Be Free to Grieve

Be not consoled and feel no need to be consoled.
This quote is from the book, The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. It was spoken by the Elder Zosima to a woman weeping uncontrollably over the death of her child, who so desperately wishes for her child in her arms again. The woman has previously only received cheap sympathy from those who wish her to stop being so demonstrative in her grief.
I understand that Dostoyevsky grieved over the death of his own son just prior to writing this book, which might explain the potent empathy of such a statement.
We can be hard on our grieving selves. I know I am. I have experienced deep grief, most recently over my mom’s illness (Lewy Body Dementia) and the loss of her vivacious presence in our lives. I’ve been especially inconsolable during COVID as I consider her isolation, an added hardship.
I haven’t had anyone advise me to stop, I’ve done that to myself. I have not wanted to be interrupted by grief. I want my heart to stop raising the issue already. I want to be “normal.” I want to rally my energies to keep going. Instead, I add to my grief a cruel judgment that, because of my inopportune emotions and the way they can level me, I have become ineffective and I’m letting myself and others down.
This statement – be not consoled! – rather gives fresh permission to let grief do its cleansing work, let it run its course without interruption, honour the loss, even make room to do so. It miraculously gives hope and courage while imposing neither.
I plan to self-administer this merciful advice – I did today – and share it with you too, as I suspect we all have our share of grief we’re trying to contend with.
Suppress it no further. Be free to grieve.

Freedom from Envy

Have you ever been envious of someone else, whether mildly or severely so? Wanting what some else has, looking like someone else looks, doing what someone else is doing?
Even now you might be able to think of that thing, person or circumstance you desire so badly and believe you deserve. You might know the wrestle in your soul and the pain in your heart too well. You might be familiar with the place in your body where the envy resides – it can knock the wind right out of your lungs, it might sit like an anvil on your chest, or smother you with its weight.
The main activity of envy is to build up a wall between you and those you are envious of. You can resent and even hate the other because of what they have which you don’t.
Envy puts itself in the place of loving relationships, mimicking a caregiver or comforter, nursing the very wounds it inflicts. If you don’t have those things your heart longs for, at least you have your envy.
Even in the throes of our envy, our soul is enlightened from time to time that this is neither healthy nor a beneficial way to live, to say the least. We are then tempted to free ourselves from envy in the following ways.
One primary way to perhaps ease the ache of envy is to acquire the things or circumstances our heart wishes to have. Work harder for wealth, sell ourselves for prestige, lose ourselves for love. Envy begins to control our purposes as we aspire only to acquire.
Another way is to try a prescription of reverse comparison and think of the ways we are better off (at least!) than others. Perhaps if we got in this mess by weighing our circumstances against others it can also be the thing that frees us! Criticism works well here – not to actually elevate ourselves, but to feel elevated. We will seek out poverty in others to cure ours.
Or we might choose to avoid all those things, people or circumstances that might arouse envy in us. This is the (momentary) balm of isolation where we simply don’t have to think of it because we have put on our blinders. We are willing to deceive ourselves that isolation is better than deprivation.
Each of these tactics, however, only serve to feed the dragon of envy within us. With each self-appointed “solution,” we will find instead that envy has become our master as it shapes our purposes, diminishes our identity, and destroys relationships. We are no longer free, we are enslaved.
Blessed are those who do not struggle with envy, but more blessed are those who are freed from envy – for it is by God’s grace that we become free.
There is a way to live humbly and sit among (without owning) that or those which we once deemed enviable and be internally glad, even uplifted.
This is the freeing activity of faith in Jesus. Not only can he release us from the chains that bind us, he can show us how to destroy this enemy of our soul.
Be free from envy by believing in Jesus’ power to free us and trust him with our circumstances. When we are in his care and aligned in his love, ALL IS AS IT SHOULD BE for he promises – not a life of comfort! – but that we are led with kindness by a God who loves us. He has purposes for us beyond acquiring items or positions that belong to others. He has relationships he has ordained and appointed to us, which he will reveal in his time. This is foundational to freedom from envy – our life need not look like others and it is the Lord’s to determine.
What does is take on our part to so utterly trust him that envy can no longer take hold? Be free by confessing our envy to the one who can rid us of it. It is a sweet offering to the Lord that we would release to him that which has kept us from him.
No matter how much we want to be free from envy, this can be difficult for us – all surrender is. As humans, we do tend to enjoy feeling wronged and left out. What pleasureful pain it is to think that we deserve and even need what others have. Releasing this “right” to what we deem we are owed, or the “injustice” that we don’t have what others have, is a simple, but an almost impossible step except by God’s grace.
But when we do, we find ourselves not only at peace in our circumstances, but also able to love more freely even–especially the very people we once hated by our jealousy.
From there we can express gratitude for our circumstances (and sometimes this is the pathway toward our confession). Build the discipline of thanking God for everything good you have. You will develop your spiritual eyesight to see God’s goodness in places you didn’t before think to look, for our preoccupations blind us.
For the believer, everything has purpose and points us to God’s power and goodness. We will be delighted to discover that those things we once envied we can look with new awareness and see that they can keep us from God’s goodness.
Once you have tasted God’s goodness, it becomes the thing our heart longs for and those things we once envied become dull and undesirable. We can even wonder at our own foolishness for having placed these things as a priority in our lives.
Once freed, don’t be surprised by the visitation of envy from time to time and in the most surprising ways for this life of freedom is a pilgrimage. But envy is a tool of the devil to sift your soul. It will whisper to your heart that you are worthless and your circumstances are purposeless. It will tell you sweet lies that you have been left out, forgotten, or deprived. Nothing could be further from the truth, but until your soul grapples with envy by God’s grace, you will not know the abundant true and beautiful goodness of the Lord meant especially for you and enough for all of us.
Be free!

