The true spiritual life is not ignoring reality or escaping reality. To find spiritual freedom and/or transformation is to make a commitment to live in reality. The reason this series can be so hard for some is simple, we are inviting people to deal with reality. And that’s not easy to do. Think about what we have asked of you.
Feel the full weight of your emotions because your emotions are real.
Go back and look at the bigger picture of your family because that is real.
When you hit the wall and go splat in life, recognize that God is at work because that is real.
Let’s be honest, how do most people handle reality? They ignore their emotions. They just plow through another week. They ignore the family stuff, they don’t want to go back, it’s a waste of time. What do they do when they hit the wall? They stuff the emotions, push through with a smile and say, “God is good.” All along, they are torn up inside.
Do you see it? They won’t deal with reality. And because of that, they struggle to connect with God.
This whole series is about us giving you the practical tools to deal with reality and be transformed. This week we are dealing with the reality that you have limits in your life. You can’t do or be anything you want. I know, this goes against everything we tell our children in school – right?!? No, you can’t be or do anything you want. Our physical body is what it is. Honestly, I wanted to play in the NBA. I played in High School and I dreamed of the NBA. Then I played against guys in college. Wow, they were just as good and better than me. Then I played against some guys when I visited my brother in Michigan. Wholly smokes – they were awesome. They played way over my head. The NBA was not something I could accomplish.
Your family origin is what it is. Your intellectual capacity is preset. Your talents and gifts are a gift from God.
You have limits to your life. Have you discovered limits in your life? So here are my questions for you today. How have you handled the reality that you are getting older? How have you dealt with losing your dreams over time? Remember when you were first married and dreamed about taking a trip to Italy on your tenth anniversary? Ya, me too. What happened to that dream? I had a mortgage and kids. Our ten year Italy trip turned into a dinner at Carrabbas.
How have you dealt with losing your routines and stability when you move or have a job loss? How have you dealt with catastrophic loss? How have you dealt with the broken illusion that church is perfect? How have you dealt with your children getting older?
Over time, we experience the limits that are in our lives. They can feel like many small deaths. They hurt. The decision we have to make is; will these many small losses destroy us or open us up to what God is doing?
How do you deal with this? Most people hate these limits and losses. We don’t know how to deal with this reality. The last thing we could ever imagine is that we could grow through our losses. We think God has forgotten or gave us on us.
Our culture hates limits. We live in a world where we try to avoid the reality of our limits. Plastic surgery. Adrenaline rush sports. Reality TV so we can watch other people’s reality. We hate these small deaths. We will do anything to stuff or ignore the pain of our losses.
For some, we slowly grow tired and depressed. A sadness grows and takes over our lives. It’s like a small storm cloud that slowly grows and intensives over the years. For others, we live in addictions: pornography, overeating, drinking way too much, pills, hours and hours of TV. Others, get busy, real busy. So busy we never have time to be with our spouse or kids. We bang out 70 hours a week and are proud of our work ethic. It’s a wonderful way to ignore our sadness. Yet others expect and demand that others give us validation and take away our loneliness. Our spouses, our sexual partner, our church, our family, whatever, validate me and take my loneliness away.
Do you see what is happening? Life unfolds and we discover limits that lead to a slow death to many dreams. Many losses. That’s reality. When we avoid our pain we become more and more empty. As a Christian, we smile do our prayers, sing but we can be dead inside.
In the book, it shares 8 things that we as adults us to avoid pain. I don’t have time to go into them but real quickly I want to list them.
Denial: we simply refuse to acknowledge reality.
Minimizing: We admit something is wrong, but in a way that it appears less serious than it really is.
Blaming others: We deny any responsibility for our behavior and project it on others.
Blaming ourselves: We inwardly take on the fault, like: It’s my fault my mom drinks too much.
Rationalize: We offer excuses and justifications to explain what is going on
Intellectualize: We give analysis and theories to avoid personal awareness.
Distracting: We change the subject or make jokes to avoid threatening topics.
Become hostile: We get angry or irritable to send the message to others – back off.
What I want do is talk about how to deal with grief and loss. How do you grow and mature through them instead of ignoring them.
Joni Eareckson Tada knows a lot about limits. When she was a young girl, she jumped into a lake, hit a rock and broke her neck. She was paralyzed from the neck down. She wrote:
The cross is the center of our relationship with Jesus. The cross is where we die. We go there daily. It isn’t easy.
Normally, we will follow Christ anywhere – to a party, as it were, where he changes water into wine, to a sunlit beach where he preaches from a boat. But to the cross? We dig in our heels. The invitation is so frighteningly individual. It’s an invitation to go alone.
When suffering forces us to our knees at the foot of Calvary, we die to self. We cannot kneel there for long without releasing our pride and anger, unclasping our dreams and desires… In exchange, God imparts power and implants new and lasting hope.
Joni was saying, you can grow and mature through the losses, you don’t have to avoid them. How?
