I’m just going to lay out here some of the reasons this post has been getting stuck in the pipeline of my brain:
- Abiding with Christ is supposed to be a positive thing, so it doesn’t do to compare it with grief.
- Abiding with Christ is not really a neatly packaged idea in the Bible. Is my shorthand way of referring to this concept appropriate?
- Grief can come from so many places, some of them villainous toward God and his people. Will it be confusing for people who are taking into account the destructive potential of grief when I compare it to abiding with Christ?
Sometimes it’s risky to think in new ways. So bear with me as I explore this topic without giving parenthetical comments at every turn. I recognize that every person’s experience with both of these topics is unique — aha! Our first similarity!
Both grief and abiding with Christ are happening in the background while life goes on
Whatever its source, grief resists being segmented into one moment of our lives or another. I remember driving to work one morning and a tender song came on the radio which turned my thoughts to my dad, who had passed away 9 months prior. It happened to be my parents’ wedding anniversary, and as I drove, I opened my heart to God.
I grieved the loss of my parents’ marriage as old folks.I expected them to forever be strolling on the beach together, walking more slowly as time wore on, but always together. Heart disease took my dad early. Now my mom takes walks on the beach by herself.
When I arrived at work, I was nowhere near composing myself. I tried to stuff my heart back in and get a hold of myself, but it was not happening. I ended up texting my team to let them know I needed a little time. I just went ahead and told them I was having a hard morning “because of my dad,” which they understood. I miss that team.
Truly it only took 15 minutes or so for me to find my emotional bearings and get to the meeting. But the tension remained underneath my sincere interest in my work: my family has lost something we’re not getting back.
Now, four years after my dad’s passing, that tension remains in my heart. I don’t always feel it, but it’s always there, pulling at my insides, reminding me that life is not what it should be.
Weirdly, abiding in Christ works this way too.
On another instance when I was supposed to be heading into a meeting with that same team, I had been reading Revelation in a quiet library. I found myself wrapped up in wonder about Jesus revealing himself in glory. I was crying as soundlessly as possible, and although I had somewhat composed myself for the meeting, I just had to share with the team when I got there. (My team was made up of other believers in ministry with me. Quite a luxury!) I was obnoxious and loud about it. I imagine they had no idea what to say, because I wasn’t being very socially predictable. And then it was time to go on with our meeting.
For the rest of the day, I carried around this burning in my heart that our Lord is risen and real, and that one day my imagination will be proved paltry in comparison with his actual glory.
You may have ascertained that I am an emotional person.
But even for those of us who live more in their heads than in their hearts, the truth is that we’re all living in two realities at once.
Grief reminds us of this as often as we think of the person, place or thing which we have lost. There is a reality in which that good thing was present. And there is also the reality in which that good thing is absent. Two realities carry on inside of us.
The truest reality for Christians is that we are always abiding in Christ. We are seated with him in the heavenly realms. [What?? What can that possibly mean?] It’s impossibility of being fulfilled in this tangible reality means that there is another reality in which we have a chair next to Jesus.
(Can you imagine? You’re seated next to Christ at dinner and he asks, “how was your day?” Then he offers to pray for you after you’ve poured out your heart about your hopes and difficulties. I want to go to that dinner where somehow everybody gets to sit next to Jesus.)
If grief creates a layer of tension in our lives, held taut between this life and the one we’ve lost, then abiding with Christ is another layer of tension, held between this life and the one we’ve been promised. We become multilayered people.
Both grief and abiding in Christ add a layer of tension to our lives
If we want to be healthy while living a multilayered life, we have to give focused attention to the hidden layers at times. If we do, they will support us and become part of our fabric. If we don’t, they will unravel and make us dis-integrating people. (Our position with Christ doesn’t change even if we let that layer unravel. But our awareness of it, our appreciation of it, and the extent to which it influences our daily lives can disintegrate, which creates a whole mess inside of us.)
This focused time needs to be characterized by a few common elements, in my observation:
- Free from distraction,
- Respected by those who love us (free from unnecessary interruption),
- Marked by honesty with God, (free to say or feel the “wrong” things)
- Free to be emotional or not.
Parents of young children notoriously struggle to find this kind of time, but God’s grace is abundant. He can do so much with just a few moments of time. Also, one way the Church can be a family to one another is enabling time like this to happen for parents and other caretakers of young ones. Our children will be well-supported by healthy, multilayered parents.
One of the big differences between grief and abiding with Christ is that our attention to grief tends to be on an as-needed basis. And many believers seek to pay attention to our abiding with Christ on a daily basis.
An even more significant difference is that grief will one day be resolved, but abiding with Christ will become all there is. The tension will be absorbed in the reality we’ve been longing for. That which was will become part of the beauty of that which will be forever.