On Learning to Listen & Doing Justice

Last year I dedicated the year to learning how to listen. I didn’t set out to become informed, my purpose was to understand the process of listening better. My hypothesis (and eventual conclusion) was that listening is a spiritual practice that can change us and change our world.
What I learned is that listening is hard and painful work – as it requires setting aside one’s ego – and it doesn’t come naturally.
Despite my taking a formal coaching program, self-educating (reading everything I could on the topic), studying scripture, going on listening retreats, praying to become a better listener, and attempting in every conversation to make space in my heart for the opinion (and thus, pain) of others, I found it extremely difficult to listen if I didn’t also aspire to humility.
I’m sure you could ask any therapist who has spent the day listening to clients that this is a discipline that requires the building of strength and stamina. It can leave one exhausted if one attempts to jump in the deep end of listening where they haven’t waded before. You can feel depleted, bruised and ready to give up.
I think of the listening many in the white community have committed to on behalf of their black and first nations friends and family. I think of men who have listened to women in the suffrage or #metoo movements. I think of the times that those in power have listened to those who are marginalized. Some will jump in and then come up for air quickly feeling exhausted/battered. Others will immerse in listening and become powerful agents of change. The difference is in how they’re listening.
Discovering that humility is a core ingredient to listening well, I’ve had to pay attention to the moments where my ego wants to talk back. You’ll recognize it’s calling cards, “but” or “what about.” These words are a pretty good indication that you are no longer listening because your ego has been bruised (guarding your conscience against being pricked).
I aspire to the impossible task of never being personally offended. I fail at this miserably almost daily, but I still make this commitment as I never want to feel victorious over my hurt feelings. I believe that personal offence is the greatest barrier to listening well to others.
And, as a follower of Jesus, I am free in Christ. I have no need to defend myself for he will do it. Which leads me to my next point.
The other key ingredient to listening well is listening to a source that refreshes you and gives you strength. Often we mistakenly want to receive that from the one we’re listening to. I noticed when listening to my black friends this past week, I wanted them to say in one form or another, “good job for listening.” This is neither their role nor the source of strength for our listening.
I read this tweet this morning (which may well have inspired this post): “You’ll go crazy if you spend all your time analyzing the depths of evil without gazing at the beauty of God.” (Pastor James T. Robinson III, Pastor of Bridge Church NYC @jtrob3)
