Sympathy

A friend and I have recently suffered similar losses. We have both found some comments from lovely and well-meaning people to be maddening. Many a wise thought we acknowledge, understand, believe and even trust, but we do not feel. Sometimes, even those dearest to us and most respected by us cannot sympathize with our state of mind and heart. Or it may be that even if they actually could, we still do not perceive that they can. We only feel akin to those who are in a similar state or can clearly recall being in a similar state. This sympathy is so precious. It also legitimizes the love and thoughts you receive from that person in a way that similar love and thoughts from others cannot compare. They just don’t understand — are not moved in their gut the same way.

That precious gift of sympathy reminds me of the precious gift of sympathy followers of Christ have. We know that our God is perfect and on high, and yet STILL, because he was made flesh like us, subjected to trials and temptations and still found to be perfect, He is a God who can sympathize with us in our weakness. In our moments of self-loathing, of doubt, or of hopelessness over all manner of situations, He understands how one gets to that place, though he emerges perfect through all such trials and temptations. He is not just lofty and immaterial, but also walked the earth and was subjected to its darkness and senseless sorrows, as well as enjoyed its loveliness and joys. The One who judges and has mercy and sacrifices and saves and shows grace is also one who sympathizes and comforts. How worthwhile to follow with loyalty such a leader! And how much more precious His commands to us, given this sympathy.

Hebrews 2:14-18

14 Since therefore the children [we] share in flesh and blood, he himself [Jesus] likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.16 For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham.17 Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. 18 For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

Hebrews 4:14-16

14 Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are,yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

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They call it “osmosis”

There you have it: the gummi bear was destroyed by the end, and by something so benign as water.

As we continue considering loss, grief, and any kind of transition in life, there is a point that needs to be made. (Surprise! Haven’t you noticed a theme in recent posts?) When we lose something, we replace it. On a trivial scale, I dropped my phone on the ground recently and broke the speaker. It didn’t make sense to fix it, so I considered it a “total loss” and replaced it with a low-end smartphone. (Hello decade of 2010. Sort of – still no data plan.) I digress. When we lose something, no matter how attached we were, we inevitably let other things fill the void left behind, or else consciously fill the void ourselves, even if it’s gradual and slow.

The law of osmosis: when high concentrations of solvent molecules move through a semi-permeable membrane to regions of higher solute concentrations. The lack of solvent molecules in one region of solution is an open invitation to other solvent molecules to creep in. 

The period of grief poses a sad but simple time when you can really feel all the words like “blessed be the name of the Lord” and “all is well with my soul” and “fix your eyes upon Jesus.” It’s emotionally hard to bear the pain but emotionally easy to rely on the love of God. After the most intense moments of trial have passed, emotions stabilize and are easier to bear, but it becomes harder again to feel the passion of your complete abandon to God.

This time-of-trial VS time-of-ease conundrum of drawing close to God is a most common concern I’ve heard amongst Christians. In the case of grief+loss it is easy at first to fill your loss with the comfort of the presence of God, but as the pain lessens and as life resumes, other things begin to take precedence. That vision of devotion once so clear becomes more clouded. In considering this, I’ve been reminded of a principle I just read in the Gospel of Mark where Jesus speaks regarding the Sabbath.

[23] One Sabbath he [Jesus] was going through the grainfields, and as they made their way, his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. [24] And the Pharisees were saying to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” [25] And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him: [26] how he entered the house of God, in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?” [27] And he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. [28] So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.”

(Mark 2:23-28 ESV)

The command to keep the Sabbath day holy is not a restriction from lifting a finger on the day of rest at all costs, but a call to honour God consciously with strength of discipline. ***

Similarly, with loss, it’s not that you can literally have nothing in your life but Christ. The idea is that as life continues and activities and people begin to fill our lives again, we will have grown some and will consider our motivations in how we fill our lives and to what end. We shan’t be passively filled by our convenient environments via osmosis, but filled by contending in the faith, working out our salvation in a spirit of submissive but eager obedience to follow a good and faithful God who called us before the creation of the world. Hopefully filling our lives in a way that reflects being a good and faithful servant cognizant that our Master will return and that the pleasures of the world shall pass.

*** (For my own benefit and for yours if you are interested, here is an article about rest and how to rest by Tim Keller that I want to remember: http://theresurgence.com/2012/07/11/5-practical-thoughts-on-rest)

Psalm for the Depressed

Why Are You Cast Down, O My Soul?

