Tuesday night I was bringing my daughter Sydney home from soccer practice.  It was a pretty exciting night for her because her team was practicing under the lights for the first time…which is pretty cool if you are 9 years old.  (It’s actually pretty cool if you’re a 40 year old dad too.)  So we were talking about how cool practice was, I told her how much I love watching her play, and what a great job she did, and we talked about what we would do when we got home that night…and then it got pretty quiet, which isn’t the usual for Syd and I on our car rides.  I said, “Hey Syd, you still back there?”  I did know that she was still back there by the way!  “Yeah, I’m here she said.”  So I asked her what she was thinking about.  Her reply, “Dad, do you remember this summer on vacation at the farmhouse?” which I did.  “She said do you remember driving by that little cemetery and there was a woman sitting by a grave crying?  I was just thinking about how sad that was, and just wished people didn’t have to die.  It is so sad and I felt so bad for that woman.”  Wow, what a moment!  My daughter at 9 years old, vividly remembering a 3 second moment in time driving by a grieving woman in a cemetery in the middle of her summer’s vacation…and you know what?  I remember it too.  It really is amazing how a moment like that can stick with you and it allowed my little girl and I to talk about how sad it is that people die, but that it actually is a reality for all of us.  It was a really deep conversation after an exciting moment on the soccer field under the lights, which caught me off guard a little bit, but what a privilege to talk to my daughter about something so real…we may not like it but death, grief, and loss are part of our reality as mortals.  It felt like a really big moment for Syd and I to talk about how sad, yet how real this is.  So we talked about the fact that while it is sad, and it does hurt, that death, and loss are part of our reality on this Earth.  We spoke some of heaven and she asked me what that will be like and it was fun to describe it to her and hear her thoughts.  Then she asked me about her Uncle Jason, and some other family that she has never met, and if she would meet them in heaven.  The conversation kind of ended with her saying something like “Heaven will be pretty cool, it sounds like I get to make a lot of new friends there.”  Which was such a sweet thing to say.  What a pure hearted moment and one I hope I never forget.  You know what though, it also left me amazed at how a moment like that, just a few seconds driving by someone mourning in a cemetery can hit our hearts and stick with us, coming back to us months later.  These tough moments are so defining aren’t they?  These moments just don’t breeze by and go away…they stick with us.  It’s so true isn’t it?  The reality is that we don’t just experience wins and gains and high light reel moments in this world we live in.  It’s tough but maybe more of our shaping and growing and life markers are found around the painful moments, the death of a loved one, the loss of a dream that just isn’t going to happen…this is more accurate to what life is, isn’t it?  Now it is not something we like to talk about, but maybe we should…check this statement from the book.

“There is no greater disaster in the spiritual life than to be immersed in unreality. In fact the true spiritual life is not an escape from reality but an absolute commitment to it.” EHS pg 135

Growing into who we are spiritually is not ignoring reality.  It is not escaping from the truth of life.  It’s actually engaging into reality.  Listen, this doesn’t always mean it will always be happy time…because the reality of life is that sometimes life is hard.  Sometimes there is pain.  Sometimes there is loss and sometimes there are limits that you just can’t get past…which we will get into today.  What’s interesting to me is this isn’t a popular thing to talk about, it certainly isn’t a good way to fill the seats in a church service or to sell a lot of books, but this is such an important thing to look at and discuss because it is real and real isn’t always easy.  I mean this entire series to date has been pretty challenging hasn’t it?  While we have been so excited to bring this material to you, it can be pretty tough stuff.  Think about what we have asked of you so far as we engage the foundational steps that lead to Emotionally Healthy Spirituality.  Do you remember the first big step?  It was knowing your emotions and grabbing hold of how and why you feel what you do.  Not easy to do!  What was next?  We took a look back at our families of origin and at our pasts so that we could move forward in a new way.  That can be really messy can’t it?  Then last week Ken took us on the journey to “The Wall” a place where we all end up at different points in our lives…a place where if we engage into it God can squeeze out so much of our humanness so that we can live more and more like Him.  That isn’t easy either is it?  Now today we hit a very deep, very heavy subject but also such an important one, today we discuss Chapter 7 of the book…Enlarging Your Soul Through Grief and Loss.  Really what we are talking about is surrendering to your limits as a person on this planet.