Now analyzing and listening are two different things, but the point is that there is much we are listening to that is troubling and listening itself can trouble us. Being troubled is good and necessary for change. But being troubled can distract us from being effective if we spend our time nursing our wounds. We must receive replenishment and build the discipline of listening.
Listening to the Lord gives us rest and peace and is the primary voice of wisdom, strength, love to lead us toward shalom*, which is, I would say, the greatest goal of listening.
There is much to say on this topic (a year of learning about listening made me see I had only begun). May I suggest we include learning to listen as part of the work of our listening. Don’t give up on it too quickly for there is transformation in the places where we persevere in listening.
Let me leave you with this most refreshing passage for listeners from Proverbs 2 (emphasis added):
My child, if you receive my words
and treasure up my commandments with you,
making your ear attentive to wisdom
and inclining your heart to understanding;
yes, if you call out for insight
and raise your voice for understanding,
if you seek it like silver
and search for it as for hidden treasures,
then you will understand the fear of the Lord
and find the knowledge of God.
For the Lord gives wisdom;
from his mouth come knowledge and understanding;
he stores up sound wisdom for the upright;
he is a shield to those who walk in integrity,
guarding the paths of justice
and watching over the way of his saints.
𝙏𝙝𝙚𝙣 𝙮𝙤𝙪 𝙬𝙞𝙡𝙡 𝙪𝙣𝙙𝙚𝙧𝙨𝙩𝙖𝙣𝙙 𝙧𝙞𝙜𝙝𝙩𝙚𝙤𝙪𝙨𝙣𝙚𝙨𝙨 𝙖𝙣𝙙 𝙟𝙪𝙨𝙩𝙞𝙘𝙚
𝙖𝙣𝙙 𝙚𝙦𝙪𝙞𝙩𝙮, 𝙚𝙫𝙚𝙧𝙮 𝙜𝙤𝙤𝙙 𝙥𝙖𝙩𝙝;
𝙛𝙤𝙧 𝙬𝙞𝙨𝙙𝙤𝙢 𝙬𝙞𝙡𝙡 𝙘𝙤𝙢𝙚 𝙞𝙣𝙩𝙤 𝙮𝙤𝙪𝙧 𝙝𝙚𝙖𝙧𝙩,
𝙖𝙣𝙙 𝙠𝙣𝙤𝙬𝙡𝙚𝙙𝙜𝙚 𝙬𝙞𝙡𝙡 𝙗𝙚 𝙥𝙡𝙚𝙖𝙨𝙖𝙣𝙩 𝙩𝙤 𝙮𝙤𝙪𝙧 𝙨𝙤𝙪𝙡.
Listen well. Be Free.
*Shalom, meaning (taught to me and our church by my pastor husband) being in right relationship with God, each other and creation. He’ll be happy to know I listen to him from time to time. ;-)

Activism as Worship

A word of freedom to believers: activism is a type of worship.

We love God by standing up for righteousness in hostile places.*

Few people want to lose friends, influence, or privilege, so we subdue our voices instead of speaking up for justice. But this is the risk of effectively following Jesus. Some won’t understand and will reject you; others will be freed by it. There will be sorrow and great joy in siding with freedom.

For some of us, activism is a temperament. For others, activism is obedience.

Be challenged to consider your role in loving God in this way and BE FREE to do so.

“Rescue those being led away to death;
hold back those staggering toward slaughter.
If you say, “But we knew nothing about this,” does not he who weighs the heart perceive it?
Does not he who guards your life know it?
Will he not repay each person according to what he has done?”
Proverbs 24:11-12

Free people free people.

*Quotes from Gary Thomas’ Sacred Pathways – learn more about activism as a worship style/way to love God by reading this book and/or consider the examples throughout scripture: Moses, Elijah, Elisha to start.