[42:1] As a deer pants for flowing streams,
so pants my soul for you, O God.
[2] My soul thirsts for God,
for the living God.
When shall I come and appear before God?
[3] My tears have been my food
day and night,
while they say to me all the day long,
“Where is your God?”
[4] These things I remember,
as I pour out my soul:
how I would go with the throng
and lead them in procession to the house of God
with glad shouts and songs of praise,
a multitude keeping festival.
[5] Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
[6] my salvation and my God.
My soul is cast down within me;
therefore I remember you
from the land of Jordan and of Hermon,
from Mount Mizar.
[7] Deep calls to deep
at the roar of your waterfalls;
all your breakers and your waves
have gone over me.
[8] By day the LORD commands his steadfast love,
and at night his song is with me,
a prayer to the God of my life.
[9] I say to God, my rock:
“Why have you forgotten me?
Why do I go mourning
because of the oppression of the enemy?”
[10] As with a deadly wound in my bones,
my adversaries taunt me,
while they say to me all the day long,
“Where is your God?”
[11] Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God.

(Psalm 42 ESV)

Dealing with pain, as apparent from this psalm, takes more than just defiance. Note the repetition: turmoil doesn’t simply go away. You can’t say to your soul, “Why are you cast down, and why are you in turmoil within me?” and then just add, “Come, let us just move on,” or, “Let us just go and live as we were, ignoring this.” It’s not possible to just decide that you’re better or OK or happy or will go on to new things. You cannot just replace what was broken and expect to be healed. Humans aren’t cars that only need new parts – or new jobs or new friends to get better. Our souls need to hope in God, where hope is holding out for the unseen goodness in the land where God will bring us. Hoping in God is not hoping for better/best situations or better/best times, or else you will forever be sorely disappointed by a broken self and a broken world. Biblical hope is not hoping that God will eventually give you the earthly desires of your heart; it is learning to actually desire God beyond all, and sometimes, or even quite often, that will mean laying your desires on the ground and walking away.

As with Lot’s wife, the one who looked back and turned into a pillar of salt (ironically enough the mineral in tears), it is hard not to look back, wondering all manner of things. It’s hard not to want to replay, and you can replay levels and whole games in video games, probably pandering to this desire. Perhaps I sucked at gaming, but I always made the same mistakes even when I replayed. This is not necessarily a theological link I wish to draw by mentioning Mrs. Lot, but more so just a visual. At the weekend retreat that I mentioned in another post (Throwing off burdens (and some spectacular use of grammar in the Bible)), I was told something else that made me sit up:

Exercising self-control in our thinking and living (i.e. casting the whole of your care once and for all on Christ) involves:

  • not multiplying our suffering by rehearsing or reliving our troubles
  • keeping from futile speculation (Romans 1:21 in AMP)
Funny that we do these things, but we do. There’s some weird satisfaction in it. Thinking is the hardest to exercise self-control over. You can beat your body and make it your slave much more easily than you can beat your mind and make it your slave. (Ref: 1 Cor 9:27 NIV) Futile speculation, too, can seem like it’s not an entirely futile activity: we think we protect ourselves by speculating a worst case scenario so that we’re prepared for the worst and save ourselves the hurt, but in the meantime, that’s just more constant and fictional pain for something that might not even happen. More so, it’s indicative of not casting all cares, anxieties, worries and concerns on the Lord (1 Peter 5:7 AMP) and throwing off those burdens.
Now I will quote verbatim my favourite introductory paragraph from the prayer guide we were given:

Have you ever felt helpless? Helplessness is an unsettling and sometimes terrifying thing to most of us. We resist it, deny it, and when we are finally face to face with it, we sometimes find that we are unable to endure it. But helplessness is actually one of the greatest assets a human being can have. Crisis brings us face to face with our inadequacy and our inadequacy in turn leads us to the inexhaustible sufficiency of God. Spectacular answers to prayer can come following a period when you can do nothing for yourself at all and therefore find yourself waiting on God alone. This hemming in process is one of God’s loving and effective ways of teaching you that he is gloriously adequate for all your problems.

The Puritans had it right in this prayer from The Valley of Vision:

Desires

O THOU THAT HEAREST PRAYER,

Teach me to pray,
I confess that in religious exercises
the language of my lips and the feelings
of my heart have not always agreed,
that I have frequently taken carelessly upon
my tongue a name never pronounced above
without reverence and humility,
that I have often desired things which would
have injured me,
that I have depreciated some of my chief mercies,
that I have erred both on the side of my hopes
and also of my fears,
that I am unfit to choose for myself,
for it is not in me to direct my steps.
Let thy Spirit help my infirmities,
for I know not what to pray for as I ought.

Let him produce in me wise desires by which
I may ask right things,
then I shall know thou hearest me.
May I never be importunate for temporal blessings,
but always refer them to thy fatherly goodness,
for thou knowest what I need before I ask;
May I never think I prosper unless my soul prospers,
or that I am rich unless rich toward thee,
or that I am wise unless wise unto salvation.
May I seek first thy kingdom and its righteousness.
May I value things in relation to eternity,
May my spiritual welfare be my chief solicitude.
May I be poor, afflicted, despised and have
thy blessing,
rather than be successful in enterprise,
or have more than my heart can wish,
or be admired by my fellow-men,
if thereby these things make me forget thee.
May I regard the world as dreams, lies, vanities,
vexation of spirit,
and desire to depart from it.
And may I seek my happiness in thy favour,
image, presence, service.