36 Then Jesus went with them to a garden called Gethsemane and told his disciples, “Stay here while I go over there and pray.” 37 Taking along Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he plunged into an agonizing sorrow. 38 Then he said, “This sorrow is crushing my life out. Stay here and keep vigil with me.”
39 Going a little ahead, he fell on his face, praying, “My Father, if there is any way, get me out of this. But please, not what I want. You, what do you want?”
40 When he came back to his disciples, he found them sound asleep. He said to Peter, “Can’t you stick it out with me a single hour? 41 Stay alert; be in prayer so you don’t wander into temptation without even knowing you’re in danger. There is a part of you that is eager, ready for anything in God. But there’s another part that’s as lazy as an old dog sleeping by the fire.”
42 He then left them a second time. Again he prayed, “My Father, if there is no other way than this, drinking this cup to the dregs, I’m ready. Do it your way.” MSG Matthew 26:36-42
Jesus knows the time for Him to be betrayed, beaten and whipped, humiliated and die is now. He said,
“This sorrow is crushing my life out.” Vs 38.
So what does He do? We see, Jesus prays and He is completely honest.
Going a little ahead, he fell on his face, praying, “My Father, if there is any way, get me out of this.” Vs 39
Grieving, dealing with loss means you must be honest with your anger, sadness, loss, everything. Are you honest with God? Do you give yourself time to pour out your anger or sadness on God? Do you have R rated prayers with God? The book shares that two thirds of Psalms are complaints to God. Jesus shows us, grieving, dealing with loss begins with honest prayer.
“But please, not what I want. You, what do you want?”
In Jesus’ prayer, He’s begging God to not make Him walk through this. But ultimately, Jesus sees the conflict between what He wants and what God wants.
This is probably the hardest for us. To be faced with the reality of grieving or loss and realize, God has allowed this to happen. We feel confused. No one likes this. We want quick and easy solutions. To wait on God could mean months maybe years. This means losing a sense of control, no perfect plan to follow, no clear ending. It means time. There are no quick and easy solutions. No perfect categories. No bumper sticker comments will help. Just a confusing time period when you just don’t know when you will make it through. That’s reality. Enter into it. Don’t avoid it. Avoid the temptation to figure God out and take short cuts.
Have you ever been bitten by the ‘It will be Better Tomorrow’ bug? It’s real simple, you think your life will be better tomorrow. You are single and think life will get better when you date. You begin dating and think that life will get better when you get married. You get married and you think life will be better when you have kids. You are tired because you kids are in diapers and you think, ‘When they get out of diapers it will be better.’ Time passes and then you think I am tired today with all the kids in sports but tomorrow when the season is over, I will have more fun. Time passes and then you think I am tired today with all the running around with kids but when they leave I will have more time. What happens? You wish your life away. You look back and think of how special all those moments were but you missed them.
The problem is you never entered into the day. Life is happening now. Today. Enter into it. It’s messy. That’s important when you walk through grief and loss. Enter into it.
Jesus continued to pray,
“My Father, if there is no other way than this, drinking this cup to the dregs, I’m ready. Do it your way.”
Jesus embraced the limits of His life. He surrendered. When He had to make the decision between what He wanted and what God wanted, He gave His life to God.
To deal with grief and loss, be honest when you pray. Enter into today, the mess, the pain all of it. Don’t be quick to get out of it. Embrace your limits and give your life to God.
So how did Jesus’ story play out?
9 Because of that obedience, God lifted him high and honored him far beyond anyone or anything, ever, 10 so that all created beings in heaven and on earth – even those long ago dead and buried – will bow in worship before this Jesus Christ, 11 and call out in praise that he is the Master of all, to the glorious honor of God the Father. MSG Philippians 2:9-11
Jesus died and God resurrected Him so that everyone today, who believes in Jesus, is saved.
The grief and loss that has been handed to you, if you deal with it well, can bless others. Share your compassion with others. Alcoholism? Abused? Death? Divorce? You have a gift to share. A gift of compassion.
Think about this for a second. If you don’t deal with the reality of grief and loss, if you hide your pain, you won’t have compassion for others. However, if you deal with reality, if you are honest, you will have a story to tell, compassion to share.
Your life will be filled with limits you will not like. Many mini deaths.
How have you handled that reality that you are getting older?
How have you dealt with losing your dreams?
How have you dealt with losing your routines and stability when you move or have a job loss?
How have you dealt with catastrophic loss?
How have you dealt with the broken illusion that church is perfect?
How have you dealt with your children getting older?
Are you avoiding the reality of your limits?
Are you slowly growing tired and depressed?
Do you live in addictions to numb the pain?
Are you busy, real busy so you don’t have to stop and think about it?
Do you have sky high expectations of others and demand that they give you validation and take away your loneliness?
Grief and loss is real. Don’t avoid them. Be honest and pray. Enter into today and wait on God. Embrace your limits and surrender. And ultimately, if you work through it well, maybe years later you will be able show compassion with others.