Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Empty nothings

How then will you comfort me with empty nothings? There is nothing left of your answers but falsehood. Job 21:34
Sometimes it seems I’m walking through this process so slowly that I barely perceive any progress. Yet, when I look back I can see how far I have come. I still have so much to learn about grief, about what it really feels like—for myself, at least—and my insights, my perspective keep evolving.

I’m attending a church-sponsored grief support group that has been so enlightening, so much comfort. When I hear the stories of other group members whose losses have been more recent, I remember the numbness and the utter heartbreak of my earliest days. We recently discussed how others may try to give us comfort but fall far short of true empathy. I suppose I should not be so critical of others who are trying to help those of us who are grieving, but it often seems that the well-wishers just can’t bear to see our pain and want us to “move on” and get back to our lives. They often say exactly that. What they don’t understand is that there may be no old life left, that what we need is to create is a new life without the person we have lost, to find a new normal. That process takes a lot of time.

Many in the grief support group have had the experience of someone telling them that God doesn’t give you more than you can handle. I’ve had this happen, too. I had a friend hand me a homemade laminated card that said, “Remember that God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.” I threw the doggone laminated card across the room and said, “Well, then, God is wrong. This is more than I can handle.” I probably frightened her and seemed ungracious, but it’s true—sometimes God does give you more than you can handle.

In the Book of Job we read of the unbelievable trials of a good man named Job. Some people added to Job’s troubles by giving him laminated cards that said God wasn’t giving him more than he could handle. Others comforted him—thank you Lord, for sending other people to walk beside us, to be our friends in the darkest hours. And Job’s ultimate comfort came from faith in God, from trusting Him.
Sometimes I lose that trust in a good God. I think God has abandoned me to face all of it alone. I think if He is all-powerful then He would fix things, that He wouldn't let people I love die, and He wouldn't allow wars and an endless stream of human heartbreak. But that's not the way it works. We are human. We have broken hearts and broken lives. Gradually we learn that grief is the cost of loving someone. All the while He is with us. Even when we think He has given us more than we can handle.


Sunday, December 8, 2013

Who do you love?

A few days ago I was having a conversation with a friend about whether, under any circumstances, I could ever get into another relationship. Like with a man. (I’m breaking out in hives just thinking about it.) She posed to me a series of questions:

Could I love a man who is much older than me? “How old is much older?” I asked. She throws 80 years old out as a theoretical possibility. Nope, not going there. My mother is in her 80s and I go to her senior residence all the time and see those old men. No appeal. I don’t want to be taking care of a very old man, no clipping hairs out of his ears or wiping drool off his chin.

Could I love an obese man? Oh, Lord, this is tough. “I need to be able to get my arms around him,” I reply. Honestly, I don’t care if he’s a little overweight but obese? I’d worry about his health. I don’t want to fall in love with someone who I expect to die soon.

Could I love a man from another race or culture? “Yes, absolutely. That might actually be a plus. I may have reached my limit with white Anglo-Saxon men.”

Could I love a man who was dull or a little slow intellectually? “Nope. I want to be able to talk to him. Lively, intelligent conversation is an incredible aphrodisiac.”

Could I love a man who was a Republican? Oh, no, not the Republican question. In my mind I scroll through the Republicans that I know. John Boehner? Mitch McConnell? Dick Cheney?!! Surely there are other Republicans, people whose political philosophy is Republican but who have hearts, who are kind and generous, who don’t tie their dogs on top of their cars, who aren’t smug and obstructionist. I don’t know if I could love a Republican. That’s a really tough question. You can judge for yourself if you think these men are loveable.