Thus far, this post has mostly been me amalgamating a bunch of things I’ve read, heard and thought about in recent weeks, hopefully tying them together in a new way such that I’m not really just quoting them. I don’t know if it’s of any use to anyone else reading. In any case, since the title indicates there is a psalm for the depressed here, let me finish off with a part from a more hopeful psalm for the depressed than that first one:

[13] I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord
In the land of the living.
[14] Wait for the Lord;
Be strong and let your heart take courage;
Yes, wait for the Lord.

(Psalm 27:13-14 NASB)

The goodness of the Lord in the land of the living… that means while he’s still alive. Although I have said that our hope should not rest solely upon the goodness of the Lord’s provision in earthly things, I do think it is alright for that to be a part of our hope, because it’s not as if God keeps everything we desire from us either. Maybe just not in ways we expect.

Funny last thought, though not accurate: I always get mad at myself for speculating about how the Lord will provide, because I feel as if everything that I randomly or thoughtfully come up with will not come to pass because the provision can’t be anything I would think of… and sometimes I rather like my speculations.

Optimist Prime 11

Were the night eternal, no need to wake
Were tears a fount of blessing, abundant blessing I make!
Were pain ever constant, no shocking relapse from peace
Were the world empty, no cause for loss

Were I blind, no sight of the unattainable
Were I deaf, no unbearably painful news to hear
Were I mute, no hard decisions to announce
Were I paralysed, no need to move on now

Were there no memories, no good ones to fade and no bad ones to linger
Were there no exhilaration of joy, no comparative despair of grief

Were I cold and unfeeling, no sorrow ache misery sting dejection agony longing to feel

An Intriguing Song – Joy (Page CXVI)

Listen to this song, “Joy” sung by Tifah Al-Attas, and see if you laugh or not!

The dissonance between the words and the melody/demeanour sounds ludicrous at first. But once you understand the sort of struggle it is to have an attitude of joy amidst intense grief, it isn’t so funny. It’s strangely identifiable. You find yourself at peace with how things are, but also overwhelmed with loss, and you can’t pretend that everything will be alright in the end, but you can know that God is working purposefully, if for no purpose you can see.

Read Tifah’s story of loss behind writing this song: http://blog.pagecxvi.com/post/683764188/joy

Alternatively, you could watch this video of a live performance where she explains the song to her audience first.

Alas, I do not laugh anymore when I hear this song, for I understand its artistry too well now.

No victory of mine…

This is more of a personal post, but can one read the passage describing Jesus going to the garden of Gethsemane to pray after his last supper with his disciples and not be moved in the slightest?

Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray.” And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again. Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Sleep and take your rest later on. See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.

(Matthew 26:36-45 ESV)

When Jesus went to pray in Gethsemane and his soul felt sorrowful, no sympathy from anyone could take it away. Pain, sorrow, and grief is a heavy burden to bear, for no person can take it away for you, however much they love you, and however close they are to your heart. The burden is a lonely one.

Jesus, divinely man, knew what was appealing as he prayed in that garden. It was appealing not to have to suffer death on a cross, being forsaken by God, and bearing the sins of all people. Nevertheless, he desired what God willed.

I have little claim to knowing the immensity of Christ’s pain, sorrow, and grief, nor his loneliness as he lay dying. For some reason, despite not paying that price, I am free to share in his victory. What am I, Lord, that You should have thought of me? And that you should be with all who are bearing lonely burdens?

Somehow, my victory is not to overcome my sorrow, grief, or pain.

My victory is to glory in the victory of Christ Jesus over death and all the powers of darkness. Help me, LORD, to know what “glory in” means as a verb there. I know it appears in Philippians, the Psalms, and 1 Chronicles*** the way that I am using it here, that is, to exult, rejoice, boast, and be proud of. How does one find the energy to exult, rejoice, boast, and be proud of anything in the exhaustion of grief and sorrow?

My father shared a timely piece of scripture with me, and some thoughts. He is indifferent towards Romans 8:28 alone, which talks about all things working for the good of those who love God. It is subject to a subjective interpretation and assumptions about what we think is good. He likes the next verse, Romans 8:29, far more, because it clearly says that the ‘good’ is to be conformed to the likeness of His Son. “The good is as simple as that,” he finished off to me, ” so … be like Jesus.”

K thx, Dad. I always knew you had high expectations of me. Asian parents…

I am indeed thankful for the assurance in this passage:

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

(Romans 8:26-30 ESV)

*** Philippians 1:26, 3:3, 3:19; Psalm 105:3, 106:47; 1 Chronicles 16:10, 16:35