Thursday, December 18, 2014

Enshrining Grief

Sometime last week, I calculated that today would be 25 years since my friend Bob died from AIDS. For several reasons, his passing played a pivotal role in my life...most significantly, beginning my journey away from Charismatic theology. I praise the Lord for using Bob's death in that way, and had planned to share some of that story today. But the Lord allowed me to have an interaction earlier this week that changed my focus a little bit. So I want to write about grieving.

My friends will attest that I took Bob's death very hard. In the early months, that was okay in some respects, and I appreciate  the people who accepted me on that level. As the year progressed, I made an outward show of moving on with my life, but inwardly I clung to grief as my identity.

Worse, I made Bob into an idol. I forgot about all the differences between me and Bob, and stubbornly ignored his commitment to the very doctrines that his death (or rather, his mom's response to his death) called into question. In my mind, Bob became exactly who I wanted him to be. Had he lived, I told myself, our relationship would have been everything I wanted it to be.

Worse still, my eagerness for heaven shifted from my desire to see Jesus to a longing to be reunited with Bob. It shames me to type such an admission. Now I've exposed some of my heart's depravity, and I  can see how greatly I dishonored the Lord Who purchased me with His blood for His own pleasure.

Instead of idolizing Bob (who, in reality was a very imperfect man much different from me), I needed to worship and adore Christ Jesus. Had Bob lived, I certainly would have seen his character flaws, as well as all the disparities in our personalities. The Lord still would have brought me out of Charismatic theology, and as a result Bob would have bitterly disappointed me.

The memory of a departed loved one often gets distorted by our grief, causing us to  refashion them into who we want them to  be. Furthermore, we delude ourselves into thinking that, if they had lived, they would have loved us perfectly and made us happy. We don't give others a chance to love us, nor do we remember that Jesus alone loves us with absolute perfection.

Grief is normal, and we never completely get over a loved one's death. But grief must never slide into idolatrous memories, and we mustn't wallow in it endlessly. The Lord may take away  a dear loved one, but He leaves several others who  both love us and (more importantly) need our love. When we fixate on a departed loved one, we can disdain people who still live...people who care deeply for us. We send the message that they matter a great deal less to us than our deceased loved one. In our grief, we harden into a selfishness that hurts others.

We also harden ourselves towards the Lord by putting our loved one in His place. We usually deny this fact if  someone has the courage and love to confront us, refusing even to admit it to ourselves. But deep down, we know. And we also know, deep down, that our insistence  on defining ourselves by our bereavement in turn grieves the Holy Spirit.

My life seemed to have lost all joy 25 years ago. But 17 years ago, the Lord graciously brought John into  my life. Had I clung to my fantasies about Bob, I would have missed the love of my life, as well as all the ways God has used this marriage to draw me closer to Himself. I praise Him for breaking me out of the grief that encased me.

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