So you may be thinking wait a minute Sam, limits? We are children of the King…and while you are talking doom and gloom Sam, I’m thinking of scriptures like this…

Philippians 4:13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me. ESV

So where are the limits to embrace in that! I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength right?  Sure!  Just remember that even in that awesome one liner that we see on T-shirts and coffee cups and posters, that we like to grab and share with someone in a tough spot, that even in the context of that one liner is Paul talking about the concern these people have over the adversity, and trials that he faces.  Paul is saying that no matter how difficult his life is he has learned to be content in it!  He can push through the pain because he knows God’s in it with him.  Doesn’t mean he isn’t dealing with limits.  There is a real tendency in Christians to not embrace their limits, to not step into reality, and to grab a phrase here or there from Scripture that justifies us just plowing ahead through life without embracing who we are, and what are limits actually are…well it takes us back to the quote from earlier.

“There is no greater disaster in the spiritual life than to be immersed in unreality. In fact the true spiritual life is not an escape from reality but an absolute commitment to it.” EHS pg 135

Really this entire series is about giving you the practical tools to deal with reality and to be transformed into a new you, the real you and this week we are really going to look at the reality that you do have limits to your life.

I will tell you at age 40 I’m learning that my body does have physical limits, and the amount of time I spend with a heating pad, and take Advil, is growing…I am learning at age 40 to work smarter not harder and that taking two trips to carry things is better than one trip because I’d like to be able to tie my own shoes the following day!  So we have physical limits.  We have a family of origin and frankly your family is what it is.  Your time, your wealth, your work and your spiritual understanding…there are limits.  We even have limits to what talents and gifts God has given us.  I want to show you someone in scripture who understood his limits, and in it we see one of the best one liners in all of Scripture.  We find this in the story of John the Baptist…Jesus’ cousin.  He’s come up a lot the last couple of weeks hasn’t he?  Well, cousin John was an incredible man.  He was known as “The Forerunner” paving the way for Jesus, and he had an incredible ministry in his own right!  I mean he baptized Jesus Christ, so wow!  One thing that I find amazing about John the Baptist is that he knows what it means to understand and embrace his limits.  So as Jesus’ ministry is on the rise, the crowds of people who used to follow John are now leaving him and following Jesus.  What’s interesting is that John had disciples just like Jesus did and John’s disciples aren’t happy about the fact that everyone is leaving there ministry to go to Jesus’…this is so good.

John 3:26 John’s disciples came to him and said, “Teacher, the man you met on the other side of the Jordan River, the one you said was the Messiah, is also baptizing people. And everybody is going over there instead of coming here to us.” 27 John replied, “God in heaven appoints each person’s work. 28 You yourselves know how plainly I told you that I am not the Messiah. I am here to prepare the way for him — that is all. 29 The bride will go where the bridegroom is. A bridegroom’s friend rejoices with him. I am the bridegroom’s friend, and I am filled with joy at his success. 30 He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less. NLT

Do you see what’s happening here?  John the Baptist understands his limits…he knows who Jesus is, and who he is, and in the end he says something so powerful and something that needs to be so central in all of our lives…yet something that many people never grow to a level of maturity where they can embrace this way of thinking when he says the one liner of all one liners…

John 3:30 “He must increase, but I must decrease.” ESV

Just a thought but are we aren’t seeing this beautiful one liner on many coffee mugs and t-shirts?  No we are seeing something about soaring on the wings of eagles, or what we read earlier about doing all things through Him who strengthens us…but not I must decrease.  Which if you ask me says a lot about our culture today.  Do you see anyone wearing an “I must decrease so that Jesus can increase” t-shirt?  Yeah me either, that just doesn’t have the same sizzle as something that would ignore or suggest that I have no limits!  Which is ignoring reality.

