where pain comes from. I'm often embarassed to tell someone that I am sad because a pet has died. That person may not understand that this pain is every bit as real as if a human friend had died, but it is. The source does not matter. Pain is pain.

When we bottle up pain and refuse to cry out, we become like Mrs. Panda. She was willing to stand there and breathe the toxic cloud that filled her house rather than be a little embarassed. Those emotions neet to be let out, and fortunately for us, we have a guide on how to cry out.

King David, the psalmist, was a Jew through and through. Technically, he wasn't because Judea wasn't a nation in those days, but he knew how to lament like a jew. Did you know that some jews make a living as professional mourners? I'm not kidding. The jews will hire professional mourners to bring honor to the dead at a funeral. But these people serve a very practical role as well. They encourage those who are saddened by the loss of a loved one to let their sadness out. King David certainly knew how to have a good emotional catharsis. Take a look at Psalm 22. It starts with "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken me?" David did not know at the time that he was quoting his distant descendant. We can look at this psalm and in retrospect, understand that he was writing about Christ because nobody pierced david's hands and feet. He didn't know that. The sorrow in this psalm is his own. David had a lot to be sorrowful about. He had his own three sins, which were big ones, hanging over his head for a huge portion of his life. He had a baby who died as the result of his sin. Many of his children were murdered by one avaricious brother. The ones that survived, with the exception of Solomon, were royal stinkers. Even those David loved and he mourned when they were killed, even though others were convinced that men such as Absalom did not rate mourning. But take a look at what happens in verse 22. Something changes. David suddenly starts praising God. Wh does he do that if he's convinced that God has abandoned him in his sorrow? It's because nature abhors a vaccuum. If you blow smoke out of a room, what happens? Fresh air comes in to take its place. David let out all of his pain and sorrow in poetry and songs and as he did, it was replaced by peace and calm. He was able to put things back into perspective and remember that God is faithful, and had never truly abandoned him. Psalm 22 is imediately followed by Psalm 23, in which David expresses his confidence in the Lord's care. 23 is then followed by 24, in which David lifts his voice in jubilation and exultation at the glory of God.

David gives us a very simple and easy formula to follow. Let out the sadness and the grief, but when you're done, stop and breathe in good. You may need to do this several times. Everyone is different. No two people experience grief the same way. One person may work through their sorrow while their loved one is yet alive. When Edal was sick, I said my goodbyes and grieved for the loss. By the time she was gone, I was left with my fond memories and was even able to smile at how peaceful she looked in her last moment. For others, it takes much longer, but always, the sorrow will eventually run out, as long as you replace it with something good. If you don't, you'll just suck that toxic emotion right back in.

Now I won't lie to you. You don't have to be a Christian for this to work. There is good in this world that doesn't come directly from God, and if you're not a Christian, you can suck that in and it will do the job. But nothing does the job as well. God is the ultimate source of good. When you know that the creator of all things and emperor of the universe loves you, it doesn't negate your troubles. They are still real. But it does make them much more managable. It detracts from their strength and makes them bearable until one day, they are gone. If you have accepted Jesus as your savior, then you have the promise of Revelation 21:4. "And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away."

If you haven't, then you still have the promise that this gift is available for the taking, as long as you do so this sside of the grave. Once you're on the other side, the offer expires. The best way to deal with pain and sorrow then is to get used to them. Nobody should have to do that. Nobody. The offer is open. The peace that passes understanding is free for everyone as a downpayment on the final freedom from all sorrow that is an integral part of God's final kingdom. All you need to do is ask.

Today's reading: Psalm 22
22:1 To the chief Musician upon Aijeleth Shahar, A Psalm of David. My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring?
2 O my God, I cry in the daytime, but thou hearest not; and in the night season, and am not silent.
3 But thou art holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel.
4 Our fathers trusted in thee: they trusted, and thou didst deliver them.
5 They cried unto thee, and were delivered: they trusted in thee, and were not confounded.
6 But I am a worm, and no man; a reproach of men, and despised of the people.
7 All they that see me laugh me to scorn: they shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying,
8 He trusted on the LORD that he would deliver him: let him deliver him, seeing he delighted in him.
9 But thou art he that took me out of the womb: thou didst make me hope when I was upon my mother's breasts.
10 I was cast upon thee from the womb: thou art my God from my mother's belly.
11 Be not far from me; for trouble is near; for there is none to help.
12 Many bulls have compassed me: strong bulls of Bashan have beset me round.
13 They gaped upon me with their mouths, as a ravening and a roaring lion.
14 I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint: my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels.
15 My strength is dried up like a potsherd; and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws; and thou hast brought me into the dust of death.
16 For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have enclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet.
17 I may tell all my bones: they look and stare upon me.
18 They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture.
19 But be not thou far from me, O LORD: O my strength, haste thee to help me.
20 Deliver my soul from the sword; my darling from the power of the dog.
21 Save me from the lion's mouth: for thou hast heard me from the horns of the unicorns.
22 I will declare thy name unto my brethren: in the midst of the congregation will I praise thee.
23 Ye that fear the LORD, praise him; all ye the seed of Jacob, glorify him; and fear him, all ye the seed of Israel.
24 For he hath not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; neither hath he hid his face from him; but when he cried unto him, he heard.
25 My praise shall be of thee in the great congregation: I will pay my vows before them that fear him.
26 The meek shall eat and be satisfied: they shall praise the LORD that seek him: your heart shall live for ever.
27 All the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the LORD: and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before thee.
28 For the kingdom is the LORD'S: and he is the governor among the nations.
29 All they that be fat upon earth shall eat and worship: all they that go down to the dust shall bow before him: and none can keep alive his own soul.
30 A seed shall serve him; it shall be accounted to the Lord for a generation.
31 They shall come, and shall declare his righteousness unto a people that shall be born, that he hath done this.