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Earthquakes and Transformation (Pilgrimage Reflection 5)

Posted on July 23rd, 2013

Last week, Geri and I found spent 2 nights in Christchurch, NZ in the midst of a neighborhood devastated by the earthquake of Feb. 11, 2011. People talked about their losses at our conference much like we did in NYC after 9/11. 9/11 didn’t transform us as the church in NYC – long term. Why? I don’t believe we allowed God’s gift of losses to do its deep work in our soul. The following is an adaptation from The Emotionally Healthy Church: Updated and Revised, 2010. I lay it out here for my new friends in New Zealand as well as a pause for all pastors and leaders who are reading this today. Biblical grieving has three phases: 1. Phase 1: Pay Attention Deeply. The ancient Hebrews physically expressed their laments by tearing their clothes and utilizing sackcloth and ashes. During Noah’s generation, Scripture indicates God was grieved about the state of humanity (Gen. 6). After the fall of Jerusalem, Jeremiah wrote an entire biblical book called Lamentations. Jesus characterizes the Christian life as one of dying so that a new door can open to a radically new life. Death, however, must come first. That death begins with us participating in the painful process of paying attention, of feeling our losses deeply. 2. Phase Two: Wait in the Confusing In-Between This is the time between the cross of Good Friday (i.e., Jesus’ death) and Pentecost (i.e., the unfolding of the new). The disciples were confused and bewildered, even after the resurrection. Their understanding of God, his plans, and their own futures was undergoing a radical transformation. They were dying to the old to make way for the new. Most of the Psalms are David waiting on God in the confusing in-between. Most of the book of Jeremiah and Job are as well. 3. Phase Three: Allow the Old to Birth the New Our God is alive and death never has the last word. Grieving our losses transforms us in remarkable ways that make the process worthwhile. Layers of our counterfeit self are shed. Something truer, that is Christ in and through us, slowly emerges. We are kinder and more compassionate.  Sadness softens our defenses and people find us safer. Absorbing our own pain, we are able to enter the pain of others.  New possibilities become possible – for us and all those we touch with our lives. Jerry Sitzer writes in A Grace Disguised: How the Soul Grows through Loss, he writes: Catastrophic loss by definition precludes recovery. It will transform us or destroy us, but it will never leave us the same. There is no going back to the past.   .   . I did not get over my loved ones; rather I absorbed the loss into my life until it became part of who I am. Sorrow took up permanent residence in my soul and enlarged it.   .   . One learns the pain of others by suffering one’s own pain, by turning inside oneself, by finding one’s own soul.   .   .   . However painful, sorrow is good for the soul.   .   .   . The soul is elastic, like a balloon. It can grow larger through suffering. What griefs and losses are you carrying today? How might God be coming to you through them?

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Church Culture Revolution: A 6-Part Vision That Deeply Changes Lives