We just don’t like the idea of limits.  Our culture today actually hates the idea of limits and I don’t think we really know how to deal with this stuff.  If you think about your own life for a moment you probably are starting to see some limits in your life right?  Let’s ask a few questions just to make sure we are clear today.  I mean have you noticed that you are getting older?  Can I ask you how are you doing with that idea that you are actually getting older?  Do you notice that you have had some dreams and goals that over time you are starting to realize those dreams and goals just aren’t happening?  How are you handling that?  What about stuff like change in your life?  Loss of a job, or moving to a new town?  How do you handle that?  Now for the big one…how have you dealt with the death of a loved one?  I know these aren’t easy questions, but they are reality, and the reality of loss is that it exposes limits…and those limits can all feel like small or even large deaths in our lives…your job, your dreams, time that seems to just be flying by…these things hurt…and we need to be able to deal with this stuff.  Most of us hate loss.  I mean when I say most of us, I mean all of us…we hate loss and in the pain of loss we can feel like God has really let us down, or that He is mad at us, or that He just isn’t there at all.  Loss and pain is confusing, enraging, crushing, and often leaves us wanting answers that we may not get answers too.  Even as I’m talking about this I can feel the emotion of mourning the loss of a family member or loved one…I can remember sitting in church singing the hymn “It Is Well With My Soul” after the death of a close friend and feeling rage inside…because I and knew deep down that it was not well with my soul…and I just was not being able to process it.  And in many ways trying to avoid the hurt only made things worse for me.

So culturally we hate limits, and we now know why we aren’t seeing the “He must increase, I must decrease” posters and t-shirts.  We live in a world that doesn’t want to talk about this stuff, and frankly we try to avoid this stuff altogether but that does more damage to us than we realize.  We start to try to stuff the pain of our limits and losses.  There are many ways we do this.  For some of us, we slowly grow tired and depressed…and a sadness grows over our lives and really takes our lives over.  For some of us we turn to one vice or another that leads to addictions all in the name of escaping the hurts and reality of life…alcohol, drugs, pain pills, pornography, food, even just endless hours of television or movies.  For some of us we just get busy, and when I say busy I mean, flying around like crazy from thing to thing to thing.  Running the kids here or there, working our fingers to the bone, and in all that chaos something nice happens…we never have to stop and deal with anything real.  The cool thing with busyness is we can really defend that one, because it looks so good to everyone around us to say we are busy and working hard…so it can hide me in a safe place, and I never address the wounds in my heart.  This is tough stuff, and so many of us run to people, places, or things to try to take the lonely, hurting feelings away.

Do you see it?  The reality for us all is that as life unfolds, we start to discover limits in our lives…there are dreams that don’t come true, there are painful losses of loved ones, and many hurts along the way.  For many Christians we seem to think our job is to paste a smile on our faces, and push through right?  Gritting our teeth as we sing that it is well with my soul…when it’s just not.  I should be strong, and joyous right?  I mean after all we have Jesus in our lives!  He has given us the unbelievable gift of eternal life, we have been given grace and this means we have an awesome life now…right?  So how dare I feel pain, hurts, sadness, and even anger!  This isn’t the way it should be, but it is kind of a thing for many Christians to feel…key word there FEEL, like they must be happy all the time right?

Well in the book the one thing that really hit my heart was that Peter encourages us to turn towards the pain, rather than avoid it…which is so opposite to what we think or feel like doing right?  Check out this quote right from the book.

