I know that some of you may be tired of talking about all of this, but I for one need to sit in this pain a little bit longer. Feel free to join me.
I read in a recent Fox News article, “The Vatican responded Thursday to the report of hundreds of Pennsylvania priests abusing children, saying in a statement: ‘There are two words that can express the feelings faced with these horrible crimes: shame and sorrow.'"
Shame and sorrow.
I want to spend some time sitting with these two words today.
I find it interesting that the Vatican chose the word “shame” rather than the word “guilt” because as psychologist Joseph Burgo expresses, “Guilt and shame sometimes go hand in hand; the same action may give rise to feelings of both shame and guilt, where the former reflects how we feel about ourselves and the latter involves an awareness that our actions have injured someone else. In other words, shame relates to self, guilt to others.”
To feel shame is to feel humiliation when you recognize that your actions do not align with what you know to be good and right and true.
Shame is often associated with sin.
Sorrow is often epitomized by painful feelings of loss or disappointment. It is a close companion to grief.
Sorrow is often associated with sin.
These words make sense for the situation at hand.
A lot of words could make sense right now. Or not make sense at all.
But shame and sorrow are emotions that reach deep into the core of an individual. They are currently making their home at the heart of the Body of Christ as a whole and as individual, hurting people. The Body and all of its parts are grieving and that is okay.
The question now is how do we get up? How do we cope with this grief? How do we address this shame and sorrow?
In Scripture, St. Paul reminds the church of Corinth that, “...godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation and brings no regret, but worldly grief produces death.”
The Church needs this shame, this sorrow, this grief to be godly. For it to be fruitful, it must lead to repentance and salvation. As a hurting Body, this must be our prayer even if we don't yet have the words to pray.
Because here's the thing, this grief could very well lead to death. It could lead to a large death and it has led - and will probably continue to lead - to a lot of mini-deaths.
And that is exactly what the devil wants. He wants this to be a worldly grief. His greatest fear is that we will embrace this deep pain as a godly grief.
You see, as Lisa Brenninkmeyer writes in the Walking with Purpose young adult women's study, Beloved, “The enemy thinks he has fashioned the perfect weapon to take you out at the knees.”His goal is always to cause death and he thinks he has won. But the truth is, “What Satan intends to use to destroy us, God uses to transform us in beautiful ways - if we cooperate with the process.”
Beauty can come from grief. It doesn't always, but it can. It can come from godly grief.
The challenge lies in the fact that we are currently in the wilderness.
Lisa writes in this same Bible study:
It's dark and frightening in the wilderness. The wasteland makes everything seem pointless and can cause us to feel ruined. When we're in the howling desert, searching for an oasis, our desperation can reach a fever pitch.
This is where our Father meets us. We are lost and wandering, and He comes for us. Instead of waiting for us to clean up and make our way back to Him, He goes on a rescue mission, enters into the confusion and the mess, and grabs hold of His daughters. As we're promised in Matthew 18:14, “Your Father in heaven is not willing that any one of these little ones should be lost.” That includes you. He has come to rescue you, the apple of His eye.
It can be hard to believe in godly grief in the wilderness. This sort of darkness and despair can seem pointless and endless.
At this moment, I feel confused and hurt and lost. I'm sure many of you can relate. But in this moment, above all, I know I must remember that God is here in this mess and confusion with me and you and the whole Body of Christ. God never leaves us alone in the wilderness.
In the book of Deuteronomy, we read the truth that, “He found them in a wilderness, a wasteland of howling desert. He shielded them, cared for them, guarded them as the apple of his eye.”
Even in the wilderness, even when we are paralyzed by shame and sorrow and grief, even amidst our righteous anger, we are the apple of God's eye. We are His beloved children.
He knows we are hurting. I promise, He is hurting too. And, He wants to hear our hurt. I encourage you to speak it out loud to Him.
I don't have any answers to any of this grief right now. But I do know that the devil will truly win if we let this situation harden our hearts and cause us to forget God's love for us.
If you take anything from this, know that God is hurting with you. He is broken with you. But this shame and sorrow is sandwiched by our belovedness. God has never ceased to call you the beloved. He has never ceased to chase after your heart. So I beg of you, don't you forget it either. In the pain, in the grief, be angry, be confused; feel whatever it is that you are feeling. But don't stop praying. Don't turn away from the God who moves mountains to tell you that you are loved.
Pray for salvation and repentance. And, allow this grief to be godly.
