paying attention

There are some moments when every little detail grabs my attention. On this slow Sunday morning, it’s the scent of my candle (“Leaves” from Bath and Body Works) mingled with my cinnamon tea. Our (new!) house has lights with dimmer switches, and this morning the half-dimmed lights create a cozy atmosphere as I sit at our dining table with a sleepy pup curled at my feet. He has his own bed not 15 feet away, but after the rain earlier, he’s been inclined to stay close by my side. From this vantage point, as well, he can keep an eye out the window on our front door, just in case a squirrel or neighbor dog dares to make an appearance.

It’s been a long while since I have written anything. I think it’s been awhile since I have slowed my hands and my eyes to observe the details in my life–the external things as well as the internal things. And while I am grateful for the things that have kept me moving and doing, I realized this past week the importance of staying in tune with what’s going on inside of me.

I woke up Monday morning with a heaviness sitting on my chest. I had a bad dream, of the sadder sort (as opposed to scary), so I attributed it to that, and tried to spend a little bit of time journaling through Scripture before beginning my day. However, by 10:30 a.m., I had cried three times, the last being an overwhelming, mascara-running-down-my-face, struggling-to-get-words-out sort of cry in front of my whole staff team. Working with people in ministry meant that it wasn’t the first time they have had to respond to someone in front of them losing it, and they were incredibly gracious and encouraging as they prayed for me and affirmed me.

Grief sneaks up on you, and there’s not always a clear trigger point. Sometimes it’s something related to your loss, but sometimes it’s simply the weight of everything else in life that has prevented you from paying attention to the whispers of sadness that have been piling up. And on this past Monday, I did something I have struggled to do in the past–I listened to the grief, paid attention to my emotions, and acknowledged the pain, even though I couldn’t totally explain it.

I don’t know why it can be so hard for me to give credibility to grief’s rhythms and waves. I feel insecure and annoyed that it interrupts my life, and it produces in me this fear that I am not actually as strong as I want to think I am.

As if my strength depended on myself. As if my performance were a reflection of my significance. As if I were trying to prove something to God, and to the people around me.

Yikes. My counselor warned me that grief reveals sin patterns in our lives, and there’s one of mine.

Every fall, I reread Anne of Green Gables. It’s as much of a tradition for me as pumpkin chocolate chip bread and sharing the first batch of chili with friends and pumpkin patch visits. The first three books in the series are delightful, and they push me to daydream and to notice the world around me.

Anne has a knack for saying the thing that perfectly explains something others haven’t known how to put into words, or even what they didn’t know they themselves felt. Something I have come back to over the past few years is this quote:

“It’s all very well to read about sorrows and imagine yourself living through them heroically, but it’s not so nice when you really come to have them, is it?”

I often feel this when I read what others have written about meeting God in their grief, whether it’s as short as a blog post or as long as a book. I long for the intimacy with God that they express, the moments of clarity, the peace in the midst of the storm. The problem, though, is that they are often telling their story from the vantage point of removed time. Even now as I write, I am several days removed from my wave of grief, and I can look back and see God’s caring hand over me.

In that moment, though, I wanted to know why I felt so forgotten by the Lord. I knew he hadn’t actually forgotten me; I have seen time and time again the ways he has shown me that he sees me and he cares. But the weight on my chest felt like more than I could bear, and I didn’t know how to “heroically” move forward.

I suppose time really is the answer. In the moment, sadness or anxiety or pain overwhelms all of my logical thought patterns. I can’t see how things are going to turn out, and I usually don’t even know what God is doing. But the longer I walk with God, the more I can see his love and his care, even if I can’t see his plan. His ways will never fully make sense to me, and I have resigned myself to trusting despite not understanding–but I have tested and tried his presence and his love. 

Jesus, Jesus, how I trust Him!
How I’ve proved Him o’er and o’er!
Jesus, Jesus, precious Jesus!
O for grace to trust Him more!

I’m not sure, if I were the heroine of a story, that I would be the one someone like Anne could look at and imagine how she would want to live through that story. I’m strong-willed and fickle and often wrong, constantly learning the same things over and over again.

But thankfully, I’m not the heroine of the story. I’m the beloved whose Hero walked through all kinds of suffering on my behalf, because of his love for me. He is the one who did it perfectly and who offers mercy to me in my own struggles so that I might enjoy the benefits of his strength in my weaknesses.

And as I expect to encounter more grief and sorrows in our world that’s not working as it should, I want to keep my eyes on him as my anchor, my hope, and my comforter. He hasn’t promised me happiness, but he has promised his presence and his provision for all that I need.

[Hebrews 4:15-16]
[Hebrews 6:19-20]
[1 Peter 1:3]
[2 Corinthians 1:3-4]
[Psalm 139:7-12]
[Philippians 4:19]

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a penny for your thoughts

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