“Turning toward our pain is counterintuitive.  But in fact, the heart of Christianity is that the way to life is through death, the pathway to resurrection is through crucifixion.  Of course, it preaches easier than it lives.” EHS pg 140

I know, this isn’t easy, and I love how Peter writes that there…”it preaches easier than it lives.”  So true!  We must turn toward the pain, towards reality, towards the truth!  This is how we grow into emotionally healthy spiritual adults…it’s not in denying, stuffing, or ignoring, but embracing the truth.  Jesus says it this way…

John 8:32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”  NIV

While freedom is found in the truth, and turning toward our pain, it’s not easy to do.  We are learning that our spiritual freedom comes from embracing reality not hiding from it right?  It’s amazing, so many of us carry hurts all through our lives and we do things to protect ourselves from the pain, from reality.  Here’s a list of 8 things we do right from the book that block the pain, and also block us from the reality, the truth, and the freedom that could be, if we could turn and face the reality of our losses and limits…

  • Denial: we simply refuse to acknowledge reality.
  • Minimizing: We admit something is wrong, but it’s just not that big of a deal when it is.
  • Blaming others: We deny any responsibility for our behavior and project it on others.
  • Blaming ourselves: We inwardly take on the fault. (I’m great at this one!)
  • 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.


So how are you doing today?  I know, I know this is a challenging topic, but it is our reality on this Earth.  The real question becomes how do you respond to this reality?  How are you handling grief and loss in your own life?  Are you stuffing your emotions?  Are you ignoring this stuff or are you turning towards the pain, and growing and maturing through it.  This is so hard but so important.  Let’s think about Jesus’ life.  If you think about it the central message to all of Jesus is that suffering and death bring resurrection and transformation.  Jesus actually said as much as he predicts his death in John…


John 12:23 Jesus replied, “The time has come for the Son of Man to enter into his glory.  24 The truth is, a kernel of wheat must be planted in the soil. Unless it dies it will be alone — a single seed. But its death will produce many new kernels — a plentiful harvest of new lives. NLT 

So this is profoundly simple, yet beautiful.  We can’t have the resurrection and our salvation without loss, it came out of death, out of real pain and real loss.  It hurt.  This wasn’t a Sunday stroll through a park for Jesus, and it shouldn’t take a Mel Gibson movie for us to get that…look at what Jesus says next.

John 12:25 Those who love their life in this world will lose it. Those who despise their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.  26 All those who want to be my disciples must come and follow me, because my servants must be where I am. And if they follow me, the Father will honor them.  27 Now my soul is deeply troubled. Should I pray, ‘Father, save me from what lies ahead’? But that is the very reason why I came!  28 Father, bring glory to your name.” NLT

 Wait, is he allowed to talk this way?  This is God in skin, so this should all be easy right?  Shouldn’t he be happy to serve God in this capacity?  Wow, this is big.  Jesus literally saying that he is hurting over what he is about to walk into…but he did walk into it.  He embraced reality, and saved the world.   So just as we looked at and learn from Jesus in how he stands in His true self, I would like to look at how Jesus handled turning towards the reality of His life, that reality was a really brutal death, a crucifixion.  He didn’t run from suffering he embraced it and we can learn a lot from those last few moments he spent on this Earth leading towards the Cross.  So him and the disciples have eaten the Last Supper together, and have now moved to the Garden of Gethsemane where we see this interaction…just wow…

Matthew 26:31 Then Jesus told them, “Before the night’s over, you’re going to fall to pieces because of what happens to me. There is a Scripture that says, I’ll strike the shepherd; helter-skelter the sheep will be scattered. 32 But after I am raised up, I, your Shepherd, will go ahead of you, leading the way to Galilee.” 33 Peter broke in, “Even if everyone else falls to pieces on account of you, I won’t.” 34 “Don’t be so sure,” Jesus said. “This very night, before the rooster crows up the dawn, you will deny me three times.” 35 Peter protested, “Even if I had to die with you, I would never deny you.” All the others said the same thing. 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.” 43 When he came back, he again found them sound asleep. They simply couldn’t keep their eyes open. 44 This time he let them sleep on, and went back a third time to pray, going over the same ground one last time. MSG

So Jesus knows this is it.  He has watched his good friend Judas leave to betray Him…and he is now feeling the literal weight of the world crashing down on His shoulders.  He knows ahead of him is horrific pain, humiliation, and death.  Sorrow is now on him and he literally says it’s crushing him and what does Jesus do with all that he is now facing?  This is so important.  Jesus takes it all to His Heavenly Father in prayer.  He is brutally honest with God here.