P.S. In case you missed it, read Lisa Brenninkmeyer's recent response to the abuse scandal.
2 Corinthians 7:10
Brenninkmeyer, Beloved, 17.
Brenninkmeyer, Beloved, 17.
Lisa Brenninkmeyer, Beloved: Opening Your Heart Series Part 1, 15-6.
It's a rare privilege to see heroic openness to God's will up close. I received that blessing in the month of May. What I witnessed has made a deep mark on my heart and I haven't known how to describe the impact this particular woman has had on me. Because of her influence, I will try to share her story, even if my words prove woefully inadequate.
As one of our first WWP coordinators, this precious woman served with joy even though she had many children to care for and difficult circumstances that might have caused her to put off offering her time and heart to others. I watched her gracefully experience hardships that would have made me complain, but somehow she gave thanks instead. Her gratitude was genuine; it wasn't for show. There was no evidence of resentment or discontentment in her.
Over the years, I've watched her welcome child after child with her openness to life. This March, she and her husband welcomed their ninth child, a baby boy. Everyone gets excited when they have another baby (they are seriously the cutest bunch of kids ever) and this time was no exception. So when I heard the news that their six-week-old son (baptized just four days earlier) had joined the saints in heaven, my heart ached for each of them. This is a level of pain that I can't fathom. This is the thing that I fear, that I wonder if I could ever recover from.
Days after the loss of their son, she and her husband sent out a letter with the following quote:
The everlasting God has in His wisdom foreseen from eternity the cross that He now presents to you as a gift from His inmost heart. This cross He now sends you He has considered with His all-knowing eyes, understood with His divine mind, tested with His wise justice, warmed with His loving arms, and weighed with His own hands to see that it be not one inch too large and not one ounce too heavy for you. He has blessed it with His holy name, anointed it with His consolation, taken one last glance at you and your courage, and then sent it to you from heaven, a special greeting from God to you, an alms of the all-merciful love of God.
-St. Francis de Sales
We were then invited to the visitation, where we were invited to join their son and adore our Lord during the Holy Hour. He was worshiping the Lord in heaven, and we would be worshiping Him here. We would be together in Adoration. When I arrived at the visitation, I saw her and her husband standing at the foot of the cross, with the little coffin by their side. With every moment that followed, during the visitation and then at the funeral the next day, this beautiful couple showed us all what it means to grieve as Christians.
In 1 Thessalonians 4:13, St. Paul wrote, “Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.” We are not to grieve like the rest of mankind who don't know the hope of Christ. Note that it doesn't say, “we do not grieve.” It says that we are to grieve differently. And that's exactly what they did.
They chose to use their platform of suffering as an opportunity to point people to Christ. The visitation was followed by Adoration, opportunity for Confession, and the rosary. Every word spoken drew attention to God's goodness, to Christ's mercy, and to eternity. Children were all over the place. There were newborn babies crying- babies that were probably right around their son's age. We were surrounded by life and by death and while you'd think the contrast would be too painful to bear, it was absolutely beautiful. There was no anger in either of them. There was grief, yes, but there was acceptance. There was undoubtedly an unwavering belief in God's goodness and faithfulness right in the midst of the loss.
In the weeks that followed, this beautiful mother has simultaneously grieved and offered encouragement to those around her. She's reminded friends that there's no point in imagining what cross Christ might ask them to carry. “Don't waste your time imagining it. You don't have the grace for it now. But when it does come, the grace WILL be there…” she said. She encourages those around her not to fear the cross, and instead to embrace it as one of the main ways we can grow in holiness, the holiness that we all pray will be seen in us and in our families.
When we see someone display this level of surrender to and trust in God, we can be quick to think, “Well, she's amazing, and totally different from me. I could never respond in that way.” Or perhaps we recognize that getting through grief like this can only be done through God's grace, but we might think, “God did that for her because she's good. He wouldn't do that for me.” Neither thought is true.
God did shower tremendous grace on this family…but not any more than what he would do for anyone else. God is faithful, all the time. As St. Paul reminds us in 2 Corinthians 12:9, truly God's grace is sufficient for any situation. It is offered to all, without partiality, but it is up to us to be open to receive that tremendous grace.
God didn't spare my friend pain and heartache. There must have been some prayers during this journey that weren't answered the way she had hoped. But God answered the cry of her heart with His presence. And her witness proves: His presence is enough.
I am eternally grateful for what she has taught me and for the God who tenderly holds us all.
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