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?”

So let’s take a moment here and focus on this.  Jesus is turning towards the pain…the loss…he is seeing the limit of life ahead of Him and what does He do?  He turns to God and is brutally honest with Him!  This leads to a very big question in how you handle grief and loss and your own personal limits.  Can you be honest with God?  Do you give yourself permission and time to pour out your pain to God?  So many Christians don’t feel like they can be this brutally honest with God, which is an interesting thought since he knows your thoughts and feelings…he knows everything right?  Which means God knows you are hurting so share it with Him!  When a close friend of mine died when I was younger, I was so angry and confused.  I was amazed at how many dumb things people said to the family…and I got angrier.  I sat in the funeral at the church and we sang the hymn “It Is Well With My Soul.” And it wasn’t well with mine and I got angrier…I didn’t understand, and a confusing rage filled my heart as I watched people who I loved and still care so deeply for deal with this…and frankly decades later some of them still are carrying that pain having never fully dealt with it.  I just didn’t get any of it and I didn’t understand that I could be honest with a loving God in Heaven who already knew my heart and my hurts and my sorrow.  Good Christians weren’t angry at God, they certainly didn’t feel like I did.  Good Christians sang the hymns and meant it during the service…and all it did was enrage me.  I was young, and didn’t really have the capacity to understand that bad things can happen to good people too.  I also didn’t know that it was ok for me to be confused, to be angry, and I pulled everything inward.  It was years later until I dumped my pain…it took me years to get to a place where I could be honest about it and when I was I felt God’s love in my anger and pain and that weight fell off of me.  Being honest with God is so huge and so important…and again it’s so real…but we don’t do ‘the real thing’ very often do we?  Especially in the world of Spirituality.  Jesus was honest and open with God and we should be too…but it’s what He says next that has always gotten me…

Jesus prays this: “My Father, if there is any way, get me out of this. But please, not what I want. You, what do you want?” 

So there is a bit of a difference at times between what God wants and what we want right?  I think the hardest thing for us to do as we turn to face the realities of life is to pour out our hearts and then reach the place where in the end we say as Jesus did, “You know where I am at God, but in the end I will do what you want, not what I want, but your will be done.”  We as people don’t want to turn into the pain and reality of life…frankly I would love to have no limits to who I am and what I can do.  I think for so many of us this is a humbling, frustrating, and confusion, and often very painful process.  I mean no one is excited to engage into this…Jesus himself isn’t excited to face this ultimate reality.  It isn’t easy.  As Peter said in the book, “This preaches easier than it lives.”  We often want the quick and easy solutions to life right?  We like the idea of shortcuts and the easier road to things…but it just isn’t real.  I think when you think this way, Jesus words make so much more sense…

Matthew 7:13 “Don’t look for shortcuts to God. The market is flooded with surefire, easygoing formulas for a successful life that can be practiced in your spare time. Don’t fall for that stuff, even though crowds of people do. The way to life – to God! – is vigorous and requires total attention. MSG

The popular way is always to find an easier way…but we grow as we engage the reality of life.  Just as Jesus did.  We need to turn into the pain, even though our instincts are probably going to be to look for the shortcut around it.  We have to avoid the temptation to turn away from the reality of life to grow.  I can speak to many times in my own life where I wanted an easier way…and in those painful, exhausting, confusing moments the only thing I felt like God would say to me is this… “You are right where I want you to be.” Which wasn’t what I wanted to hear but it pushed me into a greater reality.  I see so much of my own heart and life exposed in these types of lonely moments as I have stepped into full time ministry here at MRC.  And it forces me to engage into reality.  If God has me right where he wants me, then my job is to give up my will and step into it…which pulls against my own fleshly desires…because sometimes the short cuts sound really nice don’t they?

You know Jesus didn’t feel like stepping into the Crucifixion but he fully surrendered Himself to the will of His Father.  Jesus embraced reality.  He embraced the limits of His life.  He didn’t search for popular short cuts or the easy way out, and because of that, you and I have full access to God, and the gift of eternal life.  Jesus gave His life to God.  So when the tough moments came He chose God’s will over His own…which is so powerful and so awesome.  Jesus was also very honest about how He felt, and as someone who didn’t understand that I could be honest with God, I really want to encourage you today…let it out.  Shout out to God, let Him know…because He actually already does.  Let it out.  This is how we deal with grief, with loss, and with our limits.  We get honest and pour that into God.  We take the hurts and the pain and we give that weight to God…we don’t have to carry it anymore.  Be honest and open and pray.  This is so important.  Jesus was and through His submission to God’s will we now walk in a personal relationship with God.  Listen, God knows your pain.  Jesus walked through this Earth and has felt what you feel.  He has felt the limits of humanity.  He has felt betrayal.  He has felt the pain and heart break of people turning away from Him and leaving Him…He has felt the hurt and pain of mourning the death of a friend.  Jesus knows how you feel; which is the beauty of our relationship with Him!  He knows, and has felt it too.  He literally walked on this Earth, modelling for us how to live, how to relate to people and how to engage the reality of pain, grief, and loss.  What a gift we have in Jesus.

Because of Jesus we are saved.  This allows me and my beautiful 9 year old daughter to talk about death in a whole new way doesn’t it?  We don’t have to NOT talk about it.  We don’t have to stuff it.  Because Jesus showed us that it is ok to feel.  It is ok to be transparent.  Pain, limits, and loss are reality.  Yes it hurts.  Yes it is heart breaking and sad but no we don’t avoid it.  Every instinct we have is to turn away from the pain…but we know that we must not pretend.  Remember this statement about the true spiritual life…

“There is no greater disaster in the spiritual life than to be immersed in unreality. In fact the true spiritual life is not an escape from reality but an absolute commitment to it.” EHS pg 135

If this is true that we don’t escape reality but commit to it then we must engage the pain of life…just as much as we want to engage the highlight moments of life.  Because these moments stick to you…my daughter and I vividly remember a 3 second flash of time, as we drove by someone mourning the loss of a loved one while on a summer vacation.  This stuff is real…and it isn’t going away.  So as we leave here today I want you thinking some things through.  Your life will have limits…it’s filled with them.  There will be grief and loss and pain…if you deal with it you can grow into a place of freedom that you may have never known existed prior to the pain.  So think some of these questions through today.

  • How have you handled the reality that you are getting older?
  • How have you dealt with the loss of a dream of yours?
  • How have you dealt with a loss of a loved one?
  • How have you dealt with your limits?

Think some of these things through today.  Are you slowly growing more tired and more depressed?  Do you live in addictions that allow you to escape?  Are you just too busy to ever engage anything real?  Are you just cracking joke after joke to laugh at what maybe isn’t really all that funny deep down underneath?  Are you playing it cool pretending the hurt isn’t as painful as it actually is?  If you see these things in your life, today could be the start of a new day.  Grief and loss are real…and they hurt.  This bring the reality of your limits to the forefront.  It’s time to stop avoiding the reality of life.  It’s time to engage it.  We must be honest and pray and as we enter into this reality we grow…and we gain a level of freedom emotionally and spiritually that I don’t think we knew could exist.  For us to find this kind of freedom means we will have to do something completely opposite to how we feel.  We need to step into the pain, rather than avoid it…which isn’t easy.  It definitely preaches